«Worrisome» new Public Order Law in the UK raises concern at the UN

Environmental protest in central London – Stefan Rousseau/Pa Wire/Dpa

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, has described as »worrying» the Public Order Act passed in the British House of Commons on Wednesday, which, among other things, gives new powers to the police to disperse demonstrators without waiting for incidents.

For Turk, »this new law imposes severe and unjustified restrictions» on basic freedoms such as freedom of expression, assembly and association. These limits »are neither necessary nor proportional to achieve the legitimate purpose required by international law,» Turk warned.

In this sense, he recalled Thursday in a statement that British security forces can already act »against violent or disruptive demonstrations», so the reform, also questioned by NGOs such as Amnesty International, would be »unnecessary», in a context marked precisely by the upsurge of environmental mobilizations.

According to the new law, the police will have more leeway to clear streets in case of blockades, for example. The High Commissioner is wary of the fact that the courts can prohibit citizens from going to a certain place at a certain time and the surveillance measures that can be carried out to check that such an order is actually complied with.

The UN believes that the text may even be incompatible with the UK’s international human rights obligations. It is particularly worrying that the law expands police powers to stop and search individuals, even without suspicion, defines new offences in a vague manner and imposes unnecessary and disproportionate penalties on people who organize or participate in peaceful protests,» Turk said.

Thus, he pointed out that although governments are sovereign when it comes to avoiding possible incidents in demonstrations, what is at stake in this case is the respect of basic rights and freedoms, so he urged the Executive of Rishi Sunak to repeal the law »as soon as possible».


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