The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Gabon 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.
Gabon 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, Gabon 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.
Gabon is a State Party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, but has not accepted the right of petition to the Court by individuals and non-governmental organisations.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
While the operative text of the 1991 Constitution of Gabon (as amended through 2011) does not guarantee the right of peaceful assembly, in its 2017 National Report for its Universal Periodic Review under the UN Human Rights Council, Gabon declared that: "Having the status of constitutional law since 28 February 1992, the preamble to the Constitution includes key guiding principles such as freedom of peaceful assembly". The Preamble to the Constitution refers to treaties such as the 1981 African Charter and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protect the right of peaceful assembly.
Gabon further claimed that it "recognises and guarantees this inviolable and inalienable right, as it does other such rights". It noted, though, that:
This freedom carries with it duties and responsibilities and is subject to limitations, conditions, restrictions and penalties as are provided for by law and are necessary to protect national security, public safety and public order.
Article 5 of Law 48/60 of 8 June 1960 establishes that "any public assembly is subject to prior notification indicating the purpose, place, day and time of the meeting". Law 001/2017 of 3 August 2017 further governs public assemblies in Gabon. Article 3 provides that "Meetings and public events are free in Gabon" but paragraph 1 of the provision declares that their conduct is "subject to strict respect for public order". Article 4 specifies that these "meetings and demonstrations are overseen by the police".
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.
Under the 1963 Penal Code of Gabon, the police called to disperse an unlawful assembly ...
can use force if violence or assault is taken against them or if they cannot otherwise defend the ground they occupy positions or whose custody is entrusted to them. In other cases, the crowd may be dissipated by force after the prefect or sub-prefect, the mayor or one of his deputies, a police commissioner or other bearer police officer insignia of his office:
I. has announced his presence by an audible or light signal as to effectively warn individuals constituting the crowd;
II. has summoned those involved in the gathering to disperse;
III. has proceeded in the same manner to a second, then to a third summoning if the first remained without result.Art. 80, Law No. 21/63 of 31 May 1963.
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.
Gabonese law does not appear to restrict specifically police use of firearms. In its 2020 list of issues for inclusion in Gabon's forthcoming periodic report on its implementation of the ICCPR, the Human Rights Committee asked Gabon to "Please provide information on the legal frameworks in place to ensure that force and firearms are used only when strictly necessary and on the degree to which these frameworks are aligned with the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials."
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Gabon has not come before the Human Rights Committee in recent years.
In their 2014 Concluding Observations and Recommendations on Gabon's initial and combined reports on its implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the African Commission did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Gabon:
Freedom of assembly is limited. In recent years the government has repeatedly denied permits for meetings and used tear gas and arrests to disperse unauthorized demonstrations. A 2017 law further limited the freedom to assemble, in part by making organizers responsible for offenses committed during a public gathering.
In a joint contribution by CIVICUS and other NGOs for the 2017 UPR of Gabon, it was stated that:
the Gabonese authorities have used excessive force to disperse peaceful protests questioning government policies as well as the outcome of the 2016 national elections. ... After the results of the presidential elections, security forces forcefully dispersed protests using tear gas, stun grenades, and hot-water cannons.