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Protest: a matter of human rights

This week sees the launch of our partnership project with human rights organisations CELS and INCLO, with support from the ACLU, looking at why protest is fundamental for human rights and democratic society, and what can be done to protect the right to protest.

The Right to Protest


A partnership project examining the power of protest

This week, 2–6 October 2017, sees the launch of our Right to Protest partnership project. Every day this week we’ll be publishing new content as part of the project. 

On Monday we published: a piece by Richard Youngs examining the rise in large-scale protests around the world; an interview with Black Lives Matter activist and lawyer Justin Hansford, on the role of protest in the Black Lives Matter movement; and an article about the protests that have recently been taking place in Argentina following the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado.

On Tuesday, the focus was on women's protest: we published an article on the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo protest movement in Argentina; a photo essay on women’s protest movements around the world; and a piece on Non Una di Menothe women's rights protest movement that began in Argentina and is now growing worldwide.

Wednesday's focus was crowd-control weapons, with our lead feature an interview with Israeli photojournalist Tali Mayer, who has worked with the the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) to document Palestinians injured by crowd-control bullets in East Jerusalem. Professor of Human Rights Law Christof Heyns suggests how states should manage protest and unrest and INCLO's report Lethal in Disguise explains the health consequences of crowd-control weapons and why use of these weapons should be much more tightly regulated. 

On Thursday we looked at state surveillance in relation to protest, with an interview with Ramy Raoof, a digital security researcher in Egypt. And on Friday the focus was on Brazil, with an article on indigenous protest under President Temer and in the face of attack by the agribusiness and mining industries.

Public mobilisations, social protest and human rights are intertwined. Firstly because people generally take to the streets to reject state violence and protest against violations of their rights: to land, to food, to work, to housing, to religious freedom, and so on. Secondly, the act of protest itself entails exercising rights, such as to freedom of expression and the rights of assembly, petition and dissent. Democracies are enriched by protests because of their expressive nature, but also their deliberative and confrontational tone.

A third and final reason is because state intervention in public mobilisations often ends up violating the rights to integrity, health and – in the most extreme cases – to life. Demonstrators also risk their liberty since they may be arbitrarily detained or subject to criminal proceedings for behavior directly related to protesting. The extent to which governments threaten – or protect – the rights of demonstrators reveals the democratic or authoritarian nature of state response.

The aims of the project

Given these factors, social protests are a privileged scenario for the intervention of national human rights organisations. CELS (Center for Legal and Social Studies) and INCLO (International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations) have engaged in this editorial partnership with openDemocracy – with support from the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) – to forge a common space for exploring the many links between human rights and social protest, with expert, academic and activist contributors.

Our aim is to bring together voices that don’t often interact, either because they belong to different fields of work or intervention, or due to geographical distances and/or the segmentation of debates in the global north and south. Or simply because the ideas are not translated into other languages.

For all these reasons, we hope the partnership will serve as a shared platform to present and exchange ideas among a heterogeneous group of actors from different parts of the world. The six-month project will address topics arising in the Americas and other regions, including the use of crowd control weapons, the Black Lives Matter movement, protests by women and students, rural conflicts, and the impact of digital surveillance.

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