International Experts Call for U.S. to Respect Protest Rights; Criticize Officials’ Responses to Occupy Movement
(Vienna, Austria, 9 November 2012) – Today, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) issued a report finding that some U.S. authorities’ responses to the Occupy Wall Street movement involved excessive police force, unjustified mass arrests, disproportionately large numbers of police, and violated the rights of journalists.
“The OSCE report confirms recent findings by U.S. groups of violations of protest rights, and demonstrates the urgent need to reform the way some cities, including New York, regulate and police protests,” said Professor Sarah Knuckey of New York University (NYU) School of Law, who co-led an eight-month investigation by law school clinics into the treatment of Occupy Wall Street in New York.
The OSCE findings result from the organization’s first investigations of assembly rights in the United States, and were presented at a meeting of government and civil society representatives from over 50 countries. The United States is a member state of the OSCE, and has committed to guarantee the freedom of peaceful assembly.
The OSCE report issued today recommends that U.S. authorities ensure the right to free assembly, including by facilitating protest camps and marches as much as possible, limiting police use of force, promptly investigating police misconduct, and not dispersing assemblies merely for lack of permits.
The OSCE’s findings follow extensive U.S. civil society reporting of protest rights violations, including a detailed report by law clinics at NYU and Fordham Law Schools, Suppressing Protest: Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Response to Occupy Wall Street. Professors and students from NYU and Harvard Law School were invited to the OSCE this week to present their findings, and to discuss concerns and reforms with civil society and representatives from governments, the OSCE, and the United Nations. The Clinics, on behalf of U.S. groups, also voiced support for OSCE work monitoring freedom of assembly, and called for continued OSCE work in the United States.
“Attending the OSCE forum gave us an opportunity to hear accounts from people around the world who, like the U.S. Occupy movement, are using public space to voice dissent. These accounts made clear that while peaceful protests are proliferating, so are governments’ tactics of repression,” said Deborah Popowski, Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School.
“There is no part of the world where suppression of protest is not a problem, and the U.S. is no exception,” said Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, who attended the OSCE meetings.
“Fighting for a meaningful right of free assembly is vital because there can be no democracy without this right. There is no choice – we have to succeed if we want to leave the world a better place for those who come after us,” said Kiai.