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  • 6. Disruption caused by an assembly: authorities should display tolerance

    Demonstrations in a public place will normally cause some disruption to others. It is a well-established principle in international law that a degree of tolerance towards such disruptions is required from the public and the authorities.

    The ECtHR has repeatedly underlined that

    [A]lthough a demonstration in a public place may cause some disruption to ordinary life, including disruption of traffic, it is important for the public authorities to show a certain degree of tolerance towards peaceful gatherings if the freedom of assembly guaranteed by Article 11 of the Convention is not to be deprived of its substance.[1]

    Similarly, the IACHR has stated:

    In balancing, for example, freedom of movement and the right to assembly, it should be borne in mind that the right to freedom of expression is not just another right, but one of the primary and most important foundations of any democratic structure … strikes, road blockages, the occupation of public space, and even the disturbances that might occur during social protests may naturally cause annoyances or even damages that are necessary to prevent and repair. Nevertheless, disproportionate restrictions to protest, in particular in cases of groups that have no other way to express themselves publicly, seriously jeopardize the right to freedom of expression.[2]

    The UN Special Rapporteur likewise considers that “the free flow of traffic should not automatically take precedence over freedom of peaceful assembly”;[3] the OSCE-ODIHR Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and the Study Group on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa both state that assemblies are equally legitimate uses of public space as commercial activity or the movement of vehicular and pedestrian traffic.[4]

    The requirement of tolerance towards disruption means, for example, that authorities should show significant restraint in resorting to dispersal, including when an assembly takes place on a public street or road (see Assembly section 9.3).

    1. Disk and Kesk v. Turkey, ECtHR, Judgment of 27 November 2012, para. 29; see also, among others, Ashughyan v. Armenia, ECtHR, Judgment of 17 July 2008, para. 90; Barraco v France, ECtHR, Judgment of 5 March 2009, para. 43; Gün and Others v. Turkey, ECtHR, Judgment of 18 June 2013, para. 74; Kudrevičius and Others v. Lithuania, ECtHR, Grand Chamber Judgment of 15 October 2015, para. 155.
    2. IACHR, Report on the Criminalization of the Work of Human Rights Defenders, OEA/Ser.L/V/II, Doc.49/15, 31 December 2015, paras.126-127.
    3. UN Human Rights Council, First Thematic Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, UN Doc. A/HRC/20/27, 21 May 2012, para. 41.
    4. OSCE-ODIHR and Venice Commission, Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, 2nd edn, 2010, Guideline 3.2 and Explanatory Notes, para. 20; See AComHPR, Guidelines on Freedom of Assembly and Association in Africa, para 87