The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Equatorial Guinea 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.
Equatorial Guinea 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, Equatorial Guinea 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.
Equatorial Guinea 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
Article 13(1) of the 1991 Constitution of Equatorial Guinea (as amended) guarantees enjoyment by "every citizen" of rights and freedoms, including to freedom of assembly and demonstration.
The primary legislation governing public assemblies in Equatorial Guinea is Law 4/1992 on Freedom of Assembly and Demonstrations. According to Article 7 of the law, organisers must seek authorisation from the Director General of National Security seven days before the start of a demonstration.
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 prioportionate to that purpose.
There is national legislation governing police use of force through a 2019 law on maintaining public order.
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.
National legislation governing police use of force was contained in a 2015 law on maintaining public order. The law was revised in 2019 to authorise the security forces to use firearms in a range of situations including to "defend their positions". 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 2019 Concluding Observations on Equatorial Guinea, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concerned that the government had "not provided information on any specific provisions regarding the appropriate use of force and firearms by law enforcement personnel and security forces".
Equatorial Guinea has not yet submitted its Initial Report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights on its implementation of the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Equatorial Guinea, "Freedom of assembly is severely restricted. Opposition gatherings are typically blocked or dispersed, and citizens are sometimes pressured to attend pro-government events."
According to a joint submission of NGOs for the 2019 Universal Periodic Review of Equatorial Guinea:
In May 2017, police arrested 17 protesters during a demonstration against high prices for permits for taxi drivers. Some protestors were assaulted and had to receive medical treatment. Many of those arrested were detained and only released after several days. On 8 March 2018, security forces arrested 47 women and several men and children during an event commemorating international women’s day in Bata. The event was held at the office of the CPDS, and those arrested were detained at Mbini police station, where some were assaulted.
On 25 March 2015, security forces forcefully dispersed peaceful protests organised by students of the Universidad Nacional de Guinea Ecuatorial. The students were protesting against the process of scholarship allocation, and the fact that the scholarship recipients were not receiving their funds. The protests were organised by students in Bata and Malabo and protesters held banners with inscriptions such as “scholarships for all” and “no cuts in education.”30 Police used teargas to disperse the protests and arrested 26 students in Bata and 20 in Malabo. The following day, the police again use excessive force to disperse protests calling for the release of those arrested the day before. Artist Benjamin Ndong, who released a song in support of the protests, was also arrested.
In July 2018, Human Rights Watch stated that there was "credible evidence that Guinea’s security forces used excessive lethal force and engaged in other unprofessional conduct during violent street protests in February and March 2018. No member of the police or gendarmes has been arrested or charged." In an interview with Human Rights Watch, General Ibrahima Baldé, the commander of the gendarmerie and head of the election security force, said that all security force members under his control are strictly forbidden from carrying or using firearms when responding to demonstrations and denied that any officers carry them. “If I saw a gendarme with a firearm, I would intervene immediately,” he said. A senior official at the Security and Civilian Protection Ministry, which oversees the police, said that police were only permitted to wear riot equipment when policing demonstrations or strikes and do not carry firearms. He said, however, that security forces did not have adequate anti-riot equipment and urged Guinea’s partners to provide funds to assist the police and gendarmes to obtain the necessary material.