UN: anti-protest protocol violates human rights standards

Three UN special rapporteurs have asked the Argentine government to revise the protocol and articles from the omnibus bill

Security Minister Patricia Bullrich’s anti-protest protocol goes against international human and civil rights treaties that Argentina is party to, three United Nations special rapporteurs have warned. 

In a document sent to Argentine authorities last week, the UN asked the government to revise the protocol and articles of the omnibus bill reform package that limit Argentines’ right to protest.

Bullrich’s protocol bans roadblocks during protests in an attempt to guarantee that traffic can circulate freely at all times. It requires security forces to clear total or partial roadblocks, even if alternative routes are available. The protocol contradicts article 194 of the Criminal Code, which already bans roadblocks but states that if the protest is peaceful, security forces must negotiate with the protesters several times before moving to break up the roadblock and taking legal action. 

The UN document analyzing the protocol was sent to the government on Wednesday and released to the public on Friday. It also includes comments on five articles of President Javier Milei’s omnibus bill that aim to modify the Criminal Code to establish punishments for protest organizers even if they don’t attend the event itself, requires social organizations to notify authorities 48 hours before holding a protest, and eliminates the requirement for authorities to negotiate before cracking down on the blockade.

According to the three UN special rapporteurs who signed the document, allowing police and security forces to operate against protesters who are blocking roads does not comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Argentina is a party. The treaty has the equivalent legal rank to the national constitution. The measures also go against a 2020 UN Human Rights Committee observation regarding the right to peaceful gatherings.

UN special rapporteurs are independent human rights experts called on by the UN to report on specific situations. The document’s authors were Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, from Togo, special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Irene Khan, from Bangladesh, special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion; and Mary Lawlor, from Ireland, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

“The 15th paragraph of said observation recognizes that interrupting vehicular or pedestrian traffic or everyday activities does not constitute an act of ‘violence,’” the rapporteurs’ document says, “which means verifying those circumstances alone does not enable security forces to disperse them or act upon them.” On the contrary, it adds, “a meeting can only be dispersed in exceptional cases.”

The UN adds that international standards establish that “freedom to join peaceful gatherings is a right, not a privilege,” and warns that both the protocol and the omnibus bill articles could be “criminalizing social protest via criminal law.”

“The right to join peaceful gatherings […] is the bedrock of a participative government system based in democracy, human rights, respect of the law and pluralism,” the document says.

In the document, the UN asks Argentine authorities to detail how compatible these norms are with international human rights standards and encourages them to revise the protocol and bill to guarantee those standards are met so “they don’t pose inappropriate restrictions to the right to freely have peaceful gatherings.”


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