A new report by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association examines “fundamentalism in action” that is, “concrete, specific violations of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association that are motivated by these viewpoints.” The following UN article describes the report.

In recent years, there has been a perceived rise in the expression of fundamentalism in many contexts across the world. Despite the frequent use of the term, “fundamentalism” remains a word that is rarely defined with any specificity. Common use generally centers on religious fundamentalism, and this is perhaps what comes to mind first for most people.

But fundamentalism can encompass much more than religion, and in this report the Special Rapporteur takes a much broader view of the term. He believes that fundamentalism can and should be defined more expansively, to include any movements – not simply religious ones – that advocate strict and literal adherence to a set of basic beliefs or principles. Adherence to the principles of free market capitalism, for example, has spawned what has been called “market fundamentalism.” And the unbending belief in the superiority of one ethnic group, race, tribe or nationality can lead to what might be called “nationalist fundamentalism.” Numerous other examples are detailed in this report.

This report is not concerned with fundamentalist viewpoints per se, but rather with fundamentalism in action: concrete, specific violations of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association that are motivated by these viewpoints. The mere voluntary adherence to a fundamentalist belief system is not a human rights violation in and of itself. The right to hold opinions and the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion are protected by Articles 18 and 19 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The danger arises when holders of these beliefs seek to impose them in a way that controls or restricts the rights of others who may have different views or backgrounds, thereby threatening the values of pluralism and broadmindedness which are core to democracy. The tipping point, for purposes of this report, is when fundamentalist views form the basis for violations of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

A separate section of the report examines the related, but distinct, phenomenon of extremism, and the role that assembly and association rights can play in countering its rise.

“Denying people space for peaceful, legal and constructive engagement does not make their feelings of anger, despair and dissatisfaction go away,” Kiai writes in the report. “To the contrary, it simply pushes these feelings underground, where they can fester and turn violent. Extremism thrives in such environments, because it is the only option left.”

The report (A/HRC/32/36) was released on June 7, 2016, and will be presented to the Human Rights Council during its 32nd session on June 17, 2016.

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