The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Dominica is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 of the ICCPR 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.
Dominica is not 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, Dominica 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.
Dominica 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
Under Section 1(b) of the 1978 Constitution, freedom of assembly is guaranteed to everyone in Dominica.
The primary legislation governing public assemblies in Dominica is the 1954 Public Order Act (as amended). According to Section 3 of this law, a permit must generally be obtained for an assembly. An application must be made at least three days in advance to the Commissioner of Police.S. 4, 1954 Public Order Act (as amended).The Act gives broad discretion to the Commissioner and the relevant government minister to refuse the request.
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 use of force by the police is governed by the 1873 Criminal Law and Procedure Act (as amended most recently by a 1992 Act). According to Section 13(1) of this Act, "a person may use force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large".
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.
Section 2 of the Constitution of Dominica allows potentially lethal force purely to defend property. This is not permissible under international law.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2020 Concluding Observations on Dominica, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern "about allegations of the excessive use of force against demonstrators, including during protests in Roseau in February and May 2017, when law enforcement officers were accused of using tear gas and firing warning shots".
The Committee called on the authorities to:
Revise the legislation and policies related to the use of force by law enforcement officials, particularly the provisions that permit the use of lethal force for the protection of property, taking due account of the Committee’s General Comment No. 36 (2018) on the right to life and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials; ...
Ensure that accessible complaints and independent oversight mechanisms are put in place, that all reports of violence are thoroughly investigated and that such investigations, where warranted, lead to proportionate sanctions;
Provide adequate remedies to victims of police violence, including compensation and guarantees of non-repetition.
There has been no case within the Inter-American human rights system involving the right of peaceful assembly in Dominica in recent years.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Dominica:
Freedom of assembly is guaranteed under the constitution, and the government has generally respected these rights. However, protests sometimes become violent, or give way to looting or acts of vandalism. Some unrest took place at opposition protests in 2017, and the prime minister characterized the protest events as threats to state security. In December 2018, riot police deployed tear gas against demonstrators with the Concerned Citizens Movement—a civil society group that frequently criticizes the government—who blocked a road and refused calls to disperse.