The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Latvia 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.
Latvia 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.
On 16 March 2020, Latvia formally derogated from Article 21 ICCPR (as well as Article 12 on freedom of movement and Article 17 on freedom from interference in privacy and family life) on the basis of the COVID-19 pandemic. In its notification, Latvia stated that the emergency situation began on 13 March 2020, and would remain in force until 14 April 2020. Among the measures adopted by the Government of Latvia, all public events, meetings and gatherings have been cancelled and prohibited. In April 2021, it withdrew its derogation.
At regional level, Latvia 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.
Latvia has made a similar declaration of derogation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic with respect to Article 11 ECHR. In April 2021, it withdrew its derogation.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Section 103 of the 1922 Constitution of Latvia (as amended) governs the right of peaceful assembly:
The State shall protect the freedom of previously announced peaceful meetings, street processions, and pickets.
The primary national legislation on assembly is the 1997 Law on Meetings, Street Processions and Pickets. A notification "application" process is laid down by the law. An application must be submitted at least three days before the assembly to the relevant local institutions.S. 12 et seq., 1997 Law on Meetings, Street Processions and Pickets.
Under Section 11(1) of the 1997 Law, participants in meetings, street processions, and pickets are prohibited, during such events, from:
1) holding within their keeping weapons or other articles, which on the basis of their nature are intended or may be applicable for the committing of bodily injury to persons or the damaging of property;
2) being equipped with passive means of protection (helmets, casques, body armour and similar);
3) concealing their faces beneath masks;
4) dressing in uniforms or similar clothes in order to express specific political points of view;
5) using former USSR, Latvia PSR and nazi Germany flags, coats of arms, hymns and symbols (also in a stylised form);
6) performing acts which are contradictory to morals; and
7) acting in such a way as to create a threat to the participants of the meetings, street processions or pickets or the safety and health of other persons.
Section 24 stipulates that the police "shall not allow such meetings, street processions and pickets, which are organised not observing the requirements of [the 1997] Law".
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 Section 13(1) of the 1992 Law on the Police (as amended), a police officer has the right to use physical force to arrest an offender. The type and intensity of force must be determined in view of the particular situation, the nature of the offence and the personal characteristics of the offender.S. 13(2) of the 1992 Law on the Police (as amended).
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.
A police officer is entitled to use a firearm "in an absolute emergency".S. 14, 1992 Law on the Police (as amended).This is more permissive than international law allows.
It is further prohibited under Section 14 of the 1992 Law
to use and make use of firearms at locations where as a result of such use other persons may be injured; also, it is prohibited to use firearms against women and minors except in cases when they are executing an armed attack, show armed resistance, or by means of a group attack endanger the lives of other persons or police officers.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2014 Concluding Observations on Latvia, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
In its 2015 Universal Periodic Review under the UN Human Rights Council, Latvia stated that: "Latvia stressed that it recognized the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech but it had condemned, and continued to condemn harshly, any expression of totalitarian ideologies, including Nazism."
In its jurisprudence to date, the European Court of Human Rights has not found a violation of the right of peaceful assembly by Latvia.
Views of Civil Society
According to CIVICUS:
Article 103 of Latvia’s constitution protects the right of people to take part in "previously announced peaceful meetings, street processions, and pickets", wording which would appear to preclude the possibility of lawful spontaneous assemblies. Although groups including CSOs and political parties can assemble freely, public demonstrations are rare in Latvia. Anti-austerity campaigns failed to gain ground in 2008-2010 due to limited public support. In a positive development, the EuroPride march was held successfully in 2015 and received adequate police protection, with no disturbances reported. Organisers of the Baltic Pride parade in 2018 also report positive relations with local authorities, however public opposition to the LGBTI event has been on the rise in recent months, particularly on social media. This stands in contrast to past events, when the Riga local authority tried to ban some assemblies including the LGBTI pride march, which could only proceed after it was granted permission to proceed by the courts.