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- Year: 2020
- Country: Transnational
- Language: English
- Document Type: Other International Legal Instrument
- Topic: Assembly and Protest
General Comment 37 was adopted on July 23, 2020, during the UN Human Rights Committee’s 129th online session. It is currently available in English and will be made available in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish.
Human Rights Committee
General comment No. 37
Article 21: right of peaceful assembly *
I. General remarks
1. The fundamental human right of peaceful assembly enables individuals to express
themselves collectively and to participate in shaping their societies. The right of peaceful
assembly is important in its own right, as it protects the ability of people to exe rcise individual
autonomy in solidarity with others. Together with other related rights , it also constitutes the
very foundation of a system of participatory governance based on democracy, human rights,
the rule of law and pluralism. Peaceful assemblies can play a critical role in allowing
participants to advance ideas and aspirational goals in the public domain, and to establish the
extent of support for or opposition to those ideas and goals. Where they are used to air
grievances, peaceful assemblies may create opportunities for inclusive , participatory and
peaceful resolution of differences.
2. The right of peaceful assembly is, moreover, a valuable tool that can and has been
used to recognize and reali ze a wide range of other rights, including economic , social and
cultural rights. It is of particular importance to marginali zed individuals and groups . A failure
to respect and ensure the right of peaceful assembl y is typically a marker of repression.
3. The first sentence of article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights provides that: “ The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized .” The right is
articulated in similar terms in other international instruments ,
1 and its content has been
elaborated upon by international bodies, f or example in their views, concluding observations,
resolutions, interpretive guidelines, and judicial decisions.
2 In addition to being bound by
* Adopted by the Committee at its 129 th session (29 June to 24 July 2020).
1 See, e.g., the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art. 20 (1)); the Convention for the Protection
of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention on Human Rights) (art. 11); the
American Convention on Human Rights (art. 15); and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’
Rights (art. 11). The Arab Charter on H uman Rights protects the right for citizens (art. 28). Specific
obligations relating to participation in peaceful assemblies can also be found in the Convention on the
Rights of the Child, (art. 15); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination (art. 5 (d) (ix)); and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (art.
2 For examples from the regional mechanisms, see Organization for Security and Cooperation in
Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights & European Commission for
Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission), Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly 3
edition (2019); the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), Guidelines on
Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa (2017); ACHPR, Guidelines for the Policing of
Assemblies by Law Enforcement Officials in Africa (2017); Office of the Special Rapporteur for
CCPR /C/GC/ 37
Advance unedited version Distr.: General
27 July 2020
international law to recognize the right of peaceful assembly, t he vast majority of States also
recognize the right in their national constitutions. 3
4. The right of peaceful assembly protects the non -violent gathering by persons for
specific purposes, principally expressive ones.
4 It constitutes an individual right that is
exercised collectively. 5 Inherent to the right is thus an associative element.
5. Everyone has the right of peaceful assembly : citizens and non-citizens alike. It may
be exercised by, for example, foreign nationals ,
6 migrant s (documented or undocumented) , 7
asylum seekers and refugees, 8 as well as stateless persons.
6. Article 21 protects p eaceful assemblies wherever t hey take place: outdoors , indoors
and online; in public and private spaces; or a combination thereof . Such assemblies may take
many forms, including demonstrations, protests, meetings, processions, rallies, sit-ins,
candlelit vigils and flash -mobs. They are protected under article 21 whet her they are
stationary, such as pickets, or mobile, such as processions or marches.
7. In many cases, peaceful assemblies do not pursue controversial goals and cause little
or no disruption. The aim might indeed be, for example, to commemorate a national day or
celebrate the outcome of a sporting event. However, peaceful assemblies can sometimes be
used to pursue contentious ideas or goals. Their scale or nature can cause disruption, for
example of vehicular or pedestrian movement or economic activity.
9 These consequences,
whether intended or unintended, do not call into question the protection such assemblies
enjoy. To the extent an event may create such disruptions or risks, these have to be managed
within the framework of the Covenant .
8. The recogniti on of the right of peaceful assembly imposes a corresponding obligation
on States parties to respect and ensure its exercise without discrimination .
10 This requires
States to allow such assemblies to take place with out unwarranted interference and to
facil itate the exercise of the right and to protect the participants. The second sentence of
article 21 provides grounds for potential restrictions, but any such restrictions must be
narrowly drawn. There are, in effect, limits on the restrictions that may be imposed.
9. The full protection of the right of peaceful assembly is possible only when other, often
overlapping, rights are also protected, notably freedom of expression, freedom of association
and political participation .
11 Protection of the right of peaceful assembly is often also
dependent on the realization of a broader range of civil and political as well as economic,
social and cultural rights . Where individuals’ conduct places them outside the scope of the
protection of article 21, for example because they are behaving violently, they retain their
other rights under the Covenant, subject to the applicable limitations and restrictions.
1 0. The way in which assemblies are conducted and their context changes over time. T his
may in turn affect how they are approached by the authorities. For example, emerging
communication technologies offer the opportunity to assemble either wholly or partly online
and often play an integral role in organizing , participating in and monitor ing physical
gatherings , which means that interference with such communications can imped e assemblies.
While s urveillance technologies can be used to detect threats of violence and thus to protect
Freedom of Expression of the Inter -American Commission on Human Rights, Protest and Human
Rights: Standar ds on the rights involved in social protest and the obligations to guide the response of
the State (2019).
3 A total of 184 of the 193 Members of the United Nations recognize the right of peaceful assembly in
their constitutions, see www.rightofassembly.i nfo.
4 C.f. Kivenmaa v. Finland (CCPR/C/50/D/412/1990), para. 7.6; Sekerko v. Belarus
(CCPR/C/109/D/1851/2008), para. 9.3; and Poplavny v. Belarus (CCPR/C/118/D/2139/2012), para.
5 Cf. General comment No. 31 (2004), para. 9.
6 General comment No. 1 5 (1986), paras. 1–2; and CCPR/C/KWT/CO/3, para. 42.
7 CCPR/C/DOM/CO/6, para. 32.
8 CCPR/C/NPL/CO/2, para. 14.
9 CCPR/C/KOR/Q/4, para. 26.
10 ICCPR art. 2 (1).
11 Cf. A/HRC/39/28, para. 14.
the public, they can also infringe on the right to privacy and other rights of participants and
bystanders and have a chilling effect . Moreover, there is increased private ownership and
other forms of control of publicly accessible spaces and communication platforms .
Considerations such as these need to inform a c ontemporary understanding of the legal
framework article 21 require s.
II. Scope of the right of peaceful assembly
11. Establishing whether or not someone’s participation in an assembly is protected by
article 21 entails a two -stage process. It must first be established whether or not the conduct
of the person in question falls within the scope of the protection offered by the right , in that
it amounts to participation in a “peaceful assembly” (as described in this section) . If so, the
State must respect an d ensure the rights of the participants (as described in section 3). Second,
it must be established whether or not any restrictions appl ied to the exercise of the right are
legitimate in that context (as described in section 4) .
1 2. Participating in an “assembly” entails organising or taking part in a gathering of
persons for a purpose such as expressing oneself, conveying a position on a particular issue
or exchanging ideas. The gathering can also be intended to assert or affirm grou p solidarity
or identity. Assemblies may, in addition to having such aims, serve other goals, such as an
entertainment, cultural, religious or commercial objective, and still be protected by article 21.
