GENEVA (19 June 2020) – UN experts* today expressed profound concern over a recent statement by the US Attorney-General describing Antifa and other anti-fascist activists as domestic terrorists, saying it undermines the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly in the country.

“International human rights law protects the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” said Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.   “It is regrettable that the United States has chosen to respond to the protests in a manner that undermines these fundamental rights.”

Following nationwide demonstrations that began after police in Minneapolis killed African American George Floyd, US Attorney-General William Barr warned that alleged violence carried out by Antifa and other movements “is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly”.

While no legislative action has yet followed Barr’s statement on 31 May 2020, Ní Aoláin said “the loose use of terrorism rhetoric undermines legitimate protests and dampens freedom of expression in the United States, which has been a hallmark of US constitutional values, and a beacon far beyond its shores”.

Echoing the unease expressed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding structural race discrimination in the US, particularly in the realm of policing, the Special Rapporteur said that regulating protests and violence through the lens of counter-terrorism may only sharpen divisions and accentuate tensions, fuelling further human rights violations. The experts strongly recommend that violent elements among peaceful protesters be dealt with fairly and in accordance to due process under existing penal law.

Ní Aoláin urged the US to take a human rights-based approach in their response to protests and violence and avoid the misuse and misappropriation of the language of terrorism.

“Unless it does, the Government risks cheapening grave crimes that fall under the rubric of terrorism and failing to fulfil fundamental obligations to ensure counter-terrorism measures are fully compliant with international human rights law.”


*The UN expertsFionnuala D. Ní AoláinSpecial Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorismMs Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur),Ms Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Sètondji Roland Adjovi, and Mr. Seong-Phil HongWorking Group on Arbitrary Detention; Ms. E. Tendayi AchiumeSpecial Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of RacismMr. David KayeSpecial Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression; and Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi VouleSpecial Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association.

UN experts decry US rhetoric on designation of terrorist groups