The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Costa Rica 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.
Costa Rica 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, Costa Rica is a State Party to the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. Article 15 governs the right of assembly:
The right of peaceful assembly, without arms, is recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and necessary in a democratic society in the interest of national security, public safety or public order, or to protect public health or morals or the rights or freedom of others.
Costa Rica has accepted the competence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to hear complaints by individuals under the jurisdiction of the State that their rights under the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights have been violated.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 26 of the 1949 Constitution of Costa Rica guarantees the right of peaceful assembly:
Everyone has the right to meet peacefully and without arms, whether for private business, or to discuss political matters and to examine the public conduct of civil servants.
Meetings in private premises do not need prior authorization. Those undertaken in public places will be regulated by the law.
There is no legislative act or regulation governing assemblies in Costa Rica. In practice, the police and assembly organisers engage in a mutual planning exercise.
The Civic Freedom Monitor affirms that "in practice, the police are opposed to counter-demonstrations at the same time and place of a group holding opposing views".
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.
According to Article 5 of the Regulation of Ethics of the Members of the Police Forces Assigned to the Ministry of Public Security:
During the procedures used to enforce the law, officials may only use force when strictly necessary, and to the extent required by the performance of their duties.
They will only use their weapons when there is a grave risk to their lives or physical integrity, or that of third parties.
In any case, actions of this type are governed by the principles of reasonableness and proportionality.
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.
Costa Rica has not adopted specific legislation governing police use of firearms during assemblies.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2016 Concluding Observations on Costa Rica, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
Costa Rica did not address the issue of peaceful assembly in its 2019 Universal Periodic Review under the Human Rights Council.
There has been no case involving the right of peaceful assembly in Costa Rica in recent years. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is based in the capital city of Costa Rica, San José.
Views of Civil Society
A government proposal to borrow U$1.7 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which would require imposing new tax measures, sparked weeks-long protests in Costa Rica from the end of September 2020.
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Costa Rica:
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally protected, and this right is largely upheld in practice. A diverse range of groups, including LGBT and environmental organizations, hold regular rallies and protests without government interference.