The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Togo 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.
Togo is also 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, Togo 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.
Togo is also party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights but has not accepted the right of individual petition.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Under Article 30 of the 1992 Constitution of Togo, the State recognises and guarantees within the conditions established by the law, the exercise of the freedoms of assembly and of peaceful demonstration without instruments of violence.
The 2011 Law on Peaceful Assembly established a notification regime for public assemblies, with notification required five days in advance.
The law on assemblies was revised in 2019 to allow public assemblies to be prohibited in certain locations (including on main roads) and at certain times, with local authorities given the power to cap the number of assemblies each week in their area. The authorities are also given the power to prohibit protests just before they are set to occur.
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.
A 2013 decree on the maintenance and re-establishment of public order governs police use of force with respect to public assemblies.Decret N° 2013-013/PR du 0603 2013 portant réglementation du maintien et du rétablissement de l'ordre public.
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 2013 decree allows the use of firearms or bladed weapons if other less-lethal weapons have proven ineffective and the police have been "exceptionally calm and patient".Art. 31, Decret N° 2013-013/PR du 0603 2013 portant réglementation du maintien et du rétablissement de l'ordre public.This does not comply with international law.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Togo last came before the Human Rights Committee in 2011. In 2019, the Committee against Torture expressed its particular concern
about allegations of torture and ill-treatment in the central criminal investigation and investigation service, including those arrested as a result of their participation in demonstrations or their support for the opposition's demands.
The Committee noted recent efforts by the authorities to observe public demonstrations and ensure their smooth running, but deplored
the use by law enforcement to excessive and disproportionate use of force in peaceful public demonstrations, despite the legislative framework surrounding the exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and demonstration.
The Committee noted with concern
that on 28 February 2018, the police fired live ammunition to disperse demonstrators who had spontaneously gathered in Lomé to denounce the rise in the price of petroleum products, causing the one person died and several were injured. While welcoming the investigations opened in connection with the 2017 protests, the Committee urge[d] the State party to speed up the course and communicate the results.
In April-May 2018, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued a resolution on the human rights situation in Togo in which it strongly condemned
all human rights violations that have been committed and urges the Togolese Government to put an end to them, in particular arrest, torture, arbitrary detention and other violations.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Togo:
While the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, a number of laws allow for its restriction, and police have periodically used deadly violence to disperse assemblies in practice. A 2011 legal reform retained problematic rules on prior notification for demonstrations and limits on their timing. A 2015 revision of the criminal code penalized participation in and organization of protests that had not gone through the necessary administrative procedures.
Protests that began in 2017 attracted hundreds of thousands of participants and continued during 2018, with protesters demanding the restoration of the presidential term limits and the two-round presidential election system. Authorities moved to suppress the demonstrations through temporary bans and other administrative restrictions, including a ban on all street protests during the December 2018 electoral period. Police used disproportionate force on a number of occasions, resulting in multiple deaths, arrests, and cases of torture in 2017 and 2018.