1 3. While the notion of an assembly implies there w ill be more than one participant in the
12 a single protester enjoys comparable protections under the Covenant, for
example under article 19. A lthough the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly is normally
understood to pertain to the physica l gathering of persons, article 21 protection also extends
to remote participation in, and organisation of, assemblies , for example online.
1 4. Peaceful assemblies are often organized in advance, allowing time for the organisers
to notify the authoritie s to make the necessary preparations. However, spontaneous
assemblies, typically direct responses to current events, whether coordinated or not, are
equally protected by article 21. Counter -assemblies occur when one assembly takes place to
express oppositi on to another. Both assemblies can fall within the scope of the protection of
1 5. A “peaceful” assembly stands in contradistinction to one characterized by widespread
and serious violence. The terms “peaceful” and “non -violent” are thus used interchangeably
in this context. The right of peaceful assembly may by definition not be exercised using
violen ce. “Violence” in th e context of article 21 typically entails the use by participants of
physical force against others that is likely to result in injury or death, or serious damage to
14 Mere pushing and shoving or disruption of vehicular or pedestrian movement or
daily activities do not amount to “ violence”.
1 6. If the conduct of participants in an assembly is peaceful, the fact that cert ain domestic
legal requirements pertaining to an assembly have not been met by its organisers or
participants does not, on its own, place the participants outside the scope of the protection of
15 Collective c ivil disobedience or direct -action c ampaigns can be covered by
article 21, provided they are non- violent. 16
1 7. There is not always a clear dividing line between assemblies that are peaceful and those
that are not , but there is a presumption in favour of considering assemblies to be peaceful.
Moreover, isolated acts of violence by some participants should not be attributed to other s,
12 Coleman v. Australia (CCPR/C/87/D/1157/2003 ), para. 6.4.
14 C.f. OSCE & Venice Commission, Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly , para. 51.
15 C.f. European Court of Human Rights, Frumkin v. Russia (application No. 74568/12), judgment of 5
January 2016, para. 97.
16 C.f. CCPR/C/CHN -MAC/CO/1, para. 16.
17 A/HRC/31/66, para. 18.
the organisers or to the assembly as such . 18 Thus, s ome participants in an assembly may be
covered by article 21, while others in the same assembly are not.
18. The question of whether or not an assembly is peaceful must be answered with
reference to violence that originates from the participants. Violence against participants in a
peaceful assembly by the authorities, or by agents provocateurs acting on their behalf, does
not render the assembly non-peaceful . The same applies to vi olence by members of the public
aimed at the assembly, or by participants in counter -assemblies.
19. The conduct of specific p articipants in an assembly may be deemed violent if
authorities can present credible evidence that , before or during the event, those participants
are inciting others to use violence , and such actions are likely to cause violence ; the
participants have violent intentions and plan to act on them ; or violenc e on their part is
19 Isolated instances of such conduct will not suffice to taint an entire assembly as
non -peaceful, but where this is manifestly widespread within the assembly , participation in
the gathering as such is no longer protected under article 21.
20. The carrying by participants of objects that are or could be viewed as weapons or of
protective equipment such as gas -masks or helmets is not necessarily sufficient to deem those
participants’ conduct violent. That has to be determined o n a case-by-case basis, dependent
on, among other considerations, domestic regulation on the carrying of weapons (especially
firearms), local cultural practices, whether there is evidence of violent intent, and the risk of
violence presented by the presence of such objects.
III. The obligation of States parties in respect of the right of peaceful
21. The Covenant imposes the obligation on States parties to “respect and ensure” all the
rights in the Covenant (article 2 (1)); to take legal and other measures to achieve this purpose
(article 2 (2)); and to pursue accountability, and provide effective remedies for violations of
Covenant rights (article 2 (3)).
20 The obligation of St ates parties regarding the right of
peaceful assembly thus comprises these various elements , though the right may in some cases
be restricted according to the criteria of article 21 .
2 2. States must leave it to the participants freely to determine the purp oses or any
expressive content of an assembly. The approach of the authorities to peaceful assemblies
and any restrictions imposed must thus in principle be “content neutral”
21 and not be based
on the identity of the participants or their relationship with the authorities. Moreover, w hile
the “time, place and manner” of assemblies may under some circumstances be the subject of
legitimate restrictions under article 21, given the typically expressive nature of assemblies,
participants must as far as possible be enable d to conduct assemblies within “sight and sound”
of the target audience.
2 3. The obligation to respect and ensure peaceful assemblies imposes negative as well as
positive duties on States before, during and after assemblies . The negative duty entails no
unwarranted interference with peaceful assemblies. States are obliged, for example, not to
prohibit, restrict, block , disperse or disrupt peaceful assemblies without compelling
justification, nor to sanction participants or organisers without leg itimate cause.
18 C.f. Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Case of Women Victims of Sexual Torture in Atenco v.
Mexico , Judgment of 28 November 2018, Series C No. 371, para. 175; European Court of Human
Rights, Frumkin v. Russia , para. 99.
19 C.f. Rabat Plan of Action (2012), A/HRC/22/17/Add.4, appendix, para. 29(f).
20 General comment No. 31.
21 See Alekseev v. Russian Federation , (CCPR/C/109/D/1873/2009), para. 9.6. See also Amelkovich v.
Belarus (CCPR/C/125/D/2720/2016), para. 6.6; CCPR/C/GNQ/CO/1, para. 54.
22 Strizhak v. Belarus , (CCPR/C/124/D/2260/2013), para. 6.5.
24. States parties moreover have certain positive duties to facilitate peaceful assemblies,
and to make it possible for participants to achieve their objectives . 23 States must thus promote
an enabling environment for the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly without
discrimination , and put in place a legal and institutional framework within which the right
can be exercised effectively. S pecific measures may sometimes be required on the part of the
authorities. For example, they may need to block off streets, redirect traffic, or provide
security. Where needed, States must also protect participants against possible abuse by non –
State actors, such as interference or violence by other members of the public,
24 counter –
demonstrators and private security providers.
2 5. States must ensure that laws and their interpretation and application do not result in
discrimination in the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembl y, for example on the basis
of race, colour, ethnicity, age, sex, language, property, religion or belief, political or other
opinion, national or social origin, birth , minority, indigenous or other status, disability,
sexual orientation or gender identity, or other status .
25 Particular efforts must be made to
ensure equal and effective facilitation and protection of the right of peaceful assembly of
individuals who are members of groups who are or have been subjected to discrimination, or
who may face part icular challenges in participating in assemblies .
26 States moreover have a
duty to protect participants from all forms of discriminatory abuses or attacks. 27
26. The right of peaceful assembly does not exempt participants from challenges by other
members of society. States must respect and ensure counter -assemblies as assemblies in their
own right, while preventing undue disruption of the assemblies to which they are opposed.
States must in principle take a content- neutral approach to counter-assemblies , which must
be allowed to take place, as far as possible, within sight and sound of the assemblies against
which they are directed.
27. The possibility that a peaceful assembly may provoke adverse or even violent
reactions from some members of the publi c is not sufficient grounds to prohibit or restrict the
29 State s are obliged to take all reasonable measures that do not impose
disproportionate burdens upon them to protect all participants and to allow such assembl ies
to take place in an uninterrupted manner.
28. A functioning and transparent legal and decision -making system lies at the core of the
duty to respect and ensure peaceful assemblies. Domestic law must recognize the right of
peaceful assembly, clearly set out the duties and responsibilities of all functionaries involved,
be aligned with the relevant international standards , and be publicly accessible. States must
ensure public awareness about the law and relevant regulations, including any procedures to
be followed by those wishing to exercise the right; who the responsible authorities are; the
rules applicable to those officials; and the remedies available for alleged violations of rights.
