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ERG calls again on CM to restore freedom of assembly

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo

In a press release today, Equality Rights Group (ERG) has said it welcomes ‘the Chief Minister’s approach of managing the pandemic response in proportion to the available evidence in real time. 

‘We also note his acknowledgement of the curtailment on civil and human rights which has resulted over the past year or so in the official statement following the latest recommendations of the Civil Contingencies Strategic Coordinating Group. Advice which led to the recent lowering of restrictions.

‘As has happened for a number of other pandemic timetable commitments to date, it’s now time for Government to set a date for the restoration of full democracy in Gibraltar. There’s no reason why this can’t be done with all the decision-making precautions that have applied before. Fundamental rights are an integral part of our way of life. And citizens need the reassurance of that return. Indeed, the Gibraltar we love would be unrecognisable without the rights of citizens freely exercised under the Rule of Law and the Constitution.

‘Six months ago, ERG asked for proportionality in the joint management of health and fundamental rights, though our call went unanswered in the midst of unclear and evolving circumstances. Today more than ever, ERG holds that an examination of the facts and expert recommendations point to the time being right for ending the muzzle on the most fundamental of people’s rights: that of freedom of assembly and peaceful protest,’ the group goes on to state.

‘For the past year, Government has been rightly exercising its duty of care to the community in a careful battle against the sad consequences of the pandemic. As recent statements acknowledge, however, the situation has moved on and evolved. The Chief Minister, therefore, must now exercise that judgement equitably across all fields of our community’s life. ERG is consequently also talking to the Unions, social agents and citizens’ groups to advocate that fundamental rights be weighed in and no less than commercial or other considerations in the judgement call because they are a vital part of the mix.

‘In the same way that Government is already setting slow but sure dates in this respect, with its advance announcement re-invoking the referendum on abortion legislation for 24th June, in addition to the likelihood of planned public attendance of sports events, ERG is asking the Chief Minister, on that same qualified basis, to set a date now for the full return of democratic normality. A right hijacked by the crisis for too long.

‘If it’s ok to lift or lower restrictions on groups or individuals meeting for business or social need, or to drop the obligation to wear masks except in limited areas of Gibraltar, it is not beyond the scope of both policy and policing to adopt proportional measures when it comes to freedom of assembly. Indeed, from all the expert evidence that has been made available both in Gibraltar and elsewhere, there is no reason why peaceful assembly held with all the recommended measures cannot be as reasonable and as safe as all the other limitations which have now been dropped. 

‘Our fundamental rights cannot be the Cinderella of our concerns.’