The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Trinidad and Tobago is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 21 of which 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.
Trinidad and Tobago 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.
Trinidad and Tobago is a member of the Organization of American States, but withdrew from the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights in 1998.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
The 1976 Constitution of Trinidad and Tobago (as amended through 2000) guarantees freedom of assembly.
Trinidad and Tobago law requires prior notice for public assemblies.
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.
Trinidad and Tobago does not specifically regulate police use of force in national legislation. According to Section 4(1) of the 1979 Criminal Law Act:
A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.
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 not believed to be national legislation in place in Trinidad and Tobago specifically regulating police use of firearms during assemblies. The use of force policy for the Police Service has not been made public. In June 2017, it was reported that the Service was in the process of reviewing its policy to allow for the implementation of non-lethal weapons.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Trinidad and Tobago has not come before the Human Rights Committee in recent years. The issue of peaceful assembly was not addressed during the last Universal Periodic Review of Trinidad and Tobago in 2016.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Trinidad and Tobago:
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respects this right.
According to CIVICUS:
The freedom of peaceful assembly is recognised in Trinidad and Tobago’s constitution and also upheld in practice. Laws regulating public gatherings, including prior notice requirements and reasonable time and place restrictions, are considered to be consistent with international standards. Protests rarely turn violent or face police repression. On prominent demonstration in 2014 sought to oppose a proposed constitutional reform that would limit the Prime Minister’s stay in office to ten years, create the right to recall members of Parliament, and introduce run-off elections. Workers’ protests currently account for the majority of public demonstrations in the country. Various small, local workers’ protests in demand of higher wages and better working conditions were staged in early 2015.