The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Vanuatu 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.
Vanuatu 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.
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
The 1980 Constitution of Vanuatu (as amended) recognises the freedom of assembly, subject to any restrictions imposed by law on non-citizens and to respect for the rights and freedoms of others and to the legitimate public interest in defence, safety, public order, welfare and health.
Under Section 68(1) of the 1981 Penal Code,
When three or more persons assembled with intent to commit an offence, or, being assembled with intent to carry out some common purpose, conduct themselves in such a manner as to cause nearby persons reasonably to fear that the persons so assembled will commit a breach of the peace, or will by such assembly needlessly and without any reasonable occasion provoke other persons to commit a breach of the peace, they are an unlawful assembly.
Under subsection 3, when an unlawful assembly "has begun to execute the purpose for which it assembled by a breach of the peace and to the terror of the public, the assembly is called a riot".
Section 69 of the Penal Code stipulates that "No person shall take part in an unlawful assembly."
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.
According to the 1980 Police Act, any member of the Vanuatu Police Force "may use all such force as may be reasonably necessary in order to prevent crime or to effect or assist in effecting a lawful arrest".
Under Section 42, it "shall be the duty of the Force ... to keep order on public roads, streets, thoroughfares and landing places, and at other places of public resort or places to which the public have access; and ... to prevent obstructions on the occasion of assemblies and processions on the public roads and streets, and in any case when any road, street, thoroughfare or landing place may be thronged or may be liable to be obstructed".
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.
No specific legislation governs the use of firearms by law enforcement officials. Under the Police Act, members of the Force "shall be entitled for the performance of their duties to carry arms which shall only be used on the instructions of the Commissioner or of a senior officer authorised by him and in accordance with the general directions of the Minister".
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Vanuatu has not yet come before the Human Rights Committee. Vanuatu's 2018 Universal Periodic Review under the Human Rights Council did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
There is no regional human rights mechanism for Pacific nations.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Vanuatu:
The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government typically upholds this right in practice. Public demonstrations generally proceed without incident.