Opinion: U.N. Condemns Republican Bills Criminalizing Peaceful Protests


America has always touted itself as the bastion of democracy and particularly boasted the freedoms its citizens enjoy; freedoms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. But as any casual political observer is aware, those freedoms, along with America’s democracy, are in jeopardy of being swept away by Republicans who cannot tolerate dissent from the people they are supposed to serve.

Now, as the entire world is stunned at the alarming turn of events in Trump’s authoritarian America, its preeminent organization, the United Nations, has taken the extraordinary step of warning Republicans that they are “threatening one of the United States constitutional pillars: free speech.”

The organization condemning the Republican assault on democratic values sent a letter to American authorities over 16 Republican state legislatures introducing unconstitutional bills banning peaceful protests and free speech. According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly, Maina Kiai and David Kaye, Special Rappateur on the protection of the right to freedom of expression, the Republican legislation represents “an alarming trend” and an attack on democracy. The pair particularly noted that this trend has greatly intensified since Trump got to move into the White House.

The two “rappateurs” noted in their letter to U.S. authorities that more than 16 states have introduced authoritarian legislation specifically aimed at restricting the right to assembly. They wrote:

Since January 2017, a number of undemocratic bills have been proposed in state legislatures with the purpose or effect of criminalizing peaceful protests. The bills, if enacted into law, would severely infringe upon the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in ways that are incompatible with US obligations under international human rights law and with First Amendment protections. The trend also threatens to jeopardize one of the United States’ constitutional pillars: free speech.”

The U.N. specifically noted the pending bills are “currently in the legislative corridors of Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee and Washington.”  Messers Kiai and Kaye specifically cited that the bills’ purposes are quashing democracy and violating the 1st Amendment and “were mainly proposed at the beginning of 2017 and exclusively by Republican legislators.

In a direct attack on the Republicans’ authoritarian actions, the U.N democratic advocates took particular umbrage with the tyrannical characterization of peaceful protests being labeled as “unlawful” or “violent” in some of the Republican bills. Kiai and Kaye wrote what is obvious to anyone remotely knowledgeable or concerned about democracy. They said:

There can be no such thing in law as a violent protest. There are violent protesters, who should be dealt with individually and appropriately by law enforcement. One person’s decision to resort to violence does not strip other protesters of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly. This right is not a collective right; it is held by each of us individually. Peaceful assembly is a fundamental right, not a privilege, and the government has no business imposing a general requirement that people get permission before exercising that right.”

What especially alarmed the United Nations was the threat of violence toward peaceful protesters written into most of the authoritarian Republican legislation. For example, in Indiana’s Senate Bill 285 there is a provision that allows law enforcement officials to “use any means necessary to clear the roads of people unlawfully obstructing vehicular traffic.” The U.N experts were appalled at the “broad language” in the GOP bills because they “could lead to excessive use of force” written into the bills by design.

Besides warning that imposing “hefty fines and prison sentences” in most of the bills, the UN experts were particularly concerned over the wording in Florida, North Dakota and Tennessee bills that would exempt drivers from liability if they hit and even killed a pedestrian participating in a protest.

It is likely that the United Nations is well aware that all of this authoritarian legislation dismantling the “pillars of the Constitution” are the direct result of Trump’s election victory. They comprehend that Trump, with Republican collusion,  supports and encourages authoritarian action to quell dissent no matter that it is quelling democracy.

Trump embraces authoritarian leaders as “doing the right thing the right way” such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the Philippine President Manuel Duterte, and most recently Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who Trump praises as “having done a fantastic job.” El-Sisi led a military coup to overthrow the legally-elected government and has summarily executed 812 protesters in a single day, and imprisoned over 40,000 people in a crackdown on political dissent.

This is not the first time the United Nations has harshly criticized America for human rights violations contrary to its commitments to democracy that it initiated in treaties and human rights’ agreements; agreements it once regularly used to condemn tyrannical dictators around the world. However, it is the first time the international organization specifically targeted Republican state legislatures for attacking their own citizens for simply exercising their constitutionally-protected freedoms and rights.

What is not surprising is the dearth of reporting in American media that the so-called “shining city on a hill,” the glaring example of how “democracy and freedom works,” was harshly criticized for criminalizing peaceable protests and freedom of expression. In fact, if not for the United Nations’ letter being covered and reported in Britain’s “The Independent,” Americans may have never learned that they live in a nation where one political party is bringing another level of shame because they wholly intend to criminalize “the pillar of democracy” enshrined in the nation’s founding document; a document the authoritarian Republican Party and its leader refuse to recognize is the law of the land and despise because it informs ‘the pillar of democracy.”