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Civic space: Freedom of Assembly

ARCHIVAL – For Historical Reference



What this is about:

On Wednesday 19 September 2018 members of the OGP Support Unit held a public consultation session on how we should approach the State of Open Government Report. (For more background and justification, please see here.) For this session, we wanted to find out what the state-of-the-art was on civic space, especially freedom of assembly. We presented our preliminary ideas on how we would deal with this and asked for feedback on the best way to frame this topic, what is missing, and if there are other stakeholders we should talk to.

The purpose of this page is to provide feedback for those of you who attended the meeting, a public space for written input if you couldn’t attend the consultation or those who prefer to make your points in writing.  You can provide comments on the original framing, on the data being used for benchmarking and can suggest case studies to be featured.

What we heard from you:

  • Framing:
    • Protest laws: Colleagues encouraged us to look at the “protest law tracker” established by ICNL which shows various laws criminalizing protest in the US.
    • Police protocols: In 11 countries of the Eastern Partnership and Armenia there is research into availability of police protocols. These protocols cover the reasonable use of force, disciplinary measures for overstepping of that role. Freedom of information has been key to accessing these protocols (or establishing that they do not exist).
    • Permitting: In some callers countries, police are able to approve or deny permits for protesting regularly. In other cases, there might be undue delay.
    • We should differentiate “non-state actors” between counter-protesters or paramilitaries and private security forces hired by companies and governments.
    • There are global corporate norms and protocols around the use of security forces in and around extractives projects. There may be some information on these, including on implementation.
    • The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is updating the new guidelines on peaceful assembly. ECNL Director Katerina Hadzi-Miceva Evans is on the advisory panel and is working on the guidance along with lead drafters, Michael Hamilton and Neil Jarman.
  • Potential case studies:
    • In Bosnia and Herzegovina, they had to file these requests to get access to an actual law on freedom of assembly that was applied in one of the cantons. You can imagine that lower-level decisions are not that accessible either.
    • Our colleague from Oxfam America suggested that we look into two areas of importance:
      • Indigenous right to protest in the Americas, where there have been significant violent clashes, especially around infrastructure and oil, gas, and mining projects.
      • Publish What You Pay has been tracking cases around extractives projects in Indonesia and Philippines.
    • As positive examples, colleagues suggested that we look into Northern Ireland and Austin which have both had processes put in place to deal with peaceful assembly.
    • Our colleagues from the European Centre for Non-profit Law offered case studies on activists using the Right to Information laws to identify which governments had police protocols on assembly. This seems like a good case and approach to look at. It makes two points we hadn’t considered before: (1) the need to find police protocols; and (2) the essential role that right to information can play in advancing guidelines on peaceful assembly.

How we plan in address/incorporate this feedback:

  • We plan on reframing to take into account the role of private security forces and corporate protocols in freedom of assembly.
  • We will explore both positive and negative cases, especially around police protocols.
  • We will try to get in touch with the team working at OSCE on the Freedom of Assembly Guidelines to talk more about how OGP countries might better work with them.

Where to next?

  • Next, we will update our approach and framing. (What’s currently in the “Thematic Strawmen” document listed above.)
  • We welcome your feedback below (in the public comment box) or to our email at We are going to close comments on Wednesday, 31 October. If you would like to talk to us again, please reach out (at the same email) to schedule a phone call.
  • For some areas that we still need research, we are going to commission research by partners to help inform the final report.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the consultations during the live sessions and in writing! 

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