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USA: universities must stop preventing Gaza protests

Protests in support of Palestinian rights in and around college campuses have been met with repressive responses

Universities urged to respect and protect students’ right to protest

‘The right to protest is critical to freely speak out against what is happening right now in Gaza’ - Paul O’Brien

Universities across the USA must safeguard and facilitate all students’ rights to peacefully and safely protest on their campuses, Amnesty International said, as protests in support of Palestinian rights in and around college campuses have been met with obstructive and repressive responses by the authorities.

University administrations across the US have gone to great lengths to prevent students’ right to protest, even involving local authorities and demanding arrests, while suspending students who engage in peaceful demonstrations.

Paul O’Brien, Amnesty International USA’s Executive Director, said:

“Institutions of higher learning are key in helping students understand and claim their human rights.

“Any steps taken to silence, harass, threaten or otherwise intimidate those who gather peacefully to protest and speak out is a violation of their rights. Becoming a student does not mean leaving the inalienable right to protest at the university gates.

“The right to protest is critical to freely speak out against what is happening right now in Gaza. This is especially true as the US government continues to provide weapons to the Israeli military and is increasingly complicit in the atrocities being committed against Palestinians every single day.

“As the humanitarian disaster in Gaza grows more horrifying each day and more lives are lost with US support, it’s no wonder so many students are moved to protest.

“We continue to call on President Biden to immediately suspend all arms transfers to the government of Israel, and to work for an immediate and permanent ceasefire to protect civilians, ensure unimpeded humanitarian aid access and facilitate the safe release of hostages.”

Diversity of viewpoints

University administrations have a responsibility to foster an atmosphere that allows diverse viewpoints, but also to ensure that all students are able to engage in such discussions. Campus activism is a crucial component of that freedom and discussion. Schools and universities should ensure that all students can safely express their views and beliefs, and ensure protection of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Due to the real and known risks of police violence that students could face, administrations should summon law enforcement to disperse campus demonstrations only as a last resort, such as in the face of widespread violence or incitement to violence and discrimination.


While criticism of the actions or policies of the Israeli government is not in and of itself antisemitic and should not be used as a pretext to shut down dissent, there are videos circulating of individuals around some campus protests spewing hateful and harmful rhetoric, including glorifying violence such as the 7 October attacks. Antisemitism, Islamophobia or targeting individuals and communities for their religion, ethnicity or nationality are all hatred and must be condemned. Those who commit, encourage or acquiesce in such abuse and violence, whenever and wherever it is inflicted, must be held accountable. The right to be free from discrimination is also a fundamental principle of human rights law, and university administrations should engage with protest organisers to prohibit the use of discriminatory or harassing language which targets any particular group during the demonstrations.

“To be clear, discrimination and promoting violence against Jewish communities are human rights violations. We at Amnesty International USA condemn hateful rhetoric and violence in the strongest possible terms,” said Paul O’Brien. 

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