protect the protest

Throughout history, protest has been a powerful tool for change. But governments around the world are cracking down on protests and it must be protected.

The Salt March in India in 1930 against British colonial rule; the Arab Spring uprisings, the anti-apartheid protests in South Africa. These mark key historical moments of change driven by people who refused to give up, who spoke truth to power – people who protested. Protest is a powerful force for change, and it’s because of the bravery of those who speak out that a more just and equal world is possible

But this right is under attack. In recent times in South Africa, the right to peaceful protest, which is enshrined in the Constitution, is constantly threatened by the excessive use of force and the use of rubber bullets by police. This has resulted in injuries and, in some cases, death. 

And governments around the world are also restricting people’s right to protest, because too many people in power fear change. Too many want to maintain the status quo. Too many want to keep people divided.

By coming together and ensuring that everyone – especially the marginalised and discriminated against – can participate in protests, we can create a more just and equal world. Together, we must protect the protest wherever it is restricted, whenever it is at risk. We must come together to create a world where people can peacefully demand change without persecution.

Instead of facilitating the right to protest, governments are going to ever greater lengths to quash it.


International human rights law protects the right to protest through a number of separate provisions enshrined in various international and regional treaties, which taken together, provide protests comprehensive protection. Even though the right to protest in not codified as a separate right in human rights treaties, when people engage in protests, whether individually or collectively, they are exercising a variety of rights, which can include the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. 

In South Africa, the right to peaceful protest in protected in Section 17 of the Constitution, whereby it states: “Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions.”

learn more

Amnesty International has developed a free online course on Police and Human Rights. 

The course is designed for researchers, campaigners and activists working on police and human rights. The course will give you a basic understanding of the international human rights laws and standards applicable in law enforcement. Through exercises, Amnesty research material, videos, and self-directed learning resources, learners will take a detailed look at a wide range of topics related to police and human rights.

Each module will take approximately one hour to complete. If you have more time and are interested in learning more – there are additional links to follow. This is a self-paced course so you can take it at your own pace. This course contains sensitive material that some learners may find distressing.

By the end of the first four modules, learners will know the fundamental human rights principles governing police work; and they will have learned when police can use force (and when not), including the rules that should govern the use of different weapons, and how human rights compliant policing of protests should look like.

By October 2022, an additional set of modules will be online and cover the following topics: Arrest and detention, Torture and ill-treatment, Accountability, Counter-terrorism, and Discrimination.