ROME - "Hundreds of activists and protesters were arbitrarily detained, tortured, subjected to sexual and gender-based violence, forcibly disappeared and killed," said Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on rights related to peaceful assembly and association. For Voule the victims have rarely received justice, while the perpetrators are not subjected to judicial proceedings and have the power to continue to repress the rights and freedoms of others".
Repression grows. In his latest report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Voule highlighted the increased repression and gross human rights violations committed against protesters and activists around the world. He called for solid and urgent measures to reverse the trend and prevent impunity for those who abuse their power from becoming the rule.
Victims without justice. According to the special rapporteur, victims of human rights abuses have been denied justice, while the perpetrators systematically benefit from impunity, and this fairly common attitude in all countries ensures that the violations and violence are never put to an end. “Endemic impunity for gross human rights abuses has spawned cycles of repression. Every time we can see that where the civic space is threatened, authoritarianism and conflicts advance," explained Voule.
Threats to the right of assembly and association. In her report, the expert revealed that hundreds of people have suffered life-changing injuries, sometimes verging on disability. There is misuse or even abuse of so-called "non-lethal weapons" during protests, but they are tools that leave their mark nonetheless. And the victims have often been left alone in their quest for justice and reparations. The Special Rapporteur denounces the widespread unwillingness of states to ensure that perpetrators are effectively prosecuted. The trend now is that policies aimed at justifying the excessive use of force to punish and criminalize those who gather, even peacefully, prevail almost everywhere.
The role of states. States should focus on investigating, prosecuting and convicting the perpetrators rather than targeting activists and protesters – denounces Voule. "Bringing to justice those responsible for violations against persons exercising the right to peaceful assembly and association is an integral part of States' responsibility to respect, protect and enable the exercise of these rights," she concluded.
The reparations. According to the expert, states should adopt a holistic, ie victim-centred and gender-sensitive approach to accountability, because it is their job to address the needs of victims, provide reparations and ensure that rights violations do not recur. A separate note should also be made regarding the compensations that are granted every time the abuses are ascertained: the compensations must not be used to evade responsibility but to supplement the legal proceedings.
The function of the international community. While acknowledging the primary role of states in prosecuting offenders, the expert urged the international community, especially the United Nations Human Rights Council, to intervene when individual countries fail to deliver justice to victims of violations of the rights of peaceful assembly and association.