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Seven OGP Countries Addressing Assembly

Siete países de OGP que están trabajando en mejorar la libertad de asamblea

Sept pays du PGO régissent les réunions

Old ruins of castle in Ohrid, Macedonia

Lessons from Reformers

This case study was originally posted in the OGP Global Report.

The European Center for Not-for-profit Law (ECNL), an innovative project on freedom of assembly, assessed seven OGP countries in Central and Eastern Europe for relevant law and practices between 2017 and 2019. (There were also two non-OGP countries included in the assessment.) Many of these OGP countries have strong legal frameworks, but face implementation challenges around policing of events and lack standardized processes among authorities, especially at the local level.

  • Albania: The country’s legal framework protects assembly. Still, in practice, Albania has room for improvement. It is unclear whether organizers need notification or authorization to demonstrate. De facto, this restricts spontaneous assemblies and creates a lack of coordination with police. Organizers have been fined for lacking authorization. A more standardized, unified, and transparent process for authorization could resolve some of these issues.
  • Armenia: Since passage of the 2011 Law on Freedom of Assembly, implementation has gradually improved. Prior to the 2018 Velvet Revolution, there had been a marked decrease in violence during the 2016 election as compared to years prior. Nonetheless, there was significant discretion in the use of force, especially during opposition rallies, with well-documented unlawful, and excessive violence against assembly participants including flash grenades and undercover police officers. There was aggressive prosecution and prolonged detention of assembly participants.
  • Croatia: Croatia’s law and practice are well-harmonized with international standards. Standardization could limit local authorities’ discretion and discrimination and create an independent body to decide bans and restrictions.
  • Northern Macedonia: The legal framework is strong, although not entirely aligned with international standards and protocols for local authorities and organizers are not all transparent or clear. A number of legal restrictions limit assembly; an “assembly” is restricted to 20 or more people and organizers must pay a fee for policing, in disagreement with OSCE guidelines. (See the box on page 112 of the OGP Global Report for more.)
  • Moldova: Despite one of the most liberal frameworks for freedom of assembly in the region, Moldova faces implementation challenges around competing claims for public space, particularly at lower levels of government. Some municipalities and smaller towns close public spaces for official ceremonies. A number of organizations have sent notification years in advance–including, in one case, 80 years–de facto blocking others from being able to assemble at the same time and place. In addition, opposition assembly organizers perceive a difference in treatment from pro-government assemblies. As with other countries in the survey, procedures and protocols regarding the use of force, equipment, and officers remain opaque.
  • Serbia: Despite the recent Law on Public Assembly (2016), Serbia has lost ground on the freedom of assembly. In practice, spontaneous assemblies, legal even without any organizer, face restrictions, especially if groups are politically sensitive. Policing and arguably excessive sanctions have restricted assemblies.
  • Ukraine: Despite unequivocal progress, Ukraine still lacks a specific law on freedom of assembly. Draft legislation proposes extending military control over peaceful gatherings, despite constitutional protections. Local authorities restrict freedom of assembly through cumbersome processes of notification and authorization. Police lack clear guidelines and training for dealing with public assemblies, including preemptive detentions and unclear identification of officers. (As mentioned earlier in this section, Ukraine made an early OGP commitment on the fundamental right to assembly.)

Photo Credit: CCat82, Adobe Stock

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