The United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled Wednesday that governments can restrict protests and demonstrations for public health reasons.
The committee sought to specify its longstanding freedom of speech laws after worldwide anti-racism protests that occurred amid the COVID-19 pandemic revealed gaps in the rule’s language.
“The protection of ‘public health’ ground may exceptionally permit restrictions to be imposed, for example where there is an outbreak of an infectious disease and gatherings are dangerous,” a new document, signed by 173 countries of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states.
The U.S. and China were among the signatories.
The document’s author, Christof Heyns, told Reuters that the legal interpretation was intended to establish the “rules of the game not just for protesters but for police.”
The report touches on issues related to recent protests around the world, including in Hong Kong where last month protesters took to the streets in opposition to a national security law placed by China on the territory.
The document says that protesters are allowed to wear masks to protest during a public health emergency even if it conceals their identity.
When questioned on the legality of placing mandates on wearing masks in public during a pandemic, Mr. Heyns told the publication that “It’s understandable and acceptable that for health reasons there may be limits on your rights.”