29. States parties must ensure independent and transparent oversi ght of all bodies
involved with peaceful assemblies, including through timely access to effective remedies,
including judicial remedies or national human rights institutions , with a view to upholding
the right , before, during and after an assembly.
23 Since its decision in Turchenyak v. Belarus (CCPR/C/108/D/ 1948/2010), the Committee has often
repeated that steps taken by States in response to an assembly “should be guided by the objective to
facilitate the right” (para. 7.4). Also see CCPR/C/BEN/CO/2, para. 33. C.f. A/HRC/20/27, para. 33;
Human Rights Council Resolution 38/11, OP 4.
24 Alekseev v. Russian Federation (CCPR/C/109/D/1873/2009), para. 9.6.
25 CCPR/C/GEO/CO/4, para. 8; CCPR/C/MNG/CO/6, para. 11; CCPR/C/RUS/CO/7, para. 10;
CCPR/C/PRY/CO/3, para. 9 . C.f. CRC/C/KEN/CO/3 -5 paras. 27–28; United Nations Declaration on
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (A/RES/61/295), art. 2.
26 A/HRC/31/66, para. 16.
27 CCPR/C/CHL/CO/6, para. 19. See also Fedotova v. Russian Federation (CCPR/C/106/D/1932/2010),
28 C.f. European Court of Human Rights, Plattform “Ärzte für das Leben” v. Austria (application No.
10126/82), judgment of 21 June 1988, para. 32.
29 C.f. ACHPR, Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, para. 70 (a).
30 See also paragraph 52 below.
30. The role of journalists, human rights defenders , election monitors and others involved
in monitoring or reporting on assemblies, is of particular importance for the full enjoyment
of the right of peaceful assembly , and they are entitled to protection under t he Covenant.
They may not be prohibited from , or unduly limited in, exercising these functions, including
with respect to monitoring the actions of law enforcement officials. They must not be met
with reprisals or other harassment, and t heir equipment must not be confiscated or damaged.
Even if an assembly is declared unlawful or is dispersed, that does not terminate the right to
monitor. It is a good practice for independent national human rights institutions and non-
governmental organizations to monitor assemblies.
3 1. States parties hold the primary responsibility for the realization of the right of peaceful
assembly. However, b usiness enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights,
including the right of peaceful assembly, of, for example, communities affected by their
activities and their employees .
33 Private entities and the broader society may be expected to
accept some level of disruption as a result of the exercise of the right.
3 2. Given that peaceful assemblies often have expressive functions, and political speech
enjoys particular protection as a form of expression, it follows that assemblies with a political
message should enjoy a heightened level of accommodation and protection.
3 3. Article 21 and its related rights do not only protect participants while and where an
assembly i s ongoing. A ssociated activities , conducted by an individual or by a group, outside
the immediate context of the gathering but which are integral to making the exercise
meaningful , are also covered. The obligations of States parties thus extend to actions such as
participants’ or organi sers’ mobilisation of resources; planning; dissemination of information
about an upcoming event;
35 preparation for and travelling to the event; 36 communication
between participants leading up to and during the assembly; broadcasting of or from the
assembly ; and leaving the assembly afterwards. These activities may, like participation in the
assembly itself, be subjected to restrictions, but these must be narrowly drawn . Moreover, no
one should be harassed or face other reprisa ls as a result of their presence at or affiliation to
a peaceful assembly.
3 4. Many associated activities happen online or otherwise rely upon digital services. Such
activities are also protected under article 21. States parties must not, for example, block or
hinder Internet connectivity in relation to peaceful assemblies .
37 The same applies to geo –
targete d o r technology- specific interferenc e with connectivity or access to content .
should ensure that the activities of Internet service providers and intermediaries do not unduly
restrict assemblies or the privacy of assembly participants. Any restrictions on the operation
of information dissemination systems must conform with the tests for restrictions on freedom
of expre ssion.
3 5. While all organs of State carry the obligation to respect and ensure the right of
peaceful assembly, decisions on assemblies are often taken at local level. States must
therefore ensure adequate training and resources for officials involved in these decisions at
all levels of government.
IV. Restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly
36. While the right of peaceful assembly may in certain cases be limited, the onus is on
the authorities to justify any restrictions . 39 Authorities must be able to show that any
31 Zhagiparov v. Kazakhst an (CCPR/C/124/D/2441/2014), paras. 13.2– 13.5. C.f. General Assembly
resolution 53/1, annex.
32 CCPR/C/MRT/CO/1, para. 22. See also General Assembly resolution 66/164, OP 6.
33 Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, A/HRC/17/31, annex.
34 General comment No. 34, paras. 34, 37 –38 and 42 –43. See also CCPR/C/LAO/CO/1, para. 33.
35 Tulzhenkova v. Belarus (CCPR/C/103/D/1838/2008), para. 9.3.
36 Evrezov and others v. Belarus (CCPR/C/112/D/1999/2010 and Corr.1), para. 8.5.
37 CCPR/C/CMR/CO/5, para. 41.
38 General comment No. 34, para. 34.
39 Gryb v. Belarus (CCPR/C/108/D/1316/2004), para. 13.4.
restrictions meet the requirement of legality , and are also both necessary for and
proportionate to at least one of the permissible grounds f or restrictions enumerated in article
21, a s discussed below. Where this onus is not met, article 21 is violated.
40 The imposition
of any restrictions should be guided by the objective of facilitating the right, rather than
seeking unnecessary and disproportionate limitations to it.
41 Restrictions must not be
discriminatory, impair the essence of the right, or be aimed at discouraging participation in
assemblies or causing a chilling effect.
37. The prohibition of a specific assembly can be considered only as a measure of last
resort. Where the imposition of restrictions on an assembly is deemed necessary , the
authorities should first seek to apply the least -intrusive measures . States should also consider
allow ing an assembly to take place and decid ing afte rwards whether measures should be
taken regarding possible transgressions during the event, rather than impos ing prior restraints
in an attempt to eliminate all risks.
38. Any restrictions on participation in peaceful assemblies should be based on a
dif ferentiated or individualized assessment of the conduct of the participants and the
assembly concerned. Blanket restrictions on peaceful assemblies are presumptively
39. The second sentence of article 21 provides that no restrictions ma y be placed on the
exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law. This poses the
formal requirement of legality , akin to the requirement that limitations must be “provided by
law” in other articles of the Covenant. Restrictions must thus be imposed through law or
administrative decisions based on law. The laws in question must be sufficiently precise to
allow membe rs of society to decide how to regulate their conduct and may not confer
unfettered or sweeping discretion on those charged with their enforcement .
4 0. Article 21 provides that any restrictions must be “ necessary in a democratic society ”.
R estrictions must therefore be necessary and proportionate in the context of a society based
on democracy, the rule of law, political pluralism and human rights, as opposed to being
merely reasonable or expedient.
44 Such r estriction s must be appropriate respons es to a
p ressing social need , related to one of the permissible grounds in article 21. They must also
be the least intrusive among the measures that might serve the relevant protective function.
M oreover, they have to be proportionate , which requires a value assessment, weighing the
nature and detrimental impact of the interference on the exercise of the right against the
resultant benefit to one of the grounds for interfering.
46 If the detriment outweighs the benefit ,
the restriction is disproportionate and thus not permissible.
