The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
The Bahamas is a State Party 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.
The Bahamas 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.
The Bahamas 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 24 of the 1973 Constitution of the Bahamas.provides that the right of peaceful assembly is protected. Restrictions may, however, be imposed by law on the enjoyment of the right where this is "reasonably required":
(i) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or
(ii) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons;
and except where this "is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society".
There is not believed to be specific legislation governing public assembly. But Section 79(1) of the Penal Code provides that:
An unlawful assembly is an assembly of three or more persons who, with intent to carry out any common purpose, assemble in such a manner, or so conduct themselves when assembled, as to cause persons in the neighbourhood of such assembly to fear, on reasonable grounds, that the persons so assembled will disturb the peace tumultuously, or will, by such assembly, needlessly and without any reasonable occasion provoke other persons to disturb the peace tumultuously.
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.
The Royal Bahamas Police Force is subject to the 2009 Police Act although this does not expressly govern the use of force in public assemblies.
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.
The 1973 Constitution of the Bahamas explicitly protects the right to life but provides that the right is not violated if a person
dies as the result of the use, to such extent and in 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, insurrection or mutiny; or
(d) in order to prevent the commission by a person of a criminal offence.
- or if he dies as a result of a lawful act of war.S. 16(2), 1973 Constitution of the Bahamas.
The 1873 Penal Code provides that:
Any person may, with or without warrant or other legal process, arrest and detain another person who has commited a felony, and may, if the other person, having notice or believing that he is accused of felony, avoids arrest by resistance or flight or escapes or endeavours to escape from custody, use any force which is necessary for his arrest, detention or recapture, and may kill him, if he cannot by any means otherwise be arrested, detained or re-taken.S. 103, 1873 Penal Code.
This is significantly more permissive than international law allows.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
The Bahamas has not come before the Human Rights Committee in recent years. The 2018 Universal Periodic Review of the Bahamas under the Human Rights Council did not address the right of peaceful assembly.