The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Bangladesh 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.
Bangladesh 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.
There is no regional human rights treaty to which Bangladesh can become a state party.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Under Article 37 of Bangladesh's 1986 Constitution (as amended):
Every citizen shall have the right to assemble and to participate in public meetings and processions peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of public order or health.
The government is able to restrict the right of peaceful assembly using Section 144 of the 1898 Criminal Procedure Code, which offers a broad discretion to prohibit certain acts, including public gatherings.
It is reported that organisers must secure prior permission from the local police authority to hold an assembly in Dhaka. In 2013, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) issued a circular stating that organizers of any assembly, meeting or public gathering in open public places, must submit an application to the Police Commissioner seven days before it is held. The Office of the Police Commissioner usually informs the applicant within five days whether permission is given or denied. If permission is denied, that decision is usually final, although a case can be filed at the High Court Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh to contest a denial of permission.
Section 29 of the 1976 DMP Ordinance imposes criminal sanctions against the organizers and participants of assemblies and processions that violate the laws relating to assemblies:
Whoever contravenes any order made under section 29 shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine which may extend to five hundred taka, or with both.
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 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure (as amended), an officer in charge of a police station may disperse an unlawful assembly by force, and, if necessary for "public security" that it be dispersed, the Police Commissioner in a Metropolitan Area "may cause it to be dispersed by military force".Ss. 128 and 129, 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure.
If a person "forcibly resists the endeavour to arrest him, or attempts to evade the arrest, such police officer or other person may use all means necessary to effect the arrest."S. 46, 1898 Code of Criminal Procedure.
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 use of firearms is governed by outdated regulations that do not conform to international law and standards. According to Regulation 153(a), the use of firearms is permitted for the following purposes only:
In exercise of the right of private defence of person or property. (Sections 96–106, Indian Penal Code)
For the dispersal of unlawful assemblies. (Sections 127–128. Criminal Procedure Code)
To effect an arrest in certain circumstances. (Section 46, Criminal Procedure Code).
Under international law, police use of firearms to protect property or to disperse unlawful assemblies is not permissible.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2017 Concluding Observations on Bangladesh, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
In the 2018 Universal Periodic Review of Bangladesh under the UN Human Rights Council, a number of states called on Bangladesh to respect the right of peaceful assembly in practice.
The Bangladesh government limited or restricted the right of peaceful assembly in 2018, according to the latest report on human rights by the United States Department of State:
The government limited or restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The law provided for the right to peaceful assembly, but the government limited this right.