The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Laos 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.
Laos 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.
There is not yet a regional human rights treaty to which South-East Asian nations can adhere, although a non-binding human rights declaration was issued by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2013. Paragraph 24 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration provides that: "Every person has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly." Laos is a member of ASEAN.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
According to Article 44 of the 2015 Constitution of the Lao People's Democratic Republic:
Lao citizens have the right and freedom of speech, press and assembly; and have the right to set up associations and to stage demonstrations which are not contrary to the laws.Art. 44, 1991 Constitution of the Lao People's Democratic Republic.
There is no dedicated national law on assemblies. Article 66 of the Penal Code criminalises "gatherings aimed at causing social disorder". It stipulates that:
Any person organising or participating in the gathering of groups of persons to conduct protest marches, demonstrations and others with the intention of causing social disorder, shall, where such action causes damage to the society, be punished by one to five years of imprisonment and shall be fined from 200,000 Kip to 50,000,000 Kip.
Any attempt to commit such an offence shall also be punished.
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.
Regulations on the use of force and firearms by defence and security officials are said to be defined in Article 43(7) of the Law on People’s Security Forces. The text of this law is not, though, available in English.
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.
There is not believed to be specific regulation of police use of firearms in Lao domestic law.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2018 Concluding Observations on Laos, the Human Rights Committee regretted the
severe restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly, which hinder the development of a civic space in which individuals can meaningfully exercise their human rights and promote human rights without fear of sanction or reprisal. The restrictions include:
(a) The vague and broadly formulated offences of defamation, libel and insult (Penal Code, arts. 94 and 95), of “propaganda against the Lao People’s Democratic Republic” (Penal Code, art. 65) and of “gatherings aimed at causing social disorder” (Penal Code, art. 7)
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Laos:
Although protected in the constitution, the government severely restricts freedom of assembly. Protests are rare, and those deemed to be participating in unsanctioned gatherings can receive lengthy prison sentences. The government occasionally allows demonstrations that pose little threat to the LPRP.
In 2017, Laos’s government arrested 14 villagers in Sekong Province protesting alleged land grabs, and since then reports have emerged that some have been subject to severe mistreatment in custody. Three of the protesters were released in June.