4 1. The last part of the second sentence of article 21 sets out the legitimate grounds on
which the right of peaceful assembly may be restricted. This is an exhaustive list, consisting
of the following grounds: the interests of national security; public safety; public order ( ordre
public ); the protection of public health; or morals; or the protection of the rights and freedoms
4 2. The “interests of national security” may serve as a ground fo r restrictions if such
restrictions are necessary to preserve the State’s capacity to protect the existence of the
nation, its territorial integrity or political independence against a credible threat or use of
47 This threshold will only exceptional ly be met by assemblies that are “peaceful”.
Moreover, where the very reason that national security has deteriorated is the suppression of
40 Chebotareva v. Russian Federation (CCPR/C/104/D/1866/2009), para. 9.3.
41 Turch enyak and others v. Belarus (CCPR/C/108/D/1948/2010 and Corr.1), para. 7.4.
42 C.f. OSCE & Venice Commission, Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, paras. 132, 220– 22.
43 Nepomnyashchiy v. Russian Federation (CCPR/C/123/D/2318/2013), para. 7.7; and General
comment No. 34, para. 25.
44 General comment No. 34, para. 34.
45 Toregozhina v. Kazakhstan (CCPR/C/112/D/2137/2012), para. 7.4.
46 Ibid., paras. 7.4, 7.6. C.f. OSCE & Venice Commission, Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful
Assembly , para. 131.
47 Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation of Provisions in the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights (E/CN.4/1985/4, annex) , para. 29.
human rights, this cannot be used to justify further restrictions, including on the right of
peaceful assembly. 48
4 3. For the protection of “public safety” to be invoked as a ground for restrictions on the
right of peaceful assembly,
49 it must be established that the assembly creates a real and
significant risk to the safety of persons (to life or security of person) or a similar risk of
serious damage to property.
44. “Public order” refers to the sum of the rules that ensure the proper functioning of
society, or the set of fundamental principles
o n whic h societ y is founded, which also entails
respect fo r huma n rights, including the right of peaceful assembly. 51 States parties should
not rely on a vague definition of
“public order” to justify over -broad restrictions on the right
of peaceful assembly. 52 Peaceful assemblies can in some cases be inherently or deliberately
disruptive and require a significant degree of toleration. “Public order” and “law and order”
are not synonyms, and the prohibition of “public disorder” in domestic law should not be
used unduly to restrict peaceful assemblies.
45. The pr otection of “ public health” ground may exceptionally permit restrictions to be
imposed, for example where there is an outbreak of an infectious disease and gatherings are
dangerous. This may in extreme cases also be applicable where the sanitary situation during
an assembly presents a substantial health risk to the general public or to the participants
46. Restrictions on peaceful assemblies should only exceptionally be imposed for the
protection of “morals”. If used at all, this ground shoul d not be used to protect understandings
of morality deriving exclusively from a single social, philosophical or religious tradition
and any such restrictions must be understood in the light of the universality of human rights,
pluralism and the principle of non- discrimination .
55 Restrictions based on this ground may
not , for instance , be imposed because of opposition to expressions of sexual orientation or
47. Restrictions imposed for the protection of “ the rights and freedoms of others” may
relate to the protection of Covenant or other human rights of people not participating in the
assembly. At the same time, assemblies are a legitimate use of public and other spaces, and
since they may entail by their very nature a certain level of d isruption to ordinary life, such
disruptions have to be accommodated, unless they impose a disproportionate burden, in
which case the authorities must be able to provide detailed justification for any restrictions.
48. In addition to the general framework for restrictions provided for in article 21 as
discussed above, additional considerations are relevant to restrictions on the right of peaceful
assembly. Central to the realisation of the right is the requirement that a ny restrictions, in
principle , be content neutral, and thus not be related to the message conveyed by the
58 A contrary approach defeats the very purpose of peaceful assemblies as a
potential tool of political and social participation that allows people to advance ideas and
establish the extent of support they enjoy .
49. The rules applicable to freedom of expression should be followed when dealing with
any expressive element s of assemblies . Restrictions on peaceful assemblies must thus not be
48 Ibid., para. 32.
49 See CCPR/C/MKD/CO/3, para. 19; Alekseev v. Russian Federation , para. 9.5.
50 Siracusa Principles, para. 33.
51 Ibid., para. 22.
52 CCPR/C/KAZ/CO/1, para. 26; CCPR/C/DZA/CO/4, para. 45.
53 C.f. European Court of Human Rights, Cisse v. France (application No. 51346/99), judgment of 9
54 General comment No. 22, para. 8.
55 General comment No. 34, para. 32.
56 Fedotova v. Russian Federation (CCPR/C/106/D/1932/2010), paras. 10.5 –10.6; Alekseev v. Russian
Federation , para. 9.6.
57 Stambrovsky v. Belarus (CCPR/C/112/D/1987/2010), para. 7.6; Pugach v. Belarus
(CCPR/C/114/D/1984/2010), para. 7.8.
58 Alekseev v. Russian Federation , para. 9.6.
used , explicitly or implicitly, to stifle expression of political opposition to a government, 59
challenges to authority, including calls for democratic changes of government, the
constitution, the political system, or the pursuit of self -determination . They should not be
used to prohibit insults to the honour and reputation of officials or State organs .
50. In accordance with article 20 of the Covenant, peaceful assemblies may not be used
for propaganda for war (paragraph 1), or advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that
constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence (paragraph 2).
61 As far as
possible, action should be taken in such cases against the individual perpetrators, rather than
against the assembly as a whole. Participation in a ssemblies whose dominant message falls
within the scope of article 20 must be addressed in conformity with the requirements posed
for restrictions by articles 19 and 21 .
51. Generally, the use of flags, uniforms, signs and banners is to be rega rded as a
legitimate form of expression that should not be restricted, even if such symbols are
reminders of a painful past. In exceptional cases, where such symbols are directly and
predominantly associated with incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, appropriate
restrictions should apply.
5 2. The fact that an assembly provokes or may provoke a hostile reaction from members
of the public against participants, as a general rule, does not justify restriction; the assembly
must be allowed to go ahead and its participants must be protected.
64 However, in the
exceptional case where the State is manifestly unable to protect the participants from a severe
threat to their safety , restrictions on participation in the assembly may be imposed. Any such
restrictions must be able to withsta nd strict scrutiny. An unspecified risk of violence, or the
mere possibility that the authorities will not have the capacity to prevent or neutralize the
violence emanating from those opposed to the assembly, is not enough; the State must be
able to show, based on a concrete risk assessment, that it would not be able to contain the
situation, even if significant law enforcement capability were to be deployed.
65 Less- intrusive
restrictions, such as postponement or relocation of the assembly, must be consider ed before
resort to prohibition.
53. The regulation of the “time, place and manner” of assemblies is generally content
neutral, and while there is some scope for restrictions that regulate these elements, the onus
remains on the authorities to justify any such restriction on a case-by-case basis.
66 Any such
restrictions should still, as far as possible, allow participants to assemble “within sight and
sound” of their target audience , or at whatever site is otherwise important to their purpose .
54. Conce rning restrictions on the time of assemblies: participants must have sufficient
opportunity effectively to manifest their views or to pursue their other purposes .
assemblies should generally be left to end by themselves. Restrictions on the prec ise time of
day or date when assemblies can or cannot be held, raise concerns about their compatibility
with the Covenant.
