The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
The Maldives 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.
The Maldives 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.
There is no regional human rights treaty to which the Maldives could adhere.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Under Section 32 of the 2008 Constitution of the Republic of the Maldives: "Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly without prior permission of the State."
The 2013 Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act is the primary legislation governing assemblies in the Maldives. Under the Act, notification must be given in advance of an assembly. An assembly may be dispersed if it is held in an unauthorised place or involves acts of violence.
In August 2016, the President of the Maldives, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, ratified an amendment to the Act, stipulating that street protests, marches, parades, and “other such gatherings can only be held with written permission from the police, or in areas designated by the Ministry of Home Affairs”.
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 49 of the 2013 Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act, in dispersing an unlawful or violent assembly, the force used by the police must be legal, reasonable and proportionate to the circumstances.
Under the 2008 Police Act every police officer is obligated to "abstain from the exercise of disproportionate force whilst performing policing duties" and to not act "cruelly, in a degrading manner, inhumanely, or mercilessly towards any person in any circumstance".Art. 7(a)(9) and (11), 2008 Police Act.
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 2008 Police Act does not specifically regulate the use of firearms.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
The Maldives has not come before the Human Rights Committee in recent years.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on the Maldives:
Freedom of assembly has been subject to severe constraints in recent years. A 2016 law requires protest organizers to obtain police permission for their events and restricts demonstrations to certain designated areas. Assemblies were banned during the 2018 state of emergency. However, in the run-up to the September election, conditions improved due in part to the looming threat of targeted sanctions by the European Union, which adopted a framework for such penalties in July. The authorities granted the opposition somewhat greater leeway to campaign and hold rallies after consistently refusing permits in the past. In early September, the MDP was able to hold its first rally in the capital’s central carnival area in three years. Separately, in August, an annual rally organized by the family of forcibly disappeared journalist Ahmed Rilwan was allowed to proceed uninterrupted for the first time since 2014.