The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Antigua and Barbuda adhered to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in July 2019. 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.
Antigua and Barbuda is not 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.
Antigua and Barbuda is a member of the Organization of American States, but has not adhered to the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Section 13(1) of the 1981 Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda protects the right of peaceful assembly:
Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of peaceful assembly and association, that is to say, his right peacefully to assemble freely and associate with other persons and in particular to form or belong to trade unions or other associations for the promotion and protection of his interests.
Paragraph 2 of Section 13, however, imposes restrictions on the enjoyment of that right where a law makes provision
a. that is reasonably required
i.in the interests of defence, public order, public morality or public health; or
ii. for the purpose of protecting the rights or freedoms of other persons; or
b. that imposes restrictions upon public officers that are reasonably required for the proper
performance of their functions,
- and except so far as that provision or, as the case may be, the thing done under the authority thereof is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.
The primary legislation in Antigua and Barbuda on the right of peaceful assembly is the 1972 Public Order Act. Section 3 of the Act specifies that every citizen who wishes to convene or address a public meeting must obtain a permit from the Commissioner of Police. The request must be submitted at least two days before the day on which the assembly is to be held. A non-citizen must obtain a permit from the Minister of Legal Affairs, Public Safety and Labour. A special permit is required for a public march, which must be requested at least three days before the day on which the march is to be held.
It is a criminal offence to organise or address an unlawful assembly or march. The police may disperse an unlawful assembly or march and arrest those who refuse to do so.
The Antigua and Barbuda Government has stated separately that the Labour Code protects workers' "fundamental human right of freedom and assembly and association".
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.
Under the 1967 Police (Discipline) Regulations, a police officer in Antigua and Barbuda may be disciplined if he or she exercises authority in an unlawful or excessive manner, such as by using "any unnecessary violence to any ... person with whom he may be brought into contact during the execution of his duty".
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.
There is not believed to be national legislation in place in Antigua and Barbuda specifically regulating police use of firearms. Under Section 4(2) of the 1981 Constitution, however,
a person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his life unlawfully if he dies as the result of the use, to such extent and such circumstances as are permitted by law, of such force as is reasonably justifiable-
a. for the defence of any person from violence or for the defence of property;
b. in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained;
c. for the purpose of suppressing a riot...
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Antigua and Barbuda adhered to the ICCPR in early July 2019 and has not yet come before the Human Rights Committee. Its initial report is due in 2024. The issue of peaceful assembly was not addressed during the last Universal Periodic Review of Antigua and Barbuda in 2021.
Views of Civil Society
Freedom House has reported that the government generally respects the right of peaceful assembly.
In August 2021, riot police dispersed demonstrators protesting the government’s COVID-19 vaccination policy requiring public sector workers to be vaccinated or take a test every fourth night. Authorities claimed that the protesters had not been issued the necessary permit; other political demonstrations were allowed to proceed.