The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Brunei 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 not yet a regional human rights treaty to which South-East Asian nations can adhere, although a non-binding human rights declaration was issued by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2013. Paragraph 24 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration provides that: "Every person has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly." Brunei is a member of ASEAN.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
The 1959 Constitution of Brunei (as amended) does not guarantee fundamental human rights, such as the right of peaceful assembly.
The 1983 Brunei Public Order Act (as amended through 2002) is the primary legislation governing public assemblies. According to Section 9(1) of the Act,
Any person who wishes to organise or convene a meeting or a procession in a public place shall first (and not less than 7 days from the date of the intended meeting or procession) make an application for a permit in that behalf to the Commissioner of Police.
Under sub-section 2, the Commissioner of Police "shall, unless he is satisfied that such a meeting or procession is likely to prejudice the maintenance of peace or good order", issue a permit though it mat be subject to such conditions "as he may think fit to impose". Under sub-section 3 every person to whom a permit is issued "shall be responsible for the due observance of all the conditions specified in the permit".
However, state-of-emergency legislation has restricted the right of peaceful assembly in recent years. It is stipulated that no more than 10 people may assemble for any purpose without a permit.
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 1983 Public Order Act (as amended) authorises the police to use "such force as, in the circumstances of the case, may be reasonably necessary" to:
- arrest any person in an assembly who fails to comply with any order to disperse or "stop at or before reaching any barrier erected or placed under the Act"
- to arrest any person who is reasonably suspected of having committed a criminal offence
- to overcome forcible resistance offered by any person to such arrest; or
- to prevent the escape from arrest or the rescue of any person so arrested.Art. 21(1), 1983 Brunei Public Order Act (as amended through 2002).
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 Public Order Act authorises the police to use "such force as, in the circumstances of the case, may be reasonably necessary" to achieve the above-mentioned purposes, and stipulates that this "may extend to the use of lethal weapons".Art. 21(1), 1983 Brunei Public Order Act (as amended through 2002).
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Brunei is not a state party to the ICCPR.
In the 2019 Universal Periodic Review of Brunei under the UN Human Rights Council, the right of peaceful assembly was not addressed.