The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Barbados 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.
Barbados 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, Barbados is a state party to the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights and has accepted the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Section 11(d) of the 1966 Constitution of Barbados guarantees "every person in Barbados" the right to freedom of assembly.
The 1970 Public Order Act is the primary legislation of Barbados governing the right of peaceful assembly. The Act defines a meeting as meaning "any assembly or gathering of persons called together for the purpose of the transaction of matters of public interest or for the discussion of such matters or for the purpose of the expression of views on such matters".S. 2(1), 1970 Public Order Act.Under Section 4(1) of the Act,
any person who desires to organise, hold or call together a meeting in a public place shall, at least two days before the day on which it is proposed to hold such meeting, apply to the Commissioner of Police for a permit
The application must be made in writing, specifying:
(a) the name or names of the person or persons desiring to organise, hold or call together the meeting;
(b) the purpose or purposes of the meeting;
(c) the place at which the meeting is to be held and the approximate time at which it is to begin; and
(d) the name of every speaker other than a citizen of Barbados who is to address the meeting.
Section 5(1) provides that the Commissioner of Police "shall not refuse an application for a permit unless there are reasonable grounds for apprehending that the meeting in respect of which the application is made may occasion a breach of the peace or serious public disorder".
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 1961 Police Act, it is a disciplinary offence for a police officer to:
(i) treat any person with whom he may be brought into contact in the execution of his duty in an oppressive manner;
(ii) without good and sufficient cause conduct a search or require a person to submit to any test or procedure, or make any unlawful or unnecessary arrest;
(iii) use any unnecessary violence towards any prisoner or any other person with whom the officer may be brought into contact in the execution of his duty, or improperly threaten that person with violence.S. 32A(1)(h), 1961 Police Act.
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.
Police officers are not routinely armed but there is an armed "Anti-Gun Unit" within the Royal Barbados Police Force.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Barbados has not come before the Human Rights Committee in recent years. The issue of peaceful assembly was not addressed during the last Universal Periodic Review of Barbados under the UN Human Rights Council in 2018.
The right of peaceful assembly in Barbados has not been addressed by the Inter-American Commission or Court of Human Rights.