The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) produced this written submission on the Revised Draft of General Comment No. 37 on Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in response to the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s invitation for civil society and other stakeholders to provide comments on the Draft General Comment.
APC thanks the Committee for its commitment to a participatory drafting process, and welcomes the invitation to provide its observations and comments on the Draft General Comment, particularly as it believes that its contents are especially relevant in the current global climate. However, and in order to ensure that the Draft General Comment retains relevance, APC’s submission encourages further engagement and clarity in the expanding realm of online or digital assemblies, among others, and seeks to illustrate the emerging opportunities and challenges created through the increased use of information and communications technologies (ICTs), particularly surveillance technologies.
In this written submission, APC draws the Committee’s attention to the challenges of the full enjoyment of the right to peaceful assembly within digital spaces, that is, both off- and online. APC also offers commentary on overall conceptual questions in the General Comment. As the ubiquity of the internet and ICTs increases, questions on the manner in which we exercise fundamental rights within these digital spaces are beginning to abound. This Revised General Comment is therefore particularly important as it will become the leading tool for both international and national-level advocacy and, accordingly, it should reflect grassroots realities both off- and online.
Further, APC highlights the contemporary risks of surveillance technologies on the right to peaceful assembly. More specifically, APC draws the Committee’s attention to facial recognition surveillance technologies and the need to ensure that current technologies are compliant with international human rights standards. The risks and violations linked to surveillance technologies are brought into sharper focus when considered in conjunction with the rapid advancement and adoption of the automated decision-making capabilities of artificial intelligence.
Accordingly, the submission is structured as follows:
Online assemblies: which includes recognition of the right to peaceful assembly online, the role of online assemblies in facilitating the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly, and the obligations on state and non-state actors to refrain from undue restrictions in this regard.
Surveillance technologies: which includes the role of surveillance technologies in inhibiting and restricting the right to peaceful assembly and the need for safeguards. More specifically, the need to prohibit the use of facial recognition technologies and their impact on the exercise of fundamental rights.
Additional comments on ICTs: which provides paragraph-specific references and suggested text throughout the Revised General Comment where APC suggests that reference to online assemblies and ICTs should be included.
General observations: which provides paragraph-specific references and suggested text on overall conceptual issues which are relevant to the full enjoyment of the right to peaceful assembly off- and online.
This written submission was prepared with the assistance of ALT Advisory.