The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Belize 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.
Belize 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.
At regional level, Belize is a party to the Organization of American States (OAS) but is not a State Party to the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Under Section 3 of the 2000 Constitution, every person in Belize is entitled to the right of freedom of assembly. During a period of public emergency, however, the Governor-General of Belize may
make such regulations as are necessary or expedient for securing public safety, the defence of Belize, the maintenance of public order and the suppression of mutiny, rebellion and riot....S. 18(9), 2000 Constitution.
There is not believed to be national legislation dedicated to public assemblies. The 1935 Public Safety Act (as amended) allows the prohibition of assemblies in time of national emergency.
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.
In Belize, legislation does not specifically regulate the police use of force. Instead, the actions of the police are governed by the 2011 Criminal Code as a statutory authority authorised to use force.
The Criminal Code provides that in order for force to be legitimate, it must be justifiable, and that this will occur when force is used in pursuance of a matter of statutory justification.S. 30(1) Criminal Code.Article 31 of the Code sets out the grounds on which force may be justified, which include necessity for prevention of or defence against crime and defence of property or possession; or for overcoming obstruction to the exercise of lawful rights.
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.
Under the 2000 Firearms Act: a police officer may discharge a firearm within 40 yards of any public road or public place if he or she has the permission of the Commissioner of Police or has "any other lawful excuse or justification".S. 40, 2000 Firearms Act.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2018 Concluding Observations on Belize, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
The Universal Periodic Review of Belize under the UN Human Rights Council the same year also did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights has made recommendations to Belize on human rights issues on the basis of Belize's membership of the OAS. These have not specifically concerned the right of peaceful assembly.
Views of Civil Society
CIVICUS reported that on 22 July 2020, several people were injured when police repressed a peaceful protest at the Port of Belize Limited (PBL) in Belize City. The demonstration was organised by unionised workers to protest against pay cuts and the dismissal of 36 employees. A representative of the Christian Workers Union claimed the company had handpicked the terminated employees, selecting mainly unionised workers and union leaders.
Workers were staging a sit-in on the PBL compound when mеmbеrѕ оf thе Gаng Ѕuррrеѕѕіоn Unіt intervened, using tеаr gаѕ аnd rubbеr bullеtѕ tо dіѕреrѕе thе сrоwd. Several people were reported injured, іnсludіng оnе whо wаѕ ѕhоt in thе hеаd with а rubbеr bullеt. Following the incident, key unions in Belize demonstrated to express solidarity with the Christian Workers Union and demand fair treatment for the dismissed workers. On 24 July 2020, Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced that police officers involved in the violence would face disciplinary measures.
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Belize:
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally protected, and the government generally respects this right. Protests occasionally lead to clashes with police, though no major incidents were reported during 2018.