On 23 March 2011, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, President of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), gabled the appointment of Maina Kiai to become the new Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association (SR on FoAA). Almost at the end of the 16th session of the HRC, this appointment crowned CIVICUS’ and our partners’ efforts, begun more than a year ago. They had intensified during the last 6 months and were finalized at a moment in history when we saw a new dawn promising freedom and dignity, but also so many attempts to brutally suppress these hopes.
‘Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association’. This Article 20 of the UDHR had so far no official mechanism to monitor this right. Earlier attempts to create a Special Procedure were always doomed because a large number of States utterly opposed it. When the United States under the Obama Administration embraced the Council and was elected in 2009, one of her priorities was to establish such a mechanism. They provided leadership in a new broad based cross-regional approach to create a mandate for a SR on FoAA.
At the same time the Working Group of the Community of Democracies, tasked to enhance and protect space for civil society, became active behind the scene to support this approach. CIVICUS, Article 19, ICNL and the World Movement for Democracies, as members particularly engaged in this process, called vehemently in a joint press release for the creation of a Special Rapporteur in July 2010.
For me the real work started during the 15th session of the HRC in September 2010 when the negotiations on the resolution for the mandate of FoAA began. Although the US had succeeded to have Nigeria, Mexico, Indonesia, the Czech Republic and the Maldives as co-chairs, a fierce battle began on each word, comma and paragraph, including on the substance of the text. I had endless informal talks with reluctant governments, supported by other NGO colleagues, accompanied by hectic e-mail exchanges within our group. We finally claimed victory on 30 September, when the resolution was adopted by consensus with more than 60 co-sponsors in the end. This was the first part of the process.
The second was to get a good candidate for the position. As always, Governments and NGOs were invited to propose names. Our strategy was to submit good names from all five UN regions to make sure that whatever political process the consultations would go through we would end up with a good candidate. Our group consented very fast on a list which we submitted in time to the Secretariat with all necessary documentation. As we were not the only ones to propose, more lobbying was necessary to provide enough support for our candidates, three of which ended on the short list. Finally, we were most happy to see one of our candidates emerge as the frontrunner.
We warmly welcome Maina Kiai as one of the jewels in the human rights system, to become the eye and ear for the oppressed. As in his own words: “I am humbled but thrilled with this and really roaring to go. It seems to be a wonderful opportunity at a great moment in world history when issues of freedom of assembly and association are on top of our minds in so many ways”.
Renate Bloem, Permanent UN Representative