The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Djibouti 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.
Djibouti 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, Djibouti is a State Party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.
Djibouti is a signatory but not a State Party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
The Constitution of the Republic of Djibouti does not guarantee the right of peaceful assembly.
Djibouti claimed in its National Report for its Universal Periodic Review under the UN Human Rights Council that:
Freedom of assembly is guaranteed by law. Public meetings may be freely held, and all that is needed before they can be convened is a simple declaration. Restrictions may be imposed only in accordance with the law. They entail restrictions that are strictly necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedom of others.
This claim is contested by non-governmental stakeholders who, in the context of the UPR, called on Djibouti to amend the Constitution to include explicit protection of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and develop a law that provides for the exercise of this right in line with international standards. CIVICUS observe that:
Articles 179 of the Penal Code defines illegal “gatherings” as all public assemblies considered likely to “disturb public order”. Article 182(3) broadly defines as illegal an assembly for which a prior incomplete or inexact notification has been submitted to the authorities. ... The only legal document that explicitly protects the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly in Djibouti is public order No. 77-033/PR, signed on 4 October 1977. ... However, Article 2 of this states that all public meetings should be prepared by an office of at least three people, who are responsible for maintaining order, preventing infractions and ensuring that no speech contrary to public order or good mores is spoken. A government representative is designated to attend all public meetings, with the power to dissolve the meeting. Meetings or assemblies in public spaces are forbidden by Article 5 unless prior authorisation is sought in cases where the number of participants in a meeting exceeds the space available to the host.
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 179 of the Penal Code gives the police the right to disperse an unlawful gathering after two warnings. The level of force that may be used in so doing is not specified by the Code. According to Article 15 of the 1995 Decree on the National Police Force, however, police officers may only use force when necessary and within the framework of laws and regulations and refrain from any act of gratuitous violence.
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.
According to Article 19 of the 1995 Decree, all police officers are, in principle, equipped with an individual firearm. Its carriage is limited to occasions when the officer is on duty and its use is only possible "within the strict framework of the law".
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2013 Concluding Observations on Djibouti, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern
about reports of widespread threats, harassment and intimidation by the police, security and military authorities of human rights defenders and journalists.
It called on Djibouti to take "appropriate measures to guarantee in law and in practice, and to create an environment conducive to, the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful association and assembly".
In December 2015, several special-procedure mandate holders expressed grave concern regarding reports of excessive and indiscriminate use of force by members of the security forces of Djibouti, including the use of live ammunition (as a result of which at least 27 persons had died and 150 had been injured), during clashes between protesters and the authorities following an attempt by the police to break up a religious celebration on the outskirts of Djibouti City. In its reply, Djibouti stated that the police officers had been accosted and that violent riots had then broken out.
Djibouti has not ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, allowing the African Court to hear cases alleging a violation of the Charter by the State.
In 2014, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa expressed her deep concern at "the situation of human rights defenders in Djibouti, a situation marked by an increase in arrests, police and judicial repression, and all forms of threats against independent journalists and opinion leaders." She noted
the various recent developments that have taken place in the country, including the arrest of several activists on 16 January 2014 and the ensuing disputes which constitute a serious violation of the right to freedom of expression and assembly. These acts are carried out in an environment where groups of human rights defenders are deprived of their right to peaceful assembly.
Views of Civil Society
CIVICUS reported that Tthroughout June and July 2020, rare street protests broke out in support of former Djiboutian Air Force Lieutenant Fouad Youssouf Ali and against the treatment meted out to him while in detention. The protests were met with excessive force by security forces.
On 12 June 2020, Lieutenant Ali had been arrested and charged with “treason” after releasing a video alleging corruption by a high-ranking military official and clan-based discrimination in late-March 2020. He was held in allegedly harsh conditions in Gabode prison in Djibouti City where he went on two hunger strikes and his health condition deteriorated according to his lawyer.
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Djibouti:
Freedom of assembly, while nominally protected under the constitution, is not respected in practice. Permits are required for public assemblies. In May 2018, jobless young people in Tadjourah mounted a demonstration to express frustration with discrimination and nepotism in hiring. Police used violence to disperse them, wounding several and arresting dozens; the wounded reported being afraid to seek formal medical care for fear of arrest. Six protesters were charged with “threatening public order” and placed in pretrial detention. Activists alleged that security forces employed gas grenades and live ammunition and cut telecommunications services to the protest area. A subsequent protest over aid delivery in a district of the capital was similarly broken up by police, who arrested several dozen protesters.