International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 2(3), 5, 20, 22 and 26
3. Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes:
(a) To ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity;
(b) To ensure that any person claiming such a remedy shall have his right thereto determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State, and to develop the possibilities of judicial remedy;
(c) To ensure that the competent authorities shall enforce such remedies when granted.
1. Nothing in the present Covenant may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms recognized herein or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for in the present Covenant.
1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.
1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
2. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those which are prescribed by 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. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on members of the armed forces and of the police in their exercise of this right.
3. Nothing in this article shall authorize States Parties to the International Labour Organisation Convention of 1948 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize to take legislative measures which would prejudice, or to apply the law in such a manner as to prejudice, the guarantees provided for in that Convention.
All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Articles 4 and 5(d)
States Parties condemn all propaganda and all organizations which are based on ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, or which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form, and undertake to adopt immediate and positive measures designed to eradicate all incitement to, or acts of, such discrimination and, to this end, with due regard to the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the rights expressly set forth in article 5 of this Convention, inter alia:
(b) Shall declare illegal and prohibit organizations, and also organized and all other propaganda activities, which promote and incite racial discrimination, and shall recognize participation in such organizations or activities as an offence punishable by law. (...)
In compliance with the fundamental obligations laid down in article 2 of this Convention, States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of the following rights: (d) Other civil rights, in particular:
(ix) The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association;
European Convention on Human Rights, Articles 11, 13, 14, 16 and 17
Article 11 - Freedom of assembly and association
1)Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
2)No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.
Article 13 - Right to an effective remedy
Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.
Article 14 - Prohibition of discrimination
The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.
Article 16 - Restrictions on political activity of aliens
Nothing in Articles 10, 11 and 14 shall be regarded as preventing the High Contracting Parties from imposing restrictions on the political activity of aliens.
Article 17 - Prohibition of abuse of rights
Nothing in this Convention may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity pr perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein or at their limitation to a greater extent than is provided for in the Convention.
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Articke 12
Freedom of assembly and of association
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association at all levels, in particular in political, trade union and civic matters, which implies the right of everyone to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his or her interests.
2. Political parties at Union level contribute to expressing the political will of the citizens of the Union.
Protocol No. 12 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms
The member States of the Council of Europe signatory hereto,
Having regard to the fundamental principle according to which all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law;
Being resolved to take further steps to promote the equality of all persons through the collective enforcement of a general prohibition of discrimination by means of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms signed at Rome on 4 November 1950 (hereinafter referred to as "the Convention");
Reaffirming that the principle of non-discrimination does not prevent States Parties from taking measures in order to promote full and effective equality, provided that there is an objective and reasonable justification for those measures,
Have agreed as follows:
Article 1 – General prohibition of discrimination
1. The enjoyment of any right set forth by law shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.
2. No one shall be discriminated against by any public authority on any ground such as those mentioned in paragraph 1.
Article 2 – Territorial application
1. Any State may, at the time of signature or when depositing its instrument of ratification, acceptance or approval, specify the territory or territories to which this Protocol shall apply.
2. Any State may at any later date, by a declaration addressed to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, extend the application of this Protocol to any other territory specified in the declaration. In respect of such territory the Protocol shall enter into force on the first day of the month following the expiration of a period of three months after the date of receipt by the Secretary General of such declaration.
3. Any declaration made under the two preceding paragraphs may, in respect of any territory specified in such declaration, be withdrawn or modified by a notification addressed to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The withdrawal or modification shall become effective on the first day of the month following the expiration of a period of three months after the date of receipt of such notification by the Secretary General.
4. A declaration made in accordance with this article shall be deemed to have been made in accordance with paragraph 1 of Article 56 of the Convention.
5. Any State which has made a declaration in accordance with paragraph 1 or 2 of this article may at any time thereafter declare on behalf of one or more of the territories to which the declaration relates that it accepts the competence of the Court to receive applications from individuals, non-governmental organisations or groups of individuals as provided by Article 34 of the Convention in respect of Article 1 of this Protocol.
