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June 4, 2020

Protest is a Human Right

In November, regarding protests in Iran we wrote, “It is without question that the right to assemble, protest and express dissent is an inalienable right, and recognized as such under international law. We condemn all use of lethal force and repression of the demonstrations. Iranian authorities cannot silence their people’s grievances through the use of force.”

The world watched in horror as Iranian authorities violently crushed demonstrations, in which hundreds were killed and thousands arrested. Though protests were sparked by a spike in gas prices in a dire economic situation resulting from government mismanagement and U.S. sanctions, the outpouring of citizens and palpable frustrations were indicative of deeper issues and a long history of injustices.

When protests resurfaced in January, this time sparked by the accidental shooting of a Ukrainian Airliner that killed all 176 civilians onboard, demonstrations were again suppressed. The United States House of Representatives responded by passing resolution 752, which expressed support for the right to assemble and protest, and condemned the use of force against Iranian citizens. Now, as the United States is embroiled in its own upheaval, it seems our officials must be reminded of this most fundamental human right: protest.

Today, the world is watching us in horror, as demonstrations have been met with disturbing violence, repression, and even attacks on journalists. Scenes of tanks in Washington D.C. and calls by U.S. officials to have the military turned on its own citizens is unacceptable. The outcry that sparked these protests came after a distressing video surfaced showing the murder of George Floyd, in yet another killing of black Americans at the hands of police. But much like the case of Iran, the protests that have moved across the entire nation reveal profound cleavages in American society and a history of racial injustice that spans centuries. That these protests have been met with further brutality, resulting in deaths and critical injuries, and suppressed through force and thousands of arrests, belies the rhetoric of human rights often cited by U.S. officials.

Protest is a human right, whether in Iran, the United States, or anywhere else in the world, the power to dissent and hold governments accountable is integral to a just society. Both Iran and the U.S. have enshrined this right into their respective constitutions, but beyond the words found on paper, is the principle that underlies them. Now these governments must be held to those words. The United States government must end its repression of protests, address its problem with police brutality, and confront the inequalities of institutional racism. All lives will matter, when black lives matter.

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