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(New York) – Human Rights Watch has for many years extensively documented grave abuses and repression in Israel and Palestine. Students at US public and private universities have engaged in peaceful protests against Israel’s ongoing military campaign in Gaza following the October 7, 2023 attacks that have resulted in thousands of Palestinian civilian deaths and a humanitarian catastrophe.  

International human rights law protects the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and obligates government authorities at all levels, including at public universities, to facilitate such assemblies and avoid imposing unnecessary or disproportionate restrictions. Private universities should also respect human rights and avoid contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their activities.

The following can be attributed to Tanya Greene, US program director at Human Rights Watch:

“Freedom of speech and assembly, including public protest, are human rights and essential to a functioning democratic system. Students in the United States have protested to support the civil rights movement, to resist the Vietnam War, to oppose apartheid in South Africa, and to challenge many other government policies throughout the country's history.

“University administrations and the police should not silence US students’ peaceful expression of their support for the rights of the Palestinian people amid the atrocities in Gaza and their objection to their universities' investments. 

“Universities should investigate and address allegations of antisemitic and Islamophobic speech and attacks on a case-by-case basis, through fair and transparent processes. But mass suspensions, expulsions, and arrests of peaceful student protesters shuts down protests that are raising awareness about grave abuses in Israel and Palestine.”

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