The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Palestine 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.
Palestine 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.
On 8 April 2020, the UN Secretary-General published a notification from Palestine to the UN Secretary-General that measures adopted during the state of emergency as a result of COVID-19 may derogate from its obligations under the Covenant, including as they pertain to the right to liberty under Article 9, the right to liberty of movement under Article 12 and the right of peaceful assembly under Article 21, "to the extent strictly required to contain and combat the spread of the virus". The measures adopted by the Government of Palestine are "not inconsistent with other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, religion or social origin".
At regional level, Palestine 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 26(5) of the 2003 Basic Law of Palestine (as amended) Palestinians have the right to "conduct private meetings without the presence of police members, and to conduct public meetings, gatherings and processions, within the limits of the law".
Assemblies are regulated by the Law on Public Assemblies (Law 12 of 1998).
In the West Bank and in Gaza, the Implementing Regulations of Law No. 12 prohibit the holding of any protest in “areas of tension”. On some occasions, demonstrations and protests are restricted by the Palestinian authorities.
The Law on Public Assemblies requires prior notification for planned gatherings of more than 50 people in a public space. Article 4 of the Law provides that this notification requirement is triggered when “50 people are invited in an open public venue, including public squares, courts, parks etc.” Article 3 stipulates that prior written notice must be submitted to the governor or to the police director at least 48 hours before the date of any meeting or public assembly.
In occupied territory, Israeli Military Order 101 stipulates that any gathering of ten or more people in a public or private space where opinions are voiced for a “political purpose or for a matter that may be construed as political” may only occur if a permit is received from a military commander. This effectively prohibits the holding of a spontaneous demonstration. In Gaza, Israeli forces have, on occasions, also restricted peaceful assembly and resorted to significant use of force, including deadly force.
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.
There is no legal regulation of police use of force in Palestine.
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.
There is no legal regulation of police use of firearms in Palestine.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Palestine has not yet come before the Human Rights Committee.
In 2019, the independent international commission of inquiry mandated to investigate the demonstrations that began on 30 March 2018 at the separation fence between Gaza and Israel, the response of Israeli security forces thereto, as well as the impact on civilians in Gaza and Israel, issued the report of their findings.
The Commission found reasonable grounds to believe that during these weekly demonstrations, the Israeli Security Forces (ISF) killed and gravely injured civilians who were neither participating directly in hostilities nor posing an imminent threat to life. Among those shot were children, paramedics, journalists, and persons with disabilities. 183 people were shot dead and another 6,106 were wounded with live ammunition.
The demonstrations were organized by a "Higher National Committee", whose members came from all sectors of Palestinian society, including civil society, cultural and social organizations, students unions, women’s groups, eminent persons, members of clans and representatives of several political parties.
While the demonstrations were civilian in nature, bringing them under a law enforcement legal paradigm, they were at times violent, including throwing stones, cutting through the separation fence, and launching incendiary kites and balloons. The Commission found, however, that the use of lethal force in response was rarely necessary or proportionate. For lethal force to be permissible, the victim must pose an imminent threat to life or limb. The ISF violated international human rights law in most instances the Commission investigated.
ISF conduct also violated international humanitarian law, which permits civilians to be targeted only when they "directly participate in hostilities". This purposefully high threshold was not met by demonstrators’ conduct, in the view of the Commission, with one possible exception on 14 May.
The Commission found that 29 people killed during demonstrations were members of organized armed groups, with another 18 of undetermined status. The Commission took the view, however, that it is unlawful to shoot unarmed demonstrators based solely on their membership in an armed group, and not on their conduct at the time. It is equally unlawful to target them based on political affiliation.