Accountability concerns the responsibility of individual law enforcement officials, law enforcement agencies, and States for potentially unlawful use of force. Accountability is required by international law and both legal and practical measures must exist domestically.


Assembly means the temporary presence of a number of people in a publicly accessible place with a common expressive purpose.


An authorisation regime is one where a permit must first be obtained from the authorities before an assembly can be held.


Dispersal of an assembly occurs when the state and especially its law enforcement officials bring an assembly to an end against the wishes of the participants. Ordinarily, peaceful assemblies should not be dispersed. They should not, in particular, be dispersed by use of force.


Firearms are generally understood in domestic law to mean those guns that fire conventional, metal-jacketed ammunition, though the term also applies to shotguns, which fire metal pellets. Firearms are defined in the 2001 Firearms Protocol as follows:Art. 3(a), Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

“Firearm” shall mean any portable barrelled weapon that expels, is designed to expel or may be readily converted to expel a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of an explosive, excluding antique firearms or their replicas. Antique firearms and their replicas shall be defined in accordance with domestic law. In no case, however, shall antique firearms include firearms manufactured after 1899;

Inhumane treatment

Inhumane treatment is an unofficial, shorthand term for torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Under the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."Art. 7, 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Torture denotes severe physical or mental pain or suffering inflicted for a purpose such as the extraction of information, as a punishment or warning, or as a result of discrimination. In general terms, cruel treatment refers to pain or suffering that is applied wantonly, gratuitously, or sadistically; inhuman treatment is the inflicting of severe pain or suffering; while degrading treatment is intended to humiliate the victim. In contrast, torture is primarily committed when the victim is in the physical power of the perpetrator, whether or not he or she has been formally arrested by a law enforcement official. 

Law enforcement official

Law enforcement official is a broad term used in international law to denote police officers and others with policing or "constabulary" powers. In accordance with the official commentary to Article 1 of the 1979 Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, “the term ‘law enforcement officials’ includes all officers of the law, whether appointed or elected, who exercise police powers, especially the powers of arrest or detention”.  Law enforcement officials include the military, “whether uniformed or not”, as well as other State security forces, wherever they exercise such powers. 

Less-lethal weapons

Less-lethal weapons are a category of weapon that are used where death is not intended or expected to result. The term ‘less-lethal’ is not formally defined under international law, but is generally understood to designate a wide array of weapons whose ordinary use results in death far less often than do firearms; Less-lethal weapons range from the traditional police baton to encompass chemical irritants such as pepper spray or tear gas; conducted electrical weapons such as TASER®; and water cannon.


Necessity is a human rights law principle. The principle of necessity applies to limitations on assemblies. According to Article 21 of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, limitations must be “necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of health or morals or the protection of the right and freedoms of others.” 

The principle of necessity, as it pertains to the use of force, holds that police and other law enforcement officials may only use minimum necessary force for a legitimate law enforcement purpose. Once the need for any force has passed, application of further force will thus be unlawful. 


A notification regime is one where the authorities are informed that an assembly will be held but where the organisers do not need to secure authorisation to proceed. In state practice, the line between authorisation and notification may become blurred.


Peaceful means the absence of violence. The mere carriage by participants in an assembly of objects, items, or devices that may be considered weapons by the authorities is not sufficient to render the assembly violent.


Precaution is a human rights law principle. The principle of precaution requires that the authorities plan law enforcement operations in a manner that minimises the risk of the police having resort to a potentially lethal weapon and thereby to lessen the possibility of death or serious injury to a member of the public or law enforcement official. 


Proportionality is a human rights law principle. The principle of proportionality applies, in addition to the principle of necessity, to limitations on assemblies. It holds that the nature and the extent of any interference must be balanced against the reason for interfering. Blanket restrictions on public assemblies are presumptively disproportionate. 

With respect to use of force, the principle of proportionality sets an upper limit on when minimum necessary force may be lawful, based on the threat posed to life or limb and/or to property. Thus, the use of firearms purely to defend property is disproportionate.