World news story

Human Rights Council 35: Freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

This UK statement was delivered during the report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association at the 35th session of the Human Rights Council on 7 June 2017.

The Human Rights Council takes place at the Palais des Nations in Geneva
The Human Rights Council takes place at the Palais des Nations in Geneva

The United Kingdom emphasises its support for the important work Mr Kiai has undertaken in his time as Special Rapporteur.

I would like to thank Mr Kiai for his follow up mission to the United Kingdom last year and his report. I am glad to see that the many meetings and discussions the Special Rapporteur held were of benefit.

I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Ms Ciampi on her appointment as the next Special Rapporteur and to offer my assurance that the United Kingdom will continue to support her mandate.

The United Kingdom Government continues to make every effort to uphold and advance human rights. As recognised in the report, the United Kingdom takes it role as one of the global leaders in human rights seriously and we will continue to work to promote human rights globally.

Due to rules governing the pre-election period, the United Kingdom can not offer a substantive response to the matters raised in the report at this time. However, the United Kingdom notes the conclusions and recommendations made in the report and will write to the Special Rapporteur with a formal response once the election has concluded.

There are some points that I can make now.

I would like to put on record that we are pleased to see that the Special Rapporteur has welcomed the ongoing Undercover Policing Inquiry led by Lord Justice Pitchford, which is looking into what happened in the deployment of undercover officers in the past, their conduct, and the impact of their activities on themselves and others.

We are also pleased that the Special Rapporteur has acknowledged the introduction of the Code of Ethics as a statutory code of practice for the policing profession of England and Wales. I am happy to report that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has found that most forces have taken effective action to improve workforce understanding of the Code, including the importance of treating people with fairness and respect.

Peaceful protest is a vital part of any democratic society. It is a long-standing tradition in the United Kingdom that people are free to gather together and to demonstrate their views. This is evidenced by the thousands of demonstrations that take place every year. The police’s starting point is to facilitate peaceful protest by providing a lawful and proportionate policing response. This approach is in line with the British policing model of ‘policing by consent’. However, there is a balance to be struck between the rights of those who wish to peacefully protest and the rights of individuals and communities to go about their business, free from harassment and intimidation. On an assessment of strategic threat and risk, many demonstrations do not require police attendance while some will require a police presence or intervention.

The Special Rapporteur raised concerns about the ability of protesters to apply to the Greater London Authority to hold protests in Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square. It is worth noting that the application process referred to does not apply to protests by individuals acting independently, and applies only to organised events on a larger scale. The United Kingdom is proud of its record of freedom of association including the right to protest. The police, who are operationally independent from Government, often facilitate protests at very short notice, outside of timescales set out in legislation.

In conclusion, I would again like to assure the new Special Rapporteur of the United Kingdom’s continuous support for her mandate. I would also like to again thank Mr Kiai for his visit and report, and to wish him well in the future.

Published 7 June 2017