The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Bhutan is not a state party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 21 of which governs the right of peaceful assembly.
The right of peaceful assembly is, though, a fundamental human right that is part of the corpus of customary international law. It is also a general principle of law.See Art. 38(1), 1945 Statute of the International Court of Justice.
There is no regional human rights treaty to which Bhutan can become a state party.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
According to the 2008 Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan:
A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.Art. 7(12), 2008 Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
Public gatherings require government authorisation under the 2009 Royal Bhutan Police Act, although a time limit is not set for the making of a request for a permit. Chapter 12 of the 2009 Act authorises the police to use force to "quell a disturbance of the peace, or to disperse an unlawful assembly, which either refused to disperse or shows a determination not to disperse".
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.
Chapter 12 of the 2009 Royal Bhutan Police Act allows force to be used to disperse an unlawful assembly. Such use of force must, however, be limited as "as much as possible" using "the least deadly weapon which the circumstances permit." Non-lethal measures required before lethal force may be used include water cannon, tear gas, batons, and rubber ammunition.
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.
Shooting live ammunition into a crowd is authorised once warning shots have been fired into the air. This provision contravenes international law.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Bhutan is not party to the 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) or the 1984 Convention against Torture.
In the 2019 Universal Periodic Review of Bhutan under the UN Human Rights Council, the right of peaceful assembly was not addressed.
There is no regional human rights court with jurisdiction over Bhutan.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Bhutan:
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but this right is limited by government-imposed restrictions. Public gatherings require government permission, which is sometimes denied. Curfews and restrictions on the location of demonstrations also serve to curtail assembly rights.