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Thematic work

Regional Consultation on the Guidelines for the Policing of Assemblies (ACHPR)

On 26th and 27th of September 2016, PHRP attended the third of a series of regional consultations convened by the African Police Civil Oversight Forum (APCOF) and the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) on a draft text of Guidelines for the Policing of Assemblies commissioned by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The conference, which took place in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, was attended by representatives from governments, police, human rights institutions and civil society from a range of West-African countries.

The very constructive discussions covered a broad range of issues in relation to the policing of assemblies. For Amnesty International, it was crucial to ensure that the Guidelines give due emphasis to the fact that Freedom of peaceful assembly is a right, an entitlement, and not a simple privilege that can be restricted or even taken away at will. This has considerable impact on how policing of assemblies should be done, in particular establishing a police duty to do everything possible to facilitate assemblies, without placing undue burdens on organizers, with restrictions being an exception and not the rule, prohibition or dispersal being a means of very last resort and utmost restraint in the use of force.

OSCE-Amnesty International side event 

The attitude and behaviour of the police before and during assemblies greatly influence the course these events take, said participants in a side event focusing on challenges and good practices in the area of human-rights compliant assembly policing held during the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, on 21 September 2016.

Some 50 representatives of civil society and state bodies took part in the side event, which was organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and Amnesty International the Netherlands (AINL).

The approach used by the police can define whether an assembly proceeds in a smooth and peaceful way or ends up in disorder, violence and the use of force by law enforcement personnel, the participants stressed.

“The police should see their task in facilitating peaceful assembly while maintaining public order,” said Ambassador Eberhard Pohl, chairperson of the OSCE Permanent Council. “The ODIHR Human Rights Handbook on Policing Assemblies serves as a valuable tool in that regard.”

The Handbook Read the Human Rights Handbook on Policing Assemblies , developed in collaboration with the Strategic Police Matters Unit of the OSCE Secretariat, was released in March 2016.

“It is the duty of the police leadership and of commanding officers to ensure that the policing of assemblies is carried out in a human-rights compliant way, ensuring the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly by all,” said Anja Bienert, senior programme officer of the AINL’s Police and Human Rights Project and member of the ODIHR Panel of Experts on Freedom of Assembly. She added that proper planning, preparation, instruction and training were essential in this regard.

In September 2015, AINL published the Guidelines for the implementation of the UN Basic Principles for the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials Guidelines for the implementation of the UN Basic Principles for the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials . Both the guidelines and the OSCE/ODIHR Handbook focus on providing information and recommendations for authorities on how to uphold human rights standards in the context of public order management and avoid situations in which the use of force is needed.

Use of Force and Command Responsibility

Between 28 and 30 April 2016, The Brandenburg University of Applied Police Sciences hosted an international conference on The Police and International Human Rights Law in Berlin, Germany. This unique event brought together a variety of participants (about 80 from more than 20 countries across the world) including police officers, academics and human rights activists as well as officials from government authorities and international organisations.

The event was organized to provide participants with an updated picture of human rights law relating to the police as it stands today. Various international experts presented and participants discussed current issues such as the deadly use of force, the prevention of torture, racial profiling, the protection of personal data, and many others.

On behalf of the Police and Human Rights Programme of the Dutch Section of Amnesty International, Anja Bienert delivered a presentation on “The use of force by the police and command responsibility”. This presentation was based on the findings and recommendations presented in the AI “Guidelines for implementation of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials” Guidelines for the implementation of the UN Basic Principles for the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials . It placed strong emphasis on the responsibility of commanders for their own actions and omissions – also while planning, preparing and taking precaution prior to any operation – and for the establishment of a human rights compliant operational framework for their subordinates. It further underlined the commander’s duty to exercise effective supervision and control and take corrective action whenever necessary, as well as their obligation to ensure that any unlawful use of force is properly investigated. The presentation, as well as the “Guidelines on the Use of Force”, were very well received and triggered quite positive feedback.


Calls for a strong resolution by the Human Rights Council to enhance the right to freedom of peaceful assembly

On the occasion of the presentation of the report Practical Recommendations for the Proper Management of Assemblies presented to the Human Rights Council by two UN Special Rapporteurs, Maina Kiai and Christof Heyns, the Police and Human Rights Programme of Amnesty International together with INCLO (International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations), Omega Research Foundation, and PHR (Physicians for Human Rights) hold a panel discussion entitled “Use of Force and Social Protest: protecting fundamental rights” at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on 9th of March 2016.

The panel was moderated by Luciana Pol, Senior Fellow on Security Policy and Human Rights, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS) and had interventions from:

  • Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Peaceful Assembly and of Association who called to reaffirm that there must be a presumption of being allowed to hold an assembly and therefore States should not establish a system of authorization, but only a system of notification of assemblies. He further emphasized that law enforcement officials should exercise restraint in the use of force during assemblies.
  • Dr. Anja Bienert, Police and Human Rights Programme of the Dutch Section of Amnesty International who highlighted that in fulfilling the duty to facilitate peaceful assemblies law enforcement officials should not immediately start to consider the use of force, but rather engage in dialogue with organizers and participants in order to avoid situations where force should be used. She urged States not to consider firearms as a tactical tool for the handling of assemblies, but only to be used for the purpose to save or protect another life. She called the Human Rights Council to include a recommendation for the effective implementation of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and to recognize this as reflecting binding international human rights law.
  • Rohini Haar, MD, MPH, Highland General Hospital and Kaiser Medical Center, Oakland, California, and Research Consultant of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) who presented a research carried out on the terrible effects of certain so-called “less-lethal” weapons Read the research about effects of “less-lethal” weapons  which however turn often out to cause serious injury and even death.
  • Neil Corney, Research Associate of the Omega Research Foundation, who called for systematic, transparent and robust testing and evaluation of less-lethal weapons, before considering their use in law enforcement, instead of simply deploying of what is available on the market. The trade and transfer of such equipment should be closely monitored and no equipment should be send to countries where it may be used for human rights violations.

Read more about our past events