IACHR: United States must respect peaceful protest and academic freedom on campuses

May 9, 2024

Related links

Contact info

IACHR Press Office

[email protected]

Distribution List

Subscribe to our distribution list

Washington D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurships on Freedom of Expression (RELE) and on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) express concern over the acts of violence, mass arrests and sanctions against members of the educational community who are mobilizing on issues of public interest in the United States. In this regard, it calls on the State to respect and guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and academic freedom, and to provide opportunities for dialogue to address the concerns of the demonstrators.

Since mid-April, students have established mass encampments at nearly 40 universities in more than 25 States across the country calling for an end to the financial ties of these educational institutions to corporations linked to the conflicts in the Middle East.

In this context, public information reports that more than 2,050 people have been detained by the police on university campuses, including students and professors. Police interventions have been requested or authorized by the institutions themselves, to disperse demonstrators and dismantle encampments.

Most of the people were reportedly detained on charges of trespassing. Riot units reportedly used flash grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets in clashes with demonstrators. Some police forces continue to guard the surroundings of several universities as a preventive measure. In addition, universities have reportedly taken disciplinary measures against those who participated or plan to participate in the protests, including suspensions and possible expulsions.

The official pronouncement of the President of the United States is highlighted, in which he stressed that the country is not an authoritarian nation that silences people or represses dissent; and emphasized that peaceful protest is a tradition as a response to issues of concern to the citizenry. He warned that violence and destruction of property are neither legal nor acceptable forms of protest.

The IACHR took note that journalists and press workers were reportedly subjected to aggressions and detentions while carrying out their work. In addition, there have been reports of clashes between demonstrators, resulting in at least 15 people injured, one of them hospitalized, as well as cases of stigmatization and harassment. It is also concerned about reports of isolated messages inciting violence against Jews and Muslims.

Against this backdrop, the IACHR emphasizes that freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly are fundamental in democratic societies. In particular, it recalls that the institutions of the academic community, in their fundamental role as centers of knowledge and training, are crucial spaces for the promotion of discussion, pluralism of ideas and informed deliberation on matters of public interest.

In accordance with the Inter-American Principles on Academic Freedom and University Autonomy of the IACHR, these institutions play an essential role in the promotion of democratic principles, the appropriation of human rights, respect for diversity, and the response to and search for solutions to the challenges facing society.

Along the same lines, in accordance with Principle V, States must prevent and investigate acts of violence against individuals due to their participation in the academic community or the exercise of protest activities, as these acts can violate the fundamental rights of individuals, restrict academic freedom and sow self-censorship in society.

The IACHR recalls that occupations of buildings, whether public or private, constitute a legitimate form of protest. Any restriction on these demonstrations must be exceptional, necessary, and proportional, weighing in each specific case the interaction between the right to peaceful assembly and the protection of other rights, such as private property. Protests in academic institutions represent a platform for students to express their criticisms, demands and claims.

Likewise, the violent actions of one or more persons or the possible existence of do not per se authorize the declaration of the non-peaceful nature of the entire protest and its disbandment. Persons who commit acts that are not protected by the right to peaceful assembly may have their ability to demonstrate temporarily and individually restricted. Therefore, States should refrain from engaging in mass, collective or indiscriminate detention practices. A detention based exclusively on the act of participating in a protest or public demonstration does not meet the requirements of reasonableness and proportionality established by international standards. Nor should States apply criminal offenses that convert conduct commonly observed in protests into criminal acts.

Finally, the Commission calls on the U.S. authorities to respect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and academic freedom, in accordance with international human rights standards; to protect the demonstrators and third parties present; and to favor dialogue and negotiation to address the demands of citizens. It also urges the State to refrain from excessive use of public force during demonstrations, except when strictly necessary, and in a proportionate manner.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to strengthen the promotion and protection of economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the Americas, leading the Commission's efforts in this area.

The IACHR is a principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate derives from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission is mandated to promote the observance of human rights in the region and to act as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The IACHR is composed of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 095/24

10:20 AM