In December of 2011, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for the Protection of Free Expression, Frank La Rue, and the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, Maina Kiai, sent a letter to the Obama administration reminding the U.S. government of its international obligations to “take all necessary measures to guarantee that the rights and freedoms of all peaceful protesters be respected.”
This letter was prompted by the government’s response to the Occupy movement.
Federal officials have yet to respond to two United Nations human rights envoys who formally requested that the U.S. government protect Occupy protesters against excessive force by law enforcement officials.
In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the two envoys called on U.S. officials to “explain the behavior of police departments that violently disbanded some Occupy protests last fall” and expressed concern that excessive use of force “could have been related to [the protesters’] dissenting views, criticisms of economic policies, and their legitimate work in the defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” …
In the letter, the envoys raised a particular concern that the “crowd control techniques used to manage and disperse these assemblies might have been intended to insert fear and intimidation on protesters throughout the country.”
The letter to the Obama administration was made public at the UN Human Rights Council meeting.
Another document was released recently, a study (pdf) – “Suppressing Protest: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street” of New York police abuses of Occupy protesters by the Global Justice Clinic at New York University’s School of Law and the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic at Fordham Law School.
From the report’s executive summary:
This report follows a review of thousands of news reports and hundreds of hours of video, extensive firsthand observation, and detailed witness interviews. In New York City, some of the worst practices documented include:
• Aggressive, unnecessary and excessive police force against peaceful protesters,
bystanders, legal observers, and journalists
• Obstruction of press freedoms and independent legal monitoring
• Pervasive surveillance of peaceful political activity
• Violent late-night raids on peaceful encampments
• Unjustified closure of public space, dispersal of peaceful assemblies, and kettling
(corralling and trapping) of protesters
• Arbitrary and selective rule enforcement and baseless arrests
• Failures to ensure transparency about applicable government policies
• Failures to ensure accountability for those allegedly responsible for abuses
These practices violate assembly and expression rights and breach the U.S. government’s international legal obligations to respect those rights. In New York City, protest policing concerns are extensive and exist against a backdrop of disproportionate and well-documented abusive policing practices in poor and minority communities outside of the protest context.
Governments—including U.S. federal, state, and local authorities—are obliged by international law to uphold the rights of individuals to peacefully assemble and to seek to reform their governments. The freedoms of assembly and expression are essential pillars for democratic participation, the exchange and development of grievances and reforms, and securing positive social change. This report provides extensive analysis of the U.S. government’s international legal obligations with respect to protests. The abusive practices documented in this report violate international law and suppress and chill protest rights, not only by undermining individual liberty, but also by causing both minor and serious physical injuries, inhibiting collective debate and the capacity to effectively press for social and economic change, and making people afraid to attend otherwise peaceful assemblies.
The evidence presented in the report will be used as a basis by its authors to support complaints to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the NYPD, the state department of justice and the United Nations. Future detailed studies will be published on the response of authorities in Boston, Charlotte, Oakland, and San Francisco.
As time moves forward, detailed evidence continues to accumulate about the abuse of Occupy protesters as well as a federal role in the process.
The Obama administration’s failure to address this issue and respond to the calls of international human rights organizations for action has the smell of hypocrisy in the face of Mr. Obama’s many statements about the rights of protesters in other nations. A sampling for your perusal:
The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere.
“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators,” Obama said in a statement on Friday. “This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now.”
“I am deeply concerned by reports of violence in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen. The United States condemns the use of violence against peaceful protesters in those countries, and wherever else it may occur.”