The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Lithuania 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.
Lithuania 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.
At regional level, Lithuania 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.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 36 of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania (as amended) Article 36 governs the right of peaceful assembly:
Citizens may not be prohibited or hindered from assembling unarmed in peaceful meetings.
This right may not be limited otherwise than by law and only when it is necessary to protect the security of the State or society, public order, people’s health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of other persons.
The primary legislation governing assembly in Lithuania is the 1993 Law on Meetings (as amended).
The Law explicitly allows assemblies to take place without authorisation although the organisers of protests of more than 10 people should notify the authorities in advance. Notification must be made at least five days in advance.
Assemblies may not occur around certain government buildings. Local authorities may define permanent places or premises for meetings.
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.
Police use of force in Lithuania is regulated in the 2000 Law on Police Activities (as amended). According to Article 23(1) of the Law, a police officer has the right to use force
when it is necessary to prevent violations of law, to apprehend individuals who have committed said violations, as well as in other cases when protecting and defending the lawful interests of an individual, the society or the State. Coercion which might cause bodily injuries or death may only be used to the extent which is necessary for the fulfilment of the official duties and only after all possible measures of persuasion or other measures have been used with no effect.
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.
Article 25 of the 2000 law specifically governs the use of firearms. According to paragraph 1, "When other coercive measures are ineffective, the police officer shall have the right to use a firearm as an extraordinary measure." However, paragraph 4 prohibits use of a firearm "in public gathering places, if it endangers innocent people".
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2018 Concluding Observations on Lithuania, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly. Its 2016 Universal Periodic Review under the UN Human Rights Council did not address the right of peaceful assembly in detail.
Kudrevičius and others v. Lithuania (2015)
In its judgment in this case, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights overturned an earlier finding of a violation of Article 11 by Lithuania by a chamber of the Court.
The Grand Chamber recalled that prior notification "serves not only the aim of reconciling the right of assembly with the rights and lawful interests (including the freedom of movement) of others, but also the aim of preventing disorder or crime. In order to balance these conflicting interests, the institution of preliminary administrative procedures appears to be common practice in member States when a public demonstration is to be organised...." This is acceptable as long as regulations do "not represent a hidden obstacle to freedom of peaceful assembly as protected by the Convention".
The Court further held that since states have the right to require authorisation, they must be able to impose sanctions on those who participate in demonstrations that do not comply with such a requirement.
In the Court’s opinion, the moving of the demonstrations from the authorised areas onto the highways was a clear violation of the conditions stipulated in the permits. This action was taken without any prior notice to the authorities and without asking them to amend the terms of the permits. The applicants could not have been unaware of those requirements.
The Court found that
even though the applicants had neither carried out acts of violence nor incited others to engage in such acts ..., the almost complete obstruction of three major highways in blatant disregard of police orders and of the needs and rights of the road users constituted conduct which, even though less serious than recourse to physical violence, can be described as “reprehensible”.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Lithuania:
Freedom of assembly is generally respected. In March 2018, thousands of people gathered in Vilnius to protest a failed vote in Parliament to impeach legislator Mindaugas Bastys, who was allegedly under the influence of Russian business interests.