The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Bosnia and Herzegovina 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.
Bosnia and Herzegovina 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, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a State Party to the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. Article 11 governs freedom of assembly and association:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
According to the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina:
All persons within the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina shall enjoy freedom of peaceful assembly.Art. II(3)(i), 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In April 2018, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reviewed the draft law on Public Assembly in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It concluded that, if adopted, the law would violate freedom of assembly, unreasonably burden the organisers of assemblies, and pose severe restrictions on venues for assemblies.
In Sarajevo Canton, a 2009 Act on Public Assembly stipulates that the organiser of a peaceful assembly is required to submit an application to the Police five days before the planned event. Exceptionally, an application may be submitted two days before, accompanied by valid reasons for the late submission.
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 2004 Law on Police Officials regulates the use of force by police officers. They may only use force “when strictly necessary and only to the extent required in order to achieve a legitimate objective”.Art. 27(1), 2004 Law on Police Officials.Officers are entitled to use force “when necessary to protect human lives, repel an attack, to surmount resistance, to prevent escape”.Art. 27(2), 2004 Law on Police Officials.Officers must issue a warning before using force unless “it may endanger the safety of the police officials or another person or would be clearly inappropriate or pointless in the circumstances of the incident”.Art. 27(3), 2004 Law on Police Officials.Detailed regulations on the use of force are required to be issued by the Federal Ministry of the Interior.
The Law stipulates that bodily force and batons "shall not be used against children, elderly persons, incapacitated persons including persons who are apparently seriously ill and women whose pregnancy is obvious, unless these persons directly endanger the life of a police official or other persons."Art. 28(1), 2004 Law on Police Officials.
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.
In the 2004 Law on Police Officials, it is stipulated that a police officer may use firearms "when there is no other way" to protect him-/herself or others "against an imminent threat of death or serious injury" or to prevent "the perpetration of a criminal offence involving grave threat to life or integrity, arrest a person presenting such a danger and resisting police authority".Art. 29(2), 2004 Law on Police Officials.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2017 Concluding Observations on Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly though it did regret "the lack of information with respect to allegations of ill-treatment of detainees following the February 2014 demonstrations".
There has not been a case at the European Court of Human Rights concerning a violation of the right of peaceful assembly in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Views of Civil Society
In October 2020, CIVICUS reported that Bosnian Police have shown inconsistency in their reactions towards protests. LGBTI activists report that significant additional costs of securing the 2019 Pride parade were imposed on the organisers but were not sought from other similar gatherings in 2019 and 2020. In addition, activists, journalists and lawyers expressed concerns about the inconsistent actions of the police towards the citizens of Banja Luka because of the different attitude towards unannounced rallies and the reasons for the gatherings. For example, police officers lay misdemeanor charges against "Justice for David" organisers, while it seems that the organisers of several other unreported rallies have not been punished.
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Bosnia and Herzegovina:
Freedom of assembly is generally respected in BiH, and peaceful protests are common. However, demonstrators sometimes encounter administrative obstacles or police violence. In 2018, persistent and often large-scale protests followed the unexplained death—and presumed murder—in March of David Dragičević, a 21-year-old Banja Luka resident whose case touched on broader concerns about policing and the rule of law in the RS [Republika Srpska]. Dragičević’s father and opposition leaders have accused the RS police, prosecutor’s office, and political leadership of either playing a role in or covering up his son’s death. In an attempt to clamp down on the movement, police on Christmas Day closed off a Banja Luka square utilized by protesters and arrested some 20 people, allegedly using excessive force in the process.