Article 3 – Relationship to the Convention
As between the States Parties, the provisions of Articles 1 and 2 of this Protocol shall be regarded as additional articles to the Convention, and all the provisions of the Convention shall apply accordingly.
Article 4 – Signature and ratification
This Protocol shall be open for signature by member States of the Council of Europe which have signed the Convention. It is subject to ratification, acceptance or approval. A member State of the Council of Europe may not ratify, accept or approve this Protocol without previously or simultaneously ratifying the Convention. Instruments of ratification, acceptance or approval shall be deposited with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.
Article 5 – Entry into force
1. This Protocol shall enter into force on the first day of the month following the expiration of a period of three months after the date on which ten member States of the Council of Europe have expressed their consent to be bound by the Protocol in accordance with the provisions of Article 4.
2. In respect of any member State which subsequently expresses its consent to be bound by it, the Protocol shall enter into force on the first day of the month following the expiration of a period of three months after the date of the deposit of the instrument of ratification, acceptance or approval.
Article 6 – Depositary functions
The Secretary General of the Council of Europe shall notify all the member States of the Council of Europe of:
a) any signature;
b) the deposit of any instrument of ratification, acceptance or approval;
c) any date of entry into force of this Protocol in accordance with Articles 2 and 5;
d) any other act, notification or communication relating to this Protocol.
In witness whereof the undersigned, being duly authorised thereto, have signed this Protocol.
Done at Rome, this 4th day of November 2000, in English and in French, both texts being equally authentic, in a single copy which shall be deposited in the archives of the Council of Europe. The Secretary General of the Council of Europe shall transmit certified copies to each member State of the Council of Europe.
Convention on the Rights of the Child
1. States Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly.
2. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of these rights 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.
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 29
Article 29 - Participation in political and public life
States Parties shall guarantee to persons with disabilities political rights and the opportunity to enjoy them on an equal basis with others, and shall undertake to:
Ensure that persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in political and public life on an equal basis with others, directly or through freely chosen representatives, including the right and opportunity for persons with disabilities to vote and be elected, inter alia, by:
Ensuring that voting procedures, facilities and materials are appropriate, accessible and easy to understand and use;
Protecting the right of persons with disabilities to vote by secret ballot in elections and public referendums without intimidation, and to stand for elections, to effectively hold office and perform all public functions at all levels of government, facilitating the use of assistive and new technologies where appropriate;
Guaranteeing the free expression of the will of persons with disabilities as electors and to this end, where necessary, at their request, allowing assistance in voting by a person of their own choice;
Promote actively an environment in which persons with disabilities can effectively and fully participate in the conduct of public affairs, without discrimination and on an equal basis with others, and encourage their participation in public affairs, including:
Participation in non-governmental organizations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country, and in the activities and administration of political parties;
Forming and joining organizations of persons with disabilities to represent persons with disabilities at international, national, regional and local levels.
Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Article 9
1. In the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the promotion and protection of human rights as referred to in the present Declaration, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to benefit from an effective remedy and to be protected in the event of the violation of those rights.
2. To this end, everyone whose rights or freedoms are allegedly violated has the right, either in person or through legally authorized representation, to complain to and have that complaint promptly reviewed in a public hearing before an independent, impartial and competent judicial or other authority established by law and to obtain from such an authority a decision, in accordance with law, providing redress, including any compensation due, where there has been a violation of that person's rights or freedoms, as well as enforcement of the eventual decision and award, all without undue delay.
3. To the same end, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, inter alia :
( a ) To complain about the policies and actions of individual officials and governmental bodies with regard to violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, by petition or other appropriate means, to competent domestic judicial, administrative or legislative authorities or any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State, which should render their decision on the complaint without undue delay;
( b ) To attend public hearings, proceedings and trials so as to form an opinion on their compliance with national law and applicable international obligations and commitments;
( c ) To offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.
4. To the same end, and in accordance with applicable international instruments and procedures, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to unhindered