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Amendments to a Swiss Law on Demonstrations Impedes Freedoms of Expression and Assembly

In a referendum in Geneva on 11th March, citizens voted in favour of allowing authorities to impose fines of up to 100,000 Swiss francs (€83,000) on anyone who demonstrates without prior permission or who does not abide by agreed conditions. The amendments toughening the existing law on public protests would also allow authorities to require changes to demonstration itineraries if they posed “disproportionate risks to people” and their property. The move would give officials the power to restrict or ban gatherings in the canton of Geneva. The changes also impose obligations on the protest organisers to provide their own security personnel. Without this, authorisation to protest will not be granted. Furthermore, if such a demonstration leads to casualties or damages to property, the organiser may be denied authorisation to protest for one to up to five years.

The proposed law has garnered criticism from the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai. He stated that the move is not in line with the current exercise of fundamental freedoms and that the right to peaceful assembly should not be subject to prior authorisation by authorities. Mr Kiai also emphasised the responsibility of the state to protect the right to peaceful assembly and stressed the changes would deter many prospective organisers from exercising this right.

The European Youth Forum believes that the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are vital to every democratic society. The right to freedom of expression is a cornerstone upon which the very existence of a democratic society rests and it is indispensable for the formation of public opinion. The Forum stresses the necessity of Governments to comply with their obligations regarding the freedoms of expression and assembly, as enshrined in the international and regional human rights treaties.

Useful links:

“UN expert warns that new law endangers Swiss freedom of expression”, UN News Centre, 9th March 2012

“European Convention on Human Rights”, European Court of Human Rights, 1st June 2010

“Convention on the Rights of the Child”, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2nd September 1990

“International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, 23rd March 1976

“Resolution – Freedom of expression; association and assembly”, European Youth Forum, 27th-28th April 2007