The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Algeria is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Algeria is also a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Algeria is a State Party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.
Algeria is also a State Party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. Algeria has not made the declaration required under Article 34(6) of the Protocol to allow NGOs and individuals to access the African Court directly.
Algeria is also a State Party to the 2004 Arab Charter of Human Rights. Under Article 24(6) of the 2004 Charter, every citizen has the right of freedom of peaceful assembly.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Under Article 48 of the 1989 Constitution of Algeria (as amended), citizens are guaranteed freedom of assembly.
In 1991, Parliament amended and supplemented Law No. 89-28 of 1989 on Public Meetings and Demonstrations. The new legislation (Law No. 91-19) restricts the right of peaceful assembly in Algeria. A 2001 ban on all demonstrations in Algiers, enacted after a violent confrontation between protestors and police in the capital, also remains in effect.
Law No. 91-19 requires that organizers of “public gatherings” notify the government at least three days prior to the gathering (Articles 5, 15). The Law defines “public gatherings” as “temporary rallies of people, agreed upon beforehand and organized outside public roads in a closed place that is easy for people to join. Its purpose is the exchange of ideas or the defense of joint interests.” Authorities may prohibit the gathering without being required to explain their decision.
The Law requires that organisers of “public demonstrations” request approval from the governor eight days before the demonstration’s planned date. Public demonstrations are defines as “processions, parades, or gatherings of people in a public manner, and all demonstrations that go through public roads". The governor is required to decide whether to approve or refuse the request at least five days before the proposed holding of the demonstration.
Law 91-19 prohibits in any gathering or demonstration "any prejudice towards national constants, or to the symbols of the November 1 Revolution, public order, or public morals”. The Law does not define these terms.
The Law allows the sentence of imprisonment ranging from three months to a year and fines for participation in an illegal assembly.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Algeria does not have detailed legislation on police use of force as international law requires. Under the Penal Code, law enforcement agencies are authorised to use force to disperse an unlawful gathering.Art. 97, Penal Code.The law does not regulate the amount of force that may be used.
A code of ethics for the police was, however, adopted by decree in 2017. The code stipulates that the police may only use force where necessary and in accordance with the law.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Algeria does not have detailed legislation on police use of firearms as international law requires. The 2017 Code of Ethics for the police states that firearms may only be used where absolutely necessary or in executing tasks mandated by a higher State authority and in accordance with the law.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures
In 2021, a joint communication from UN special procedures called on Algeria to amend national law on terrorism to bring it into line with international standards. There was particular concern about the impact of new laws adopted in 2020 and 2021 on the right of peaceful assembly.
In its 2018 Concluding Observations on Algeria, the Human Rights Committee expressed its deep concern at Act No. 91-19 of 2 December 1991
inasmuch as the provisions are extremely restrictive and stipulate, for the organization of any demonstration, (a) prior authorization by and at the discretion of the executive on the basis of vague criteria, such as national principles, the public order or public decency; (b) an excessively long advance notice of eight days; and (c) criminal sanctions for any public assembly not meeting these conditions, such events being classified in the Criminal Code as unarmed gatherings.
The Committee was "equally concerned by an unpublished decree of 18 June 2001, which prohibits demonstrations in the capital, and by reports that the decree is being applied generally throughout the country." It was similarly concerned
by reports of frequent cases of (a) public and private gatherings being violently dispersed; (b) demonstrators being mistreated, imprisoned and, on occasion, prosecuted; and (c) prosecution or harassment of persons who manage private facilities that are used for private meetings or reserved exclusively for members of legally formed associations, such as hotels....
The Committee further, while acknowledging "the exigencies involved in combating terrorism", reiterated its concern with regard to Article 87 bis of the Criminal Code, which defines the crime of terrorism
in overly broad and vague terms that would allow for the prosecution of actions that might constitute exercise of the freedom of expression or peaceful assembly.
In May 2019, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights adopted Resolution 414 on the Human Rights Situation in the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria in which it called on the Government of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria to ensure that fundamental human rights and freedoms are respected and upheld during the transition period.ACHPR Resolution 414 (LXIV) 2019, adopted at the 64th Ordinary Session of the Commission, meeting from 24 April to 14 May 2019 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.
Algeria's combined Fifth and Sixth Periodic Reports under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights do not address the right of peaceful assembly.
Views of Civil Society
The Civic Freedom Monitor has reported that on 17 March 2020, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune banned all protests, marches, demonstrations, and other mass gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing an end to the weekly Hirak anti-government protests that had continued for more than a year. The government has also been accused of using the COVID-19 crisis as a pretext to arrest independent journalists including those who covered the Hirak movement, and to implement other restrictive measures.
In late February 2019, Amnesty International called on Algerian security forces to
refrain from using excessive or unnecessary force to disperse peaceful demonstrations against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office....
A series of largely peaceful demonstrations took place across the country. Magdalena Mughrabi, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International, said that:
“The world’s eyes are on Algeria right now and how the government chooses to respond to these demonstrations will be a crucial test of its commitment to upholding the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. ... Security forces must only use force as a last resort and even then, it should only be used proportionately and when absolutely necessary.”