69 Assemblies should not be limited solely because of their frequency. The
timing, duration or frequency of a demonstration may, for e xample, play a central role in
59 CCPR/C/MDG/CO/4, para. 51.
60 CCPR/C/79/Add. 86, para. 18; General comment No. 34, para. 38.
61 Article 20 (1) and (2).
62 See General comment No. 34, paras. 50 –52; article 4, Convention on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination; and Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, General
recommendation No. 35. See also the Rabat Plan of Action (2012), A/HRC/22/17/Add.4, appendix,
para. 29 as well as the Beirut Declaration and its 18 commitments on “Faith for Rights”
(A/HRC/40/58, annexes I and II).
63 C.f. OSCE & Venice Commis sion, Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, para. 152. See also
European Court of Human Rights, Fáber v. Hungary (application No. 40721/08), judgment of 24
October 2012, paras. 56 –58.
64 Alekseev v. Russian Federation , para. 9.6. See also paragraph 1 8 above.
65 Alekseev v. Russian Federation , para. 9.6.
66 C.f. OSCE & Venice Commission, Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, para. 132.
67 Turchenyak et al. v. Belarus , para. 7.4.
68 C.f. European Court of Human Rights, Éva Molnár v. Hungary (app lication No. 10346/05), judgment
of 7 October 2008, para. 42.
69 CCPR/C/KOR/CO/4, para. 52; CCPR/C/TJK/CO/3, para. 49.
achieving its objective . However, the cumulative impact of sustained gatherings may be
weighed in a proportionality assessment of a restriction . For example, certain assemblies held
regularly at night in residential areas mig ht have a significant impact on those living nearby.
55. As for restriction s on the element of place : peaceful assemblies may in principle be
conducted in all sp aces to which the public has access or should have access, such as public
squares and streets.
70 While rules concerning public access to some spaces, such as buildings
and parks, may also limit the right to assemble in such places , the application of such
restrictions to peaceful assemblies must be justifiable in terms of article 21 . Peacef ul
assemblies should not be relegated to remote areas where they cannot effectively capture the
attention of those who are being addressed, or the general public.
71 As a general rule,
prohibitions on all assemblies anywhere in the capital; 72 in any public location except a single
specified place, either in a city, 73 or outside the city centre; 74 or prohibitions on assemblies
in “all the streets in the city”, may not be imposed.
5 6. The designation of the perimeters of places such as courts, parliament , sites of
historical significance or other official buildings as areas where assemblies may not take
place should generally be avoided, inter alia because these are public spaces. To the extent
that assemblies in and around such places are restricted , this mu st be specifically justified
and narrowly circumscribed.
5 7. While gatherings in private spaces fall within the scope of the right of peaceful
76 the interests of others with rights in the property have to be given due weight .
The question to what extent restrictions may be imposed on such a gathering depends on
considerations such as whether the space is routinely publicly accessible, the nature and
extent of the potential interference caused by the gathering with the rights in the property,
w hether those holding rights in the property approve of such use, whether the ownership of
the space is contested through the gathering, and whether participants have other reasonable
means to achieve the purpose of the assembly, in accordance with the sight and sound
77 Access to private property may not be denied on a discriminatory basis.
5 8. As far as restrictions on the manner of peaceful assemblies are concerned: participants
should be left to determine whether they want to use equipment such as posters or
megaphones or musical instruments or other technical means such as projection equipment
to convey their message. Assemblies may entail the temporary erection of structures,
including sound systems, to reach their audience or otherwise a chieve their purpose .
5 9. In general, States parties should not limit the number of participants in assemblies.
Any such restriction can be accepted only if there is a clear connection with a legitimate
ground for restrictions as set out in article 2 1, for example where public safety considerations
dictate a maximum crowd capacity for a stadium or a bridge , or where public health
considerations dictate physical distancing .
6 0. The wearing of face -coverings or other disguises by assembly participants , such as
hoods or masks, or taking other steps to participate anonymously may form part of the
expressive element of a peaceful assembly , serve to counter reprisals, or to protect privacy,
including in the context of new surveillance technologies. The anonymity of participants
should be allowed unless their conduct presents reasonable grounds for arrest,
80 or there are
70 C.f. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Protest and Human Rights , para. 72.
71 CCPR/C/KOR/CO/4, para. 52; CCPR/C/KAZ/CO/1, para. 26.
72 CCPR/C/DZA/CO/4, para. 45.
73 Turchenyak et al. v. Belarus , para. 7.5.
74 Sudalenko v. Belarus (CCPR/C/113/D/1992/2010), para. 8.5.
75 Zündel v. Canada (CCPR/C/78/D/953/2000), para. 8.5.
76 C.f. Giménez v. Paraguay (CCPR/C/123 /D/2372/2014), para. 8.3; European Court of Human Rights,
Annenkov and others v. Russia (application No. 31475/10), judgment of 25 July 2017, para. 122.
77 C.f. European Court of Human Rights, Appleby and others v. United Kingdom (application No.
44306/98) , judgment of 6 May 2003, para. 47.
78 See Frumkin v. Russia , para. 107.
79 CCPR/C/THA/CO/2, para. 39.
80 C.f. OSCE & Venice Commission Guidelines on Peaceful Assembly , para. 153; ACHPR, Guidelines
on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa , para. 81.
other similarly compelling reasons. 81 The use of disguises should not in itself be deemed to
signify violent intent.
6 1. While the collection of relevant information and data by authorities may under certain
circumstances assist the facilitation of assemblies, this must not result in suppressing rights
or creating a chilling effect . A ny information gathering, whether by public or private entities,
including through surveillance or the interception of communications, as well as the way in
which data are collecte d, shared, retained and accessed, must strictly conform to applicable
international standards, including on the right to privacy, and may never be aimed at
intimidating or harassing participants or would- be participants in assemblies.
practices shou ld be regulated by appropriate and publicly accessible domestic legal
frameworks compatible with international standards and subject to scrutiny by the courts.
6 2. The mere fact that a particular assembly take s place in public does not mean that
partic ipants’ privacy cannot be violated. The right to privacy may be infringed, for example,
by facial recognition and other technologies that can identify individual participants in a
84 The same applies to the monitoring of social media to glean informa tion about
participation in peaceful assemblies. Independent and transparent scrutiny and oversight must
be exercised over the decision to collect personal information and data of those engaged in
peaceful assemblies and over its sharing or retention, with a view to ensuring the
compatibility of such actions with the Covenant .
6 3. The freedom of public officials to participate in peaceful assemblies shall not be
limited more than is strictly required by the need to ensure public confidence in their
impartiality, and thus their ability to perform their service duties ,
85 and any such restrictions
must comply with article 21.
6 4. Requirements for participants or organisers either to arrange for or to contribute
toward the costs of policing or security,
86 me dical assistance or cleaning , 87 or other public
services associated with peaceful assemblies are generally not compatible with article 21. 88
6 5. Organi sers and participants are expected to comply with legal requirements made of
an assembly , and they may be held accountable for their own unlawful conduct , including
the incitement of others .
89 If, in exceptional circumstances, organisers are held accountable
for damage or injuries for which they were not directly responsible, it must be confined to
cases where evidence shows that they could reasonably have foreseen and prevented it .
is good practice for organi sers to appoint stewards or marshals where necessary, but this
should not be a legal requirement .
66. Authorities may not require pledges or undertakings from individuals not to organise or
participate in future assemblies.
