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Membership

Introduction


      The right to join

Freedom of association entails the freedom both to form membership-based non-governmental organizations with others and to join existing ones. The latter freedom does not, however, confer any general right to join such a non-governmental organization against the wishes of its existing members. Nonetheless, a refusal of those members to allow some to join the organization can be constrained in order to fulfil obligations to prevent discrimination prohibited by universal and regional human rights standards. See Article 22 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (UN), Articles 11 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (CoE), Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (CoE), Article 5(d) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (UN) and Paragraphs 2 and 22 of the Council of Europe's Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 on the legal status of NGOs in Europe. See also  İzmir Savaş Karşıtları Derneği and Others v. Turkey, 2 March 2000 and Rutkowski v. Poland (dec.), 16 April 2002.

      Prohibition on compulsion to belong

Compulsion, whether by law or other means, to belong to a non-governmental organization is generally impermissible (see Paragraph 21 of the Council of Europe's Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 on the legal status of NGOs in Europe and Chassagnou and Others v France [GC], 29 April 1999). However, a membership obligation can be admissible where required for economic or social objectives in the public interest and where the individual concerned suffers no adverse consequences. Furthermore, compulsion that is an indirect consequence of advantages derived by membership or legitimate trade-union activity is also allowed (see X v. Netherlands (dec.), 6 February 1967, Sigurdur A Sigurjónsson v. Iceland, 30 June 1993 and Gustafsson v. Sweden [GC], 25 April 1996).

A legal requirement to belong to professional and trade regulatory bodies will not be objectionable where those affected remain free to establish their own organisations. See Paragraph 21 of the Council of Europe's Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 on the legal status of NGOs in Europe and Formation.

      Capacity

Everyone, whether a national or non-national and whether a natural or legal person, should generally be able to join non-governmental organizations. See Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (UN), Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (CoE),  Protocol No. 12 to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (CoE) and Paragraphs 2 and 22 of the Council of Europe's Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 on the legal status of NGOs in Europe.

      Scope of restrictions on capacity

Any restrictions on children joining non-governmental organizations must be entirely compatible with their evolving capacities and thus should generally decrease as they become older. See Article 15 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN).

Similarly, restrictions on the ability of people who are mentally ill or incapacitated to join non-governmental organizations should always take due account of the particular capacities of the individuals affected. See Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN).

Restrictions on the ability of non-nationals to join non-governmental organizations are only likely to be acceptable where the objectives of the body to be established are directly political. In any event, such restrictions should not be disproportionate. See Article 16 of the European Convention on Human Rights (CoE) and Piermont v. France, 27 April 1995.

Any restrictions on belonging to non-governmental organizations imposed on a person convicted of a criminal offence must be linked to the nature of the offence concerned and be proportionate as to their scope and duration. See Ždanoka v. Latvia [GC], 16 March 2004.

Public officials should not be disqualified from joining non-governmental organizations except where this would be incompatible with the level and nature of their responsibilities, and in particular where this would conflict with the need for political neutrality. The impact of any such disqualification should respect the principle of proportionality. See Vogt v. Germany [GC], 26 September 1995 and Rekvényi v. Hungary [GC], 20 May 1999.

It should generally be possible to belong to non-governmental organisations outside one's country of residence. See İzmir Savaş Karşıtları Derneği and Others v. Turkey, 2 March 2000.

     
No general obligation to disclose membership

Non-governmental organizations should not be under a general obligation to disclose the names and addresses of their members since this would be incompatible with their right to freedom of association and the right to respect for a private life (see National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education v. United Kingdom (dec.), 16 April 1998). However, individual members of a non-governmental organisation could be required to disclose their membership where this could conflict with their responsibilities as employees or office-holders (see Grande Oriente d`Italia di Palazzo Giustiniani v. Italy (No. 2), no. 26740/02, 31 May 2007 and Siveri and Chiellini v. Italy (dec.), no. 13148/04, 3 June 2008).

      Prohibition on sanctions for membership

Individuals should not be subjected to measures such as deportation, harassment, or prosecution and conviction, as well as discrimination, disciplinary action, dismissal, or other unfavourable treatment merely on account of their membership in a non-governmental organization. This would not preclude action being taken against a member of a non-governmental organization where membership in it was clearly incompatible with the performance of his or her responsibilities or with other obligations as an employee or office-holder. Moreover, criminal sanctions can be imposed on individuals belonging to a non-governmental organization that has been prohibited on grounds and in a manner consistent with universal and regional human rights standards. See Paragraph 24 of the Council of Europe's Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 on the legal status of NGOs in Europe, Saldias de Lopez v. Uruguay, 29 July 1981, Jeong-Eun Lee v. Republic of Korea, 20 July 2005 and Danilenkov and Others v. Russia, 30 July 2009. See also Liability and Sanctions.

      Rights of members

The highest governing body of a membership-based non-governmental organisation should be comprised of its members. See Paragraph 20 of the Council of Europe's Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 on the legal status of NGOs in Europe.

Members of non-governmental organizations should be able to seek remedies in court in order to protect their rights as members, in particular against their unjustified expulsion and against the imposition of improper sanctions for their membership. See Articles 2(3) and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (UN), Articles 11 and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (CoE), Paragraphs 23 and 24 of the Council of Europe's Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 on the legal status of NGOs in Europe, Article 9 of the United Nations General Assembly's Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and Cheall v. United Kingdom (dec.), 13 May 1985.



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