The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Finland 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.
Finland 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, Finland 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
Under Section 13 of the 1919 Constitution of the Republic of Finland, "Everyone has the right to arrange meetings and demonstrations without a permit, as well as the right to participate in them."
National legislation in Finland allows for restrictions to be imposed when there are concerns over public order or security, damage to health, property, or the environment, the rights and interests of bystanders and unreasonable inconvenience to traffic. Under the 1999 Assembly Act, in a public assembly, banners, insignia, loudspeakers and other regular meeting equipment may be used and temporary constructions erected. In such an instance, "the organiser shall see to it that no danger or unreasonable inconvenience or damage is thereby caused to the participants, bystanders or the environment".
Organisers of assemblies in a public place must give oral or written notification to police at least six hours before the beginning of the event. A shorter notification period is allowed in cases where there is no significant disruption of public order.S. 7(1), 1999 Assembly Act.
In December 2018, the Finnish government watered down its proposal to amend the Act on Assemblies following complaints by opposition political parties. Earlier in 2018, the government had proposed that the organisers of public assemblies be obliged to notify police of the meeting at least three days, rather than six hours, in advance. It amended the proposal to lengthen the advance notification period from six hours to one day.
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 the 1995 Police Act (as amended), police officers, when carrying out official duties, have the right to:
Use necessary force that can be considered justifiable to overcome resistance, remove a person from a place, carry out an apprehension [arrest], prevent the escape of a person who has been deprived of his or her liberty, remove an obstacle or prevent an immediate risk of an offence or some other dangerous act or event.
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.
Under the 1995 Police Act, firearms may be used "only when it is necessary to stop the actions of a person posing an immediate and serious danger to the life or health of another person and no more moderate means to do this are available".
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2013 Concluding Observations on Finland, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly. The 2017 Universal Periodic Review of Finland under the UN Human Rights Council also did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
Kivenmaa v. Finland (1994)
In this case, which concerned respect for Article 21 of the ICCPR, the Human Rights Committee found
that a requirement to notify the police of an intended demonstration in a public place six hours before its commencement may be compatible with the permitted limitations laid down in article 21 of the Covenant. In the circumstances of this specific case, it is evident from the information provided by the parties that the gathering of several individuals at the site of the welcoming ceremonies for a foreign head of State on an official visit, publicly announced in advance by the State party authorities, cannot be regarded as a demonstration. Insofar as the State party contends that displaying a banner turns their presence into a demonstration, the Committee notes that any restrictions upon the right to assemble must fall within the limitation provisions of article 21. A requirement to pre-notify a demonstration would normally be for reasons of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Consequently, the application of Finnish legislation on demonstrations to such a gathering cannot be considered as an application of a restriction permitted by article 21 of the Covenant.
There has been no finding of a violation of the right of peaceful assembly by the European Court of Human Rights.
Purmonen and others v. Finland (2003)
This case concerned a demonstration in a shop against fur products. Following their arrest and prosecution the applicants complained that their right of peaceful assembly had been violated. They stated that because of their anti-fur opinions and actions the investigation was conducted against them in a discriminatory manner.
On the facts of the case, the European Court found no appearance of a violation either of Article 11 or of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) read in conjunction with Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court therefore rejected this part of the application "as being manifestly ill-founded".