The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly

Sweden 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.

Sweden 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, Sweden 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

Constitutional Provisions

The Constitution of Sweden comprises four fundamental laws: the Instrument of Government, the Act of Succession, the Freedom of the Press Act, and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression. According to Article 1 of Chapter 2, everyone is guaranteed the rights to freedom of assembly: '"that is, the freedom to organise or attend meetings for the purposes of information or the expression of opinion or for any other similar purpose, or for the purpose of presenting artistic work"); and the freedom to demonstrate ("that is, the freedom to organise or take part in demonstrations in a public place"). 

National Legislation

The 1993 Public Order Act is the primary legislation in Sweden governing assemblies.

According to CIVICUS:

The rights to assemble and protest may be limited only as prescribed by law, mainly on the grounds of public order and safety and only if necessary and proportionate. The legal framework establishes that either notification or formal authorisation for public assemblies is needed depending on the type of event. Prior authorisation is required for most of the cases and a week notice must be given to the police. Any restriction can be appealed to administrative courts.

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.

National Legislation

Section 13(b) of the 1984 Police Act empowers a police officer to turn away or remove people taking part in a public assembly or event, as well as onlookers, where the police has decided to call off or disperse the assembly or event in question.

Under Section 8(a) of the 1984 Police Act, a police officer on duty

shall, with due observance of the provisions of acts and other statutory instruments, intervene in a way that is justifiable in view of the object of the intervention and other circumstances. If he has to use force, the form and level of force used shall be limited to that required to achieve the intended result.

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. 

National Legislation

National law in Sweden does not explicitly govern use of firearms during assemblies.

State Compliance with its Legal Obligations

Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies

In its 2016 Concluding Observations on Sweden, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly. The 2014 Universal Periodic Review of Sweden also did not address the right of peaceful assembly.

Regional Jurisprudence

Sweden has not been found in violation of the right of peaceful assembly by the European Court of Human Rights.

Views of Civil Society

According to CIVICUS:

The Parliamentary Ombudsmen, who considers the issues relating to facilitation and protection of public assemblies, raised a number of concerns regarding the police conduct in moving protestors to a different location, halting protests without legal justification and terminating assemblies based on incidents of violence with some participants without first taking action against those individuals, for example in situations of counter-assemblies. Media is guaranteed access to public assemblies. Freedom of assembly has been in the news lately with demonstrations of far-right activists. Two incidents were reported in January 2016, one involving the attack by far-right demonstrators against onlookers and another one on the conduct of police during a non-authorised demonstration. In February, a man was shot during a pro-Kurdish demonstration.

Downloads

The Constitution of Sweden - Download (1 MB)
Swedish Police Act (with commentary) - Download (2 MB)