The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Mozambique 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.
Mozambique is not a 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, Mozambique is a State Party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.
Mozambique is also a State Party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, but has not allowed the right of petition to the Court by individuals and non-governmental organisations.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
According to Article 51 of the 2004 Constitution of Mozambique (as amended):
All citizens shall have the right to freedom of assembly and demonstration, within the terms of the law.
Article 3(1) of Law 9/91 of 18 July 1991Ley núm. 9/91, por la que se regula el ejercicio de la libertad de reunión y manifestación.(as amended by Law 7/2001 of 7 July 2001) states that “all citizens can, peacefully and freely, exercise their right of assembly and manifestation without prior authorisation under the law”. The law does require written notification to the authorities and the local police at least four days in advance.
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.
Article 33 of Law 16/2013 requires that the police use only necessary and proportionate force to overcome unlawful resistance to police officers.
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 1999 Police Statute provides that a police officer may only use firearms where there is a reasonably serious risk to the officer’s life or physical integrity, or those of third persons, or in circumstances in which there may be a serious risk to public security. Use must also comply with the principles of reasonableness and proportionality.
This is more permissive than international law allows.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2013 Concluding Observations on Mozambique, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern "that the freedom of assembly and association is not always effectively guaranteed". The Committee was also concerned
about allegations of arbitrary arrests and detention of participants in peaceful demonstrations, including those organized by the Mozambique War Veterans Forum, as well as the use of tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and batons by police during demonstrations.
The Committee called on the authorities to "take all measures to ensure that individuals fully enjoy their rights under article 21 of the Covenant and that the right to freedom of assembly is safeguarded in practice" and to "investigate and prosecute persons allegedly responsible for arbitrary arrests and detention and bodily injuries inflicted in connection with participation in a peaceful demonstration and punish those who are found guilty".
In its 2014 Concluding Observations on Mozambique, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2021 report on Mozambique:
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed, but the right to assemble is subject to notification and timing restrictions. The government frequently disallows protests on the basis of errors in the organizers’ official applications.
Despite these restrictions, protests did occur during 2020. In March, Maputo street vendors protested in response to official instructions to halt the sale of goods, and clashed with security forces. In April, taxi drivers in Nacala-a-Velha held a protest over COVID-19 measures, and also clashed with the authorities.