91 Conversely, no one may be forced to participate in an
6 7. Where criminal or administrative sanctions are imposed upon organisers of or
participants in a peaceful assembly for their unlawful conduct , such sanctions must be
proportionate , non-discriminatory in nature and must not be based upon ambiguous or
overbroadly -defined offences, or suppress conduct protected by the Covenant .
68. While acts of terrorism must be criminalised in conformity with international law, the
definition of such crimes must not be overbroad or discriminatory and must not be applied
81 With respect to symbolic face-coverings, see paragraph 51 above.
82 A/HRC/31/66, para. 73.
83 CCPR/C/KOR/CO/4, paras. 42 –43.
84 C.f. A/HRC/44/24, paras. 33 –34.
85 C.f. OSCE & Venice Commission, Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assem bly, para. 110.
86 CCPR/C/CHE/CO/4, para. 48.
87 Poliakov v. Belarus (CCPR/C/111/D/2030/2011), paras. 8.2– 8.3; CCPR/C/BLR/CO/5, para. 51 (a).
88 C.f. ACHPR, Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, para. 102 (b).
89 A/HRC/31/66, para. 26.
90 C.f. OSCE & Venice Commission, Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, para. 224.
91 CCPR/C/KHM/CO/2, para. 22; CCPR/C/JOR/CO/5, para. 32.
92 CCPR/C/TKM/CO/2, para. 44.
so as to curtail or discourage the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly . 93 The mere act
of organising or participating in a peaceful assembly cannot be criminali zed under anti –
69. Recourse to courts or other tribunals to seek a remedy concerning restrictions must be
readily available , including the possibility of appeal or review . The timeliness and duration
of such proceedings against restrictions on an assembly must not jeopardize the exercise of
94 The procedural guarantees of the Covenant apply in all such cases, and also to
issues such as detent ion or the imposition of sanctions, including fines, in connection with
V. Notification regimes
70. H av ing to apply for permission from the authorities undercut s the idea that peaceful
assembly is a basic right. 96 Notification systems , entailing that those who intend to organize
a peaceful assembly are required to inform the authorities in advance and provide certain
salient details , are permissible to the extent necessary to assist the authorities in facilitating
the smooth conduct of peaceful assemblies and protecting the rights of others.
97 At the same
time, this requirement must not be misused to stifle peaceful assemblies , and, like other
interferences with the right, must be justifiable on the grounds in article 21.
enforcement of notification requirements must not become an end in itself. 99 Notification
procedures should be transparent, not unduly bureaucratic, 100 their demands on organisers
must be proportionate to the potential public impact of the assembly concerned, and they
should be free of charge .
7 1. A failure to notify the authorities of an upcoming assembly, where required, does not
render the act of participation in the assembly unlawful, and must not in itself be used as a
basis for dispersing the assembly or arresting the participants or organisers, or the imposition
of undue sanctions , such as charging them with criminal offences . Where administrative
sanctions ar e imposed on organisers for failure to notify, this must be justified by the
101 Lack of notification does not absolve the authorities from the obligation, within
their abilities, to facilitate the assembly and to protect the participants.
7 2. Any notification requirements for pre -planned assemblies must be provided for in
domestic law. The minimum period of advance notification might vary according to the
context and level of facilitation required, but it should not be excessively long.
restrictions are imposed following a notification, they should be communicated early enough
to allow time for acce ss to the courts or other mechanisms to challenge them. Any notification
regime should exclude assemblies where the impact of a gathering on others can reasonably
be expected to be minimal, for example because of its nature, location or limited size or
dur ation. Notification must not be required for spontaneous assemblies where they do not
allow enough time to provide notice.
73. Where authorization regimes persist in domestic law, they must in practice function
as a system of notification, with authoriz ation being granted as a matter of course, in the
93 CCPR/C/SWZ/CO/1, para. 36; CCPR/C/BHR/CO/1, para. 29. See also A/HRC/40/52.
94 CCPR/C/POL/CO/6, para. 23.
95 E.V. v. Belarus (CCPR/C/112/D/1989/2010), para. 6.6.
96 CCPR/C/MAR/CO/6, para. 45; CCPR/C/GMB/CO/2, para. 41; and ACHPR, Guidelines on Freedom
of Association and Assembly in Africa, para. 71.
97 Kivenmaa v. Fin land, para. 9.2. See also ACHPR, Guidelines on Freedom of Association and
Assembly in Africa , para. 72.
98 Ibid . See also Sekerko v. Belarus , para. 9.4.
99 Popova v. Russian Federation, para. 7.5.
100 Poliakov v. Belarus , para. 8.3.
101 See, e.g., Popova v. Russian Federation, para. 7.4, 7.5. See also A/HRC/31/66, para. 23.
102 CCPR/CO/83/KEN, para. 23; CCPR/C/CHE/CO/4, para. 48; CCPR/C/DZA/CO/4, para. 45.
103 Popova v. Russian Federation, para. 7.5. See also European Court of Human Rights, Éva Molnár
v. Hungary , para. 38.
absence of compelling reasons to do otherwise. Notification regimes, for their part, must not
in practice function as authorization systems. 104
VI. Duties and powers of law enforcement agencies
74. L aw enf orcement officials involved in policing assembl ies must respect and ensure
the exercise of the fundamental rights of organisers and participants, while also protecting
105 monitors and observers, medical personnel and other members of the public,
as well as public and private property, from harm. 106 The basic approach of the authorities
should be to seek to facilitate peaceful assemblies where necessary.
75. Relevant l aw enforcement agencies should as far as possible work towards
establishing cha nnels for communication and dialogue between the various parties involved
in assemblies, before and during the assembly, aimed at promoting preparedness , de-
escalating tensions and resolving disputes.
107 While it is good practice for organisers and
participants to engage in such contact, they cannot be required to do so.
76. Where the presence of law enforcement officials is required, the policing of an
assembly should be planned and conducted with the object ive of enabling the assembly to
take place as intended , and with a view to minimizing the potential for injury to any person
and damage to property.
108 The plan should detail the instruction, equipment and deployment
of all relevant officials and units .
77. Generic contingency plans and training protocols should also be elaborated by
relevant law enforcement agencies, in particular for the policing of assemblies of which the
authorities are not notified in advance and which may affect public order.
109 Clear command
structures must exist to underpin accountability, as well as protocols for recording and
documenting events, ensuring the identification of officers and reporting of any use of force.
78. Law enforcement officials should seek to de-escalate situat ions that might result in
violence. They are obliged to exhaust non- violent means and to give a warning if it is
absolutely necessary to use force, unless doing either would be manifestly ineffective. Any
use of force must comply with the fundamental princ iples of legality, necessity,
proportionality, precaution and non -discrimination applicable to articles 6 and 7 of the
Covenant, and those using force must be accountable for each use of force.
110 Domestic legal
regimes on the use of force by law enforcement officials must be brought in line with the
requirements posed by international law, guided by standards such as the Basic Principles on
the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Human Rights
Guidance on Less -Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement .
79. Only the minimum force necessary may be used where this is required for a legitimate
law enforcement purpose during an assembly. Once the need for any use of force has passed,
such as when a violent individual is safely apprehended, no further resort to force is
112 Law enforcement officials may not use greater force than is proportionate
under the circumstances for the dispersal of an assembly, prevention of crime or in effecting
or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders.
