Social protest is a core element for the existence and consolidation of democratic societies and is protected by a constellation of rights and freedoms, which the inter-American system guarantees both in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and in the
American Convention on Human Rights. Indeed, the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association guarantee and protect various forms—individual and collective—of publicly expressing opinions, dissenting, demanding compliance with social, cultural, and environmental rights, and affirming the identity of groups that have historically been discriminated against. Protest also plays a central role in defending democracy and human rights. According to the instruments of the inter-American system, the joint exercise of these fundamental rights makes the free exercise of democracy possible. The region, far from offering a picture of consensus regarding the protection of demonstrations and protests, has been—and continues to be—the scene of repression, dispersal, and limitation of the exercise of these rights in the public sphere, the product of a deep-rooted conception that considers citizen mobilization to be a form of disruption of the public order or, even worse, a threat to the stability of democratic institutions. Hence, a central objective of this report, prepared by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, is to contribute to a better understanding of State obligations aimed at guaranteeing, protecting, and facilitating public protests and demonstrations, as well as the standards that should frame
the progressive use of force—and as a last resort—in protest contexts.
This report also acknowledges that in different circumstances protests cause disruption and affect the normal course of other activities—but this fact does not make these forms of expression per se illegitimate. It is based on the fact that one of the functions of protest is to
channel and amplify the demands, aspirations, and grievances of different segments of the population, including those that, due to their situation of exclusion or vulnerability, cannot readily access traditional media and institutional mediation. The report stresses that demonstrators have the freedom to choose the mode, form, place, and message for peaceful protest, and States have the obligation to manage social conflict through dialogue. To this end, States must respect the limits on their ability to place legitimate restrictions on demonstrations and protests. The report also provides an update on the exercise of these rights in relation to the growing importance of the Internet, the media, and the role of advertising, as well as the protection of the social control exercised by journalists and media workers during the organization, announcement, and holding of protests. The IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression emphasize that this report is the result of the ongoing monitoring of the situation of these freedoms in the region and the opening of dialogue with States and civil society. For more than two years the IACHR and its Office of the Special Rapporteur have conducted academic visits and consultations with social and academic organizations, experts who have contributed information and reflections to this report1; in this regard, they are grateful for the contributions received and hope that these standards will be useful to those responsible for establishing adequate legal frameworks or for judicial authorities who must adjudicate matters related to protest. In addition, we hope that it will become a reference for the security forces that have the obligation to protect and manage the staging of demonstrations and protests.