The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Croatia 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.
Croatia 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, Croatia 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 Article 42 of the 1990 Constitution of the Republic of Croatia: "Everyone shall be guaranteed the right to public assembly and peaceful protest, in compliance with law."
The primary legislation governing assembly in Croatia is the 1999 Public Assemblies Act (as amended). The Law defines peaceful assembly as “an organized assembly (gathering) of more than 20 persons which is held for the purpose of public expression and promotion of political, social and national beliefs and aims”. The status of peaceful protests by fewer than 20 persons is unclear.
Under Article 7 of the Law, the relevant Police Authority must be notified of the intention to convene a peaceful assembly at least five days before the beginning of the assembly, although exceptionally this may be reduced to two days in the event of particular justification.
Article 13 specifies that in Zagreb, "anyone can, without registration, hold a peaceful gathering and public protest in the French Republic Square".
Article 16(1) of the 1999 Law places an obligation on the organisers to ensure the assembly is peaceful although Article 16(4) also gives the responsibility to the police.
Article 14 allows the Minister of the Interior to prohibit the holding of a peaceful assembly if it is held in an unlawful place, notification has not been made in time, or there are reasonable grounds for believing that it would lead to a direct and real danger of violence and other forms of serious disturbance of law and order. The decision on the ban must be issued no later than 24 hours before the reported start of the assembly.
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.
Article 64 of the 2008 Police Law specifically allows the dispersal of an assembly if a group has gathered and is acting unlawfully and with the risk that violence might occur. If the group does not disperse, the use is authorised of police vehicles, physical force, batons, chemical agents, water cannon, dogs, and horses.
Article 21 of the Law provides generally that:
The application of a police power must be proportional with the need for the reason of which it is undertaken. The application of a police power must not cause consequences more harmful than the ones that would have been caused if the police power had not been applied. Applied shall be the police power, by the means of which the lawful aim may be achieved with the least harmful consequences and within the shortest possible time.
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.
Article 62 of the 2008 Police Law restricts police use of firearms to where "other means of coercion used already were ineffective or do not guarantee success" when it is necessary to protect their own lives as well as the lives of others; prevent the commission of a crime punishable by a prison sentence of at least five years; or prevent the escape of a person caught committing a criminal act which is punishable by a prison sentence of at least ten years.
This is more permissive than international law allows.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2015 Concluding Observations on Croatia, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
In December 2011, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on Croatia’s application to become a member of the European Union, expressing deep concerns about the violence against participants in the LGBT pride march in Split in June 2011 and the inability of the authorities to protect participants. The resolution called on Croatia to firmly address cases of hate crime directed against LGBT minorities.