The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Lebanon 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.
Lebanon 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, Lebanon is a state party to the 2004 Arab Charter of Human Rights. Under Article 24(6) of the Charter, every citizen has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Under Article 13, of the 1926 Constitution of Lebanon (as amended), freedom of assembly is guaranteed "within the scope of the law".
The primary legislation governing the right of peaceful assembly is the Ottoman-era 1911 Public Assemblies Law, which was amended in 1931 and again in 1932. Subsequent government directives, such as Ministry of Interior Decree 4082 of 2000 as well as the Lebanese Penal Code, also contain provisions relevant to the conduct of public assemblies.
Article 3 of the Public Assemblies Law allows the government to prohibit a public assembly that would disturb public security or public order or public morality. In recent years, the government has banned a number of assemblies on grounds that they posed a threat to or would otherwise disturb public security. The Law provides that public assemblies must be notified at least 48 hours in advance to either the Ministry of Interior (if the assembly will be held in Beirut) or the local administrative authority (if outside Beirut).Art. 4, 1911 Public Assemblies Law.
In practice, the government generally allows peaceful assemblies to proceed with few legal restrictions. Police use force to disperse crowds in some circumstances, such as during widespread anti-government protests in Beirut in September and October 2015. When those protests turned violent, security officials used what some considered to be excessive force; dozens of the thousands of protestors were detained and charged with assault and vandalism under the Penal Code.
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 Code of Conduct of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) declares that the "right to life is sacred, therefore":
Police members will not resort to the use of force unless it is necessary, proportionate and after exhausting all possible, non-violent means, within the minimum extent needed to accomplish the mission.
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 Code of Conduct further stipulates that:
Police members will resort to the use of firearms only when it is absolutely necessary and according to the law; such use will be commensurate with the scale of danger and will happen only after exhausting all other possible means.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2017 Concluding Observations on Lebanon, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern
about reports of the prevalence in society of discrimination, hate speech and homophobic attitudes; harassment, violence and extortion directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals; violations of their freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Lebanon:
The authorities generally respect the right to assemble, which is protected under the constitution, and demonstrators have been able to mount protests against government dysfunction and lack of services in recent years. While protests over a garbage crisis in 2015 led to mass arrests and police violence that caused hundreds of injuries, assemblies since then have been more peaceful.
A number of protests took place with little disruption in 2018, including against political paralysis, corruption, and controversies and irregularities related to the parliamentary elections. However, Lebanese military and security services personnel used excessive force against participants in a December protest in the capital, which was apparently inspired by France’s “gilets jaunes” or yellow vests, antigovernment demonstrations.
In August 2015, Amnesty International called on the Lebanese authorities to investigate allegations that security forces used excessive force to disperse residents protesting in Beirut over the lack of adequate public services, a waste management crisis, and corruption. At least 343 people were treated for injuries and 59 more were hospitalized, according to the Red Cross, after protests on 22 and 23 August organized by the local “You Stink” civil society movement. “Lebanese security officials responded to overwhelmingly peaceful protesters in downtown Beirut by shooting into the air with live rounds, firing rubber bullets, tear gas canisters, and water cannons, and in some cases hurling stones and beating protesters with batons and rifles,” said Lama Fakih, Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International.