United States: human rights expert denounces wave of anti-protest laws ‘spreading across the country’

Special Rapporteur Clément Voule said laws passed in Florida and Oklahoma appear to be part of an ongoing effort to curb protests, such as those that took place after the murder of George Floyd last May.

‘Snowball effect’

He feared they were part of a wave of laws to curb racial justice protests in the United States, where more than 90 anti-protest bills have been introduced in 35 state legislatures since May 2020 Seven other states have bills in the process of being enacted.

“I’m afraid the passage of anti-protest laws in Florida and Oklahoma is part of a snowball effect that began in 2017 with the spread of anti-protest legislation across the country,” mentionned Mr. Voule, who is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right of peaceful assembly.

“I urge all states to refrain from following the same path.”

Vague definitions, immunity from murder

The rights expert added that the two new laws are riddled with loosely defined offenses and draconian penalties.

“The vague definitions of the terms ‘riot’, ‘crowd intimidation’ and ‘obstruction’ as set out in these laws give law enforcement authorities undue leeway to intimidate and criminalize legitimate protest activity. “, did he declare. “Any restriction on this fundamental freedom must be defined narrowly and clearly.”

Mr Voule was also concerned that the laws create new legal immunity for people who injure or even kill peaceful street protesters.

For example, a driver who injures or kills someone while “fleeing a riot” is protected from civil and criminal liability under Oklahoma law.

Encourage white supremacy

In Florida, a defendant in a civil lawsuit will now be able to avoid liability by establishing that the injury or death he caused “resulted” from the conduct of a person “acting in connection with a riot.”

Mr Voule said civil society advocates have stressed that such immunity will provide incentives for the actions of white supremacist self-defense groups and allow further violence against Black Lives Matter protesters.

“The targeting of the Black Lives Matter movement, while creating legal protections for those who attack them, is deeply troubling,” he said.

Special rapporteurs like Mr Voule are appointed by the UN Human rights council to follow specific national situations or thematic issues.

They serve in their independent capacity and on a voluntary basis. They are not United Nations staff and do not receive a salary from the Organization.

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