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WORLD | 25-07-2020 09:57

Portland protests: UN calls on US to ensure right to peaceful protest

US President Donald Trump’s decision to order a controversial crackdown on demonstrations in Portland, the biggest city in the US state of Oregon, sparks anger and UN warning.

The UN warned Washington against using excessive force against demonstrators and media in the United States on Friday, saying President Donald Trump’s deployment of unidentified officers increased the risk of human rights violations.

Responding to questions about violent clashes in the US city of Portland between federal forces and demonstrators protesting against racism and police brutality, a UN spokeswoman stressed that the right to peacefully assemble and protest must be protected.

"Peaceful demonstrations that have been taking place in cities in the US, such as Portland, really must be able to continue," UN rights office spokeswoman Elizabeth Throssel told reporters in Geneva.

People must be able to demonstrate, and journalists must be able to cover such protests, without "risking arbitrary arrest or detention, being subject to unnecessary disproportionate or discriminatory use of force or suffering other violations of their rights," she said.

Demonstrations

Protests raged in the US after the killing of George Floyd, an African American man who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis on May 25.

Those protests began losing steam earlier this month, before reports emerged of camouflaged federal officers snatching Portland demonstrations and taking them away in unmarked vehicles, spurring a fresh wave of rallies.

The US Justice Department's independent watchdog announced Thursday it was launching probes into the use of force by federal agents in Portland.

The move comes following outrage by members of Congress, as well as rights activists and the public, over daily violent clashes in Portland between federal forces and demonstrators protesting against racism and police brutality.

US lawmakers welcomed the investigations with the chairs of the Judiciary, Homeland Security and Oversight demanding answers to the use of federal forces to "suppress, teargas and beat peaceful protesters and American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights." 

"Congress will continue to check this reckless Administration, but it is deeply important that these independent inspectors general get to the bottom of President Trump’s use of force against his own citizens," they said in a statement.

Mayor teargassed

As crowds swelled this week in Portland, some of the most noticeable protesters are the so-called the ‘Wall of Moms’ and ‘PDX Dad Pod’ groups, self-described parents who have shown up each night since the weekend by the hundreds, wearing yellow T-shirts and bicycle helmets and ski goggles for protection and carrying sunflowers.

Early Thursday morning, the mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler, was teargassed in the downtown area as he met with the protesters. He called it “an egregious overreaction on the part of the federal officers" and “flat-out urban warfare."

Throssel said that the reports of unidentified officers making arrests were a particular cause for concern.

She noted that such practices could "give rise to arbitrary detention and other human rights violations.

"We would stress ... that the authorities should ensure that the federal and local security forces deployed are properly and clearly identified and use force only when necessary, proportionate, and in accordance with international standards," she said.

Globally, she added, authorities must ensure that people deployed for law enforcement do not threaten the "use of force to deter peaceful protesters."

– TIMES/AFP/AP

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