Right to freedom of peaceful assembly ‘must be upheld,’ says public protest law professor
Michael Hamilton has co-edited a collection of essays about the ECHR and spoke at a UN event in Geneva
Dr. Michael Hamilton is a senior lecturer in public protest law at the University of East Anglia, before which his role was that of Acting Chair of the Human Rights Program at the Central European University in Budapest. Hamilton’s focus is on “the legal protection and regulation of freedom of assembly,” as detailed by the university website. He’s been published in several leading peer-reviewed law journals and co-edited a collection of essays on justice and the European Court of Human Rights. On March 19, he was also one of the invited speakers at the event at the UN offices in Geneva, and he spoke to Catalan News about Catalonia at the UN.
First of all, do you think the UN is a good place to discuss the situation in Catalonia?
I think it's really important that the debate about the political process in Catalonia is heard at the UN, I think it's important that all international bodies are used as a forum to discuss the possibilities of making political progress, and indeed, to focus on the violations of human rights that have occurred in past months and indeed, past years. And the UN, especially, has a number of offices which focus on the protection of human rights, with Spain as a member of the Human Rights Council until 2020, I think it's a really vital forum for these issues to be raised.
From your perspective, have there been violations of human rights in Catalonia?
Well, my work focuses on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and regrettably, yes there have been very evident violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Catalonia, and this has come around through a number of different things. We've seen changes to the law, we've seen the public security act, we've seen amendments to the criminal code, and we've of course also seen policing that falls short of international standards, particularly with regard to the use of force and the excessive and disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters, and I think the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is one that must be upheld, it's foundational to any functioning democratic state, and it includes the right to challenge and to talk about the way a state is organized, and the constitutional status of a state, so I think the right to freedom of assembly is one that we need to see progress on in relation to Spain and its upholding in Catalonia.
Do you think the case of the Catalan jailed leaders will find more understanding in the United Nations than in the European Union?
I think their presence here is a very powerful message and one that is very visible in the sense that it brings to the forefront the real impact that the political repression is having. As to whether they will receive more comfort, here, than in the EU, it's very difficult to say. I would argue that attention needs to be focused at the EU level as well as at the international level, and doing whatever can be done to galvanize international attention and mobilization around this issue, with a view to breaking the political deadlock, is really vital.