The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Samoa is a state party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2018. 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.
Samoa 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.
There is not yet a regional human rights treaty to which Pacific nations can adhere despite discussions going back decades as to the possibility of establishing a regional mechanism.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Section 13(1)(b) of the 1960 Constitution of Samoa grants all citizens of Samoa the right to "assemble peaceably and without arms".
Sections 42 and 43 of the 2013 Crimes Act criminalise unlawful assembly and disorderly assembly. Section 42(2) defines an unlawful assembly as follows:
An unlawful assembly is an assembly of three (3) or more persons who, with intent to carry out any common purpose, assemble in such a manner, or so conduct themselves when assembled as to cause persons in the neighbourhood of such an assembly to fear, on reasonable grounds, that the persons so assembled will disturb the peace tumultuously, or will, by such assembly, needlessly and without any reasonable occasion provoke other persons to disturb the peace tumultuously.
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 33 of the 2007 Police Powers Act, in executing a warrant a police officer "may use the force against persons and things that is necessary and reasonable in the circumstances".
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.
Section 15(1)(a) of the 2007 Police Powers Act provides that a police officer may only discharge a firearm "in self-defence or the defence of another person under threat of immediate serious violence".
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Samoa has not yet come before the Human Rights Committee.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Samoa:
Freedom of assembly is protected by law and respected in practice. In March 2018, the Samoa Solidarity International Group (SSIG) submitted a request to the Ministry of Police for a license to peacefully march in the island of Savai’i, to raise awareness about land rights. In April, hundreds participated in the protest march without incident. SSIG held another protest march in December.