Monday, December 5, 2011

Crackdown On Occupy Draws Attention Of UN Special Rapporteur On Freedom Of Expression

"Citizens have the right to dissent with the authorities, and there's no need to use public force to silence that dissension."  UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue

Originally established in 1993, by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (now the Human Rights Council), the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has a mandate to investigate "violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, discrimination against, threats or use of violence, harassment, persecution or intimidation directed at persons seeking to exercise or to promote the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression . . . "

While we like to think of the United States as a beacon of democracy and bastion of free expression, the use of tear gas, pepper spray and military-style tactics to disperse, remove and arrest Occupy protesters has caught the attention of the current Special Rapporteur, Frank La Rue.  As reported by Dan Froomkin at Huffington Post, La Rue, a long-time Guatemalan human rights lawyer, is "drafting an official communication to the U.S. government demanding to know why federal officials are not protecting the rights of Occupy demonstrators whose protests are being disbanded -- sometimes violently -- by local authorities."

La Rue, in a HuffPost interview asserted that the protesters have a right to occupy public spaces "as long as that doesn't severely affect the rights of others."  But, as we all know by now, Occupy encampments across the country have been disbanded, often with excessive force by police in riot gear.  La Rue acknowledged that while "the use of police force is legitimate to maintain public order," there must be a clear and present danger of real harm."  In addition, he stated, "there has to be a proportionality of the force employed to prevent a real danger."

It is clear to La Rue that the Occupy protesters are raising and addressing a fundamental issue. "There is legitimate reason to be indignant and angry about a crisis that was originated by greed and the personal interests of certain sectors," especially when the bankers "still earn very hefty salaries and common folks are losing their homes."  Thus, "in this case, the demonstrations are going to the center of the issue."

La Rue's "official communication" to the U.S. government will "ask what exactly is the position of the federal government in regards to understanding the human rights and constitutional rights vis-a-vis the use of local police and local authorities to disband peaceful demonstrations."

That is a very good question.


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