Just three days before International Human Rights Day, Charity & Security Network joined CIVICUS Alliance, the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law ICNL) and a defendant in the J20 criminal trial stemming from the Inauguration Day protests to present testimony on restrictions of the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly in the U.S. before the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights.
Charity & Security Network’s Andrea Hall presented data from the February 2017 report, Financial Access for U.S. Nonprofits, on the financial access difficulties that nonprofits are having in accessing banking services. Her testimony outlined how this problem, which includes account closures and wire transfer delays, severely impedes the organizations’ ability to carry out their programs. Access to funds is integral to the right to freely associate.
Bobbie Traut of CIVICUS led the panel and gave an overview of the problems with freedom of association and assembly in the U.S. today, highlighting data available in the CIVICUS Monitor. Charity & Security Network is a research partner on the Monitor.
Nick Robinson of ICNL discussed the serious threats to freedom of peaceful assembly that have passed or are pending in various state legislatures. He also explained that the militarization of local police has created a hostile and dangerous environment for protestors that includes kettling and the use of chemical agents without proper warning. That information is contained in ICNL’s protest law tracker.
Elizabeth Lagesse is a defendant in what is known as the J20 criminal trial. She is also a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit against the Washington, D.C. metropolitan police concerning the same events. Lagesse is facing multiple criminal charges associated with the protest, including felony rioting, inciting a riot and conspiracy to riot, even though prosecutors have admitted in court that they have no evidence that she harmed any people or property. More than 230 protesters, journalists and legal observers were arrested. As prosecutors have aggressively pursued these charges, they have depicted political organizing as a political conspiracy, she said, and described the prosecution’s disruption to the lives of her and her co-defendants, each of whom face up to several decades in prison. She also noted the chilling impact of these cases on other protesters.
The U.S. government was then given an opportunity to respond to the civil society panel’s presentation. They used this time to present a history lesson on freedom of speech in the United States. Following their remarks, the IACHR commissioners publicly scolded the U.S. government representatives for making “no reference to what is happening” in their remarks, and noting their serious concern with the problems outlined by civil society. The only way things can change is by admitting there has been a regression, … and that the regression is caused by the highest levels of power in the U.S. government,” said IAHCR chairwoman Margarette May Macaulay. She added that the situation with the J20 defendants is “unacceptable” and that she expected the U.S. government’s answer to focus on that. Finally, she noted that given the current state of civil liberties in the U.S., the country’s founders must be “turning in their graves.”