The GOP convention begins Monday in Cleveland
Democrats gather one week later in Philadelphia
For the first time since its founding 55 years ago, Amnesty International is taking the unprecedented step of sending human rights observers to the political conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia.
“There’s a potentially toxic mix here of very heated rhetoric and an increase in law enforcement preventing people from protesting lawfully, and that combination is deeply concerning to us,” Eric Ferrero, Amnesty International USA’s deputy executive director for strategic communications and digital initiatives, told CNN on Thursday.
The multinational human rights organization typically sends monitors to document elections, transitions of power and public unrest in countries around the globe riven by civil war or ruled by autocrats. In recent years, its independent observers have been deployed to anti-government protests in Turkey and Arab Spring demonstrations in Egypt.
The group now expects to send at least 10 monitors to both conventions. They will move in groups of two or three, documenting potential abuses by law enforcement in real time and sharing their findings over social media, including Twitter and via Facebook Live broadcasts. They will file detailed reports with local, state and federal government agencies, and the public, after the events.
“The world will be watching Cleveland and Philadelphia,” Ferrero said, “and we’ll be on the scene as well documenting any human rights abuses.”
The decision to send a delegation to the quadrennial Democratic and Republican gatherings was made earlier this week.
“We’ve seen over the last couple of years, but especially over the last couple of months, cases in this country of law enforcement really inhibiting people’s basic human right to take to the streets and voice their opinion,” Ferrero said. “So given the climate we’re in, we felt it was really necessary for us to send independent, trained observers to document violations and help protect people’s right to assemble.”
The recent crackdown on protesters in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, following the police killing of black man, and past clashes in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, created a tinderbox more typically seen “elsewhere in the world and that can contribute to people’s human rights being violated,” he said.
On Wednesday, Amnesty USA Executive Director Margaret Huang sent open letters and “a summary of best practices on the policing of demonstrations under international standards” to the heads of the police forces in Cleveland and Philadelphia. The cities’ mayors, along with Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus and his Democratic counterpart, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were also copied.
“Public assemblies should not be considered as the ‘enemy,’” Huang wrote in the letters. “The command hierarchy must convey a clear message to law enforcement officials that their task is to facilitate and not to restrict a peaceful public assembly.”