The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Jamaica 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.
Jamaica 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, Jamaica 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.
Jamaica 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
Article 13 of the 1962 Constitution of Jamaica protects the freedom of assembly, subject to limitations on the grounds of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, and public health.
Section 15 of the Public Order Act requires that a request for a permit to hold an assembly be made at least 24 hours in advance. The police are given a broad discretion under the Act to order an assembly to disperse.
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 Public Order Act does not describe the amount of force that may be used to disperse an unlawful assembly.
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.
The 1988 Book of Rules stipulates that if any member of the JCF "has to resort to the use of firearm in apprehending a criminal, or suspect, this should be done only in self-defence".1988 Book of Rules for the Guidance and General Direction of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, §2.17.
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 2016 Concluding Observations on Jamaica, the Human Rights Committee called on the authorities to "take all measures necessary to protect the rights of human rights defenders to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly". The issue of peaceful assembly was not addressed during the most recent Universal Periodic Review of Jamaica under the UN Human Rights Council, in 2015.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Jamaica:
Freedom of assembly is provided for by the constitution and is largely respected in practice. Occasionally protests are marred by violence or otherwise unsafe conditions.
According to CIVICUS: "As well as strikes, unions regularly hold workplace demonstrations. A landmark was achieved in 2015 when the first Pride demonstration was held in Jamaica."