113 Domestic law must
not grant officials largely unrestricted powers, for example to use “force” or “all necessary
force” t o disperse assemblies, or make under -protective generalisations, for example simply
104 CCPR/C/UZB/CO/5, paras. 46 –47; CCPR/C/JOR/CO/5, para. 32.
105 CCPR/C/AGO/CO/1, para. 21; CCPR/C/GEO/CO/4, para. 12; and CCPR/C/KOR/CO/4, para. 52.
106 A/HRC/31/66, par a. 41.
107 Ibid., para. 38.
108 Human Rights Council resolution 38/11, preambular para. 10; A/HRC/26/36, para. 51.
109 A/HRC/31/66, para. 37.
110 See General comment No. 36, paras. 13 –14.
111 See also Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials.
112 Ibid., a rt. 3.
113 Ibid., commentary to art. 3.
to “shoot for the legs ”. In particular, domestic law must not allow use of force against
participants in an assembly on a wanton, excessive or discriminatory basis. 114
80. Only law enforcement officials trained in the policing of assemblies , including on the
relevant human rights standards, should be deployed for that purpose.
115 Training should
sensitise officials to the specific needs of individuals or groups in situations of vulnerability ,
which may in some cases include women, children, or persons with disabilities, when
participating in peaceful assemblies. T he military should not be used to police assemblies ,
but if in exceptional circumstances and on a temporary basis they are deployed in support,
they must have received appropriate human rights training and must comply with the same
international rules and standards as law enforcement officials.
81. All law enforcement officials responsible for policing assemblies must be suitably
equipped, including where needed with appropriate and fit -for- purpose less-lethal weapons
and protective equipment. States parties must ensure that all weapons, including less -lethal
weapons, are subject to strict independent testing, ensu re officers deployed with them receive
specific training and evaluate and monitor their impact on the rights of those affected.
enforcement agencies must be alert to potentially discriminatory impacts of certain policing
tactics, including in the con text of new technologies, and address them.
82. Preventive detention of targeted individuals, to keep them from participating in
assemblies, may constitute arbitrary deprivation of liberty, which is incompatible with the
right of peaceful assembly.
120 Thi s is especially the case if detention lasts more than a few
hours. Where domestic law permits such detention, i t may be used only in the most
exceptional cases ,
121 for no longer than absolutely necessary and only where the authorities
have proof of the inte ntion of the individuals involved to engage in or incite acts of violence
during a particular assembly, and where other measures to prevent violence from occurring
will clearly be inadequate.
122 Practices of indiscriminate mass arrest prior to, during or
fo llowing an assembly, are arbitrary and thus unlawful . 123
83. Powers of “stop and search” or “stop and frisk”, applied to those who participate in
assemblies, or are about to do so, must be exercised based on reasonable suspicion of the
commission or threat of a serious offence, and must not be used in a discriminatory manner.
The mere fact that authorities associate an individual with a peaceful assembly does not
constitute reasonable grounds for stopping and searching them.
84. Containment (“kett ling” ), where law enforcement officials encircle and close in a
section of the participants , may be used only where it is necessary and proportionate to do
so, in order to address actual violence or an imminent threat emanating from that section .
Necessary law enforcement measures targeted against specific individuals are often
preferable to containment. Particular care must be taken to contain, as far as possible, only
people linked directly to violence and to limit the duration of the containment to the m inimum
necessary. Where containment is used indiscriminately or punitively, it violates the right of
114 CCPR/C/MAR/CO/6, paras. 45 –46; CCPR/C/BHR/CO/1, para. 55.
115 CCPR/C/KHM/CO/2, para. 12; CCPR/C/GRC/CO/2, para. 42; and CCPR/C/BGR/CO/4, para. 38.
116 CCPR/C/VEN/CO/4, para. 14; and ACHPR, Guidelines on Policing As semblies in Africa, para. 3.2.
117 Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, art. 1.
118 General comment No.36, para. 14. See also UN Human Rights Guidance on Less -Lethal Weapons in
Law Enforcement, section 4; and Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law
Enforcement Officials, principle 2.
119 CCPR/C/GBR/CO/7, para. 11; A/HRC/ 44/24, para. 32.
120 CCPR/C/MKD/CO/3, para. 19.
121 General comment No. 35, para. 15.
122 C.f. European Court of Human Rights, S., V. and A. v. Denmark (application Nos. 35553/12,
36678/12 and 36711/12) , judgment of 22 October 2018 (Grand Chamber), paras. 77 and 127.
123 CCPR/C/CAN/CO/6, para. 15.
124 CCPR/C/GBR/CO/7, para. 11; CCPR/C/USA/CO/4, para. 7.
125 A/HRC/31/66, para. 43.
peaceful assembly, and may also violate other rights such as freedom from arbitrary detention
and freedom of movement. 126
85. Only in exceptional cases may an assembly be dispersed. Dispersal may be resorted
to if the assembly as such is no longer peaceful, or if there is clear evidence of an imminent
threat of serious violence that cannot be reasonably addressed by more proportionate
measures such as targeted arrests , but in all cases the law enforcement rules on use of force
must be strictly followed. Conditions for ordering the dispersal of an assembly should be set
out in domestic law, and only a duly authori zed official may order the dispersal of a peacef ul
assembly. An assembly that remains peaceful but which nevertheless causes a high level of
disruption, such as the extended blocking of traffic, may be dispersed, as a rule, only if the
disruption is “serious and sustained”.
86. Where a decision to di sperse is taken in conformity with domestic and international
law , force should be avoided. Where that is not possible in the circumstances, only the
minimum force necessary may be used.
128 As far as possible, any force used should be
directed against a specific individual or group engaged in or threatening violence . Force
likely to cause more than negligible injury should not be used against individuals or groups
who are passively resisting.
87. Less- lethal weapons affecting an area, such as tear gas and water cannon , tend to have
indiscriminate effects. When such weapons are used, all reasonable efforts should be
undertaken to limit risks such as causing a stampede or harm ing bystanders. They should
only be used as a measure of last resort following a verbal warning, and with adequate
opportunity given for assembly participants to disperse. Tear gas should not be used in
8 8. Firearms are not an appropriate tool for the policing of assemblies ,
131 and must never
be used simply to disperse an assembly. 132 In order to comply with international law, any use
of firearms by law enforcement officials in the context of assemblies must be limited to
targeted individuals in circumstances in which it is strictly necessary to confro nt an imminent
threat of death or serious injury.
133 Given the threat such weapons pose to life, this minimum
threshold should also be applied to the firing of rubber -coated metal bullets. 134 Where law
enforcement officials are prepared for the use of force, or violence is considered likely, the
authorities must also ensure adequate medical facilities are available. It is never lawful to fire
indiscriminately or to use firearms in fully automatic mode when policing an assembly.
89. The State is responsible under international law for the actions and omissions of its
law enforcement agencies . With a view to preventing violations, States should consistently
promote a culture of accountability for law enforcement officials during assemblies. To
enhance effecti ve accountability, uniformed law enforcement officials should always display
a n easily recognisable form of identification during assemblies.
90. States have an obligation to investigate effectively, impartially and in a timely manner
any allegation or reasonable suspicion of unlawful use of force or other violations by law
126 C.f. European Court of Human Rights, Austin and others v. United Kingdom (application
Nos. 39629/09, 40713/09; and 41008/09) , judgment of 15 March 2012 (Grand Chamber), para. 68.
127 A/HRC/31/66, para. 62.
128 Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, principle 13;
A/HRC/26/36, para. 75.
129 UN Human Rights Guidance on Less -Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement, para. 2.10.
130 S/2009/693, annex, para. 62; and UN Human Rights Guidance on Less -Lethal Weapons in Law
Enforcement , para. 7.3.7.
131 ACHPR, Guidelines on Policing Assemblies in Africa , para. 21.2.4.
132 Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, principle 14.
133 General comment No. 36, para. 12; Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law
Enforcement Officials, Principles 9 and 14.
134 UN Human Rights Guidance on Less -Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement , para. 7.5.8.
135 A/HRC/31/66, paras. 60, 67(e). See also OHCHR/UNODC, Resource Book on the Use of Force and
Firearms in Law Enforcement (2017) p. 96.
136 C.f. European Court of Human Rights, Hentschel and Stark v. Germany (application No. 47274/15),
judgment of 9 November 2017, para. 91; CAT/C/DEU/CO/6, para. 40.
enforcement officials , including sexual or gender -based violence, in the context of
assemblies. 137 Both intentional and negligent action or inaction can amount to a violation of
human rights. Individual officials responsible for violations must be held accountable under
domestic and, where relevant, international law and effective remedies must be available to
91. All use of force by law enforcement officials should be reco rded and reflected
promptly in a transparent report. Where injury or damage occurs, the report should contain
sufficient information to establish whether the use of force was necessary and proportionate,
by detailing the incident, including the reasons for the use of force , its effectiveness , and the
92. Any deployment of plainclothes officers in assemblies must be strictly necessary in
the circumstances and such officers must never incite violence.
Before conducting a search,
making an arrest, or resorting to any use of force , plainclothes officers must identify
themselves to the persons concerned.
93. The State is ultimately responsible for law enforcement during an assembly and may
delegate tasks to private security provider s only in exceptional circumstances. In such cases,
the State remains responsible for their conduct .
140 This is in addition to the accountability of
the private security service providers under domestic and, where relevant, international
141 T he role and powers of private security service providers in law enforcement should
be set out by the authorities in national legislation and their use of force and training strictly
94. The use of recording devices by law enforcement officials during a ssemblies,
including body- worn cameras, may play a positive role in securing accountability , if used
judiciously . However, the authorities should have clear and publicly available guidelines to
ensure that their use is consistent with international standar ds on privacy and does not have
a chilling effect on participation in assemblies.
143 Participants, as well as journalists and
monitors, also have the right to record law enforcement officials. 144
95. The State is fully responsible for any remotely controlle d weapons systems it uses
during an assembly. Such methods of force delivery may escalate tensions and should be
used only with great caution. Fully autonomous weapons systems, where lethal force can be
used against assembly participants without meaningful human intervention once a system has
been deployed, shall never be used for law enforcement during an assembly.
VII. Assembly during states of emergency and armed conflict
96. The right of peaceful assembly is not listed as non- derogable in article 4 (2) of the
Covenant, but other rights potentially applicable to assemblies, such as those provided in
articles 6, 7 and 18, are non -derogable. State parties must not rely on derogation from the
right of peaceful assembly if they can attain th eir objectives by imposing restrictions in terms
of article 21.
146 If States derogate from the Covenant in response, for instance, to m ass
de monstration s that include acts of violence , they must be able to justify not only that such
a situation constitu tes a threat to the life of the nation, b ut also th at all measures derogati ng
137 CCPR/C/COD/CO/4, paras. 43 –44; CCPR/C/BHR/CO/1, para. 36. See also The Minnesota Protocol
on the investigation of potentially unlawful death (2016) (United Nations publication, Sales No.
138 A/RES/60/147, annex.
139 UN Human Rights Guidance on Less -Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement , paras. 3.3–3.5.
140 General comment No. 36, para. 15.
141 C.f. International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers (2010)
142 UN Human Rights Guidance on Less -Lethal Weapons in Law Enforcement , para. 3.2.
143 CCPR/C/CHN -HKG/CO/3, para. 10; CCPR/C/CHN -MAC/CO/1, para. 16.
144 A/HRC/31/66, para. 71.
145 Ibid., para. 67.
146 Ibid., para. 5; General comment No. 29, para. 5. See also CCPR/C/128/2, para. 2 (c).
from their obligations under the Covenant are st rictly require d b y the exigencies of the
situation and comply with the conditions in article 4. 147
97. In a situation of armed conflict, the use of force during peaceful assemblies remains
regulated by the rules governing law enforcement and the Covenant continues to apply.
Civilians in an assembly are protected from being targeted with lethal force unless and for
such time as they take a direct part in hostilities, as that term is understood under international
humanitarian law (IHL). In such a circumstance, they may be targeted only to the extent they
are not otherwise protected under international law from a ttack. Any use of force under
applicable IHL is subject to the rules and principles of distinction, precautions in attack,
proportionality, military necessity and humanity. In all decisions on the use of force, the
safety and protection of assembly partici pants and the broader public should be an important
VIII. Relationship between article 21 and other provisions of the Covenant
and other legal regimes
98. The full protection of the right of peaceful assembly depends on the protection of a
range of rights. U se of unnecessary or disproportionate force or other unlawful conduct by
State officials during an assembly may breach articles 6, 7 and 9 of the Covenant.
149 A n
extreme case, when participants in peaceful assemblies are subjected to unl awful force or
conduct as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population,
may also constitute , where the other relevant criteria are met, a crime against humanity.
99. Restrictions on people’s ability to travel in ord er to participate in assemblies,
including to travel abroad (art. 12 (2)) and participate in marches and other moving
assemblies, may violate their freedom of movement (art. 12 (1)). Official d ecisions restricting
the exercise of assembly rights must be open to legal challenge in a process that meets fair
and public hearing requirements (art. 14 (1)).
151 S urveillance of those involved in assemblies
and other data -gathering activities may violate their right to privacy (art. 17). Religious
assemblies may also be protected under the freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs (art.
152 The right of peaceful assembly is more than just a manifestation of freedom of
expression (art. 19 (2)), but it often has an expressive element and the rationale for the
recognition of these two rights and the acceptable restrictions overlap in many ways. Freedom
of access to information held by public bodies (art. 19 (2)) underlies the ability of the public
to know about the legal and administrative framework applicable to assemblies and enables
them to hold public officials accountable.
100. Freedom of association (art. 22) also protects collective action, and restrictions on this
right often affect the right of peaceful assembly. The right of political participation (art. 25)
is closely linked to the right of peaceful assembly and in relevant cases restrictions must be
justified under the conditions set out in both article 21 and article 25.
153 The r ight to non-
discrimination protects participants against discriminatory practices in the context of
assemblies (art icles 2 (1), 24 and 26).
1 01. At the same time, participation in peaceful assemblies may be restricted in accordance
with article 21 in ord er to protect the rights and freedoms of others.
1 02. The right of peaceful assembly has an intrinsic value. It is , moreover, often exercised
with the aim of advancing the implementation of other human rights, as well as other norms
and principles of inte rnational law. In such cases, the duty to respect and ensure the right of
147 General comment No. 29, paras. 5 –9.
148 General comment No. 36, para. 64.
149 CCPR/C/ISR/CO/3, para. 9; CCPR/C/UZB/CO/3, para. 8; and Olmedo v. Paraguay
(CCPR/C/104/D/1828/2008), para. 7.5; Benítez Gamarra v. Paraguay (CCPR/C/104/D/1829/2008),
150 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 1998, article 7.
151 Evrezov et al. v. Belarus , paras. 3.3 and 8.9.
152 See General comment No. 22, para. 8.
153 Sudalenko v. Belarus , para. 8.6.
peaceful assembly derives its legal justification also from the importance of the broader range
of other rights, norms and principles whose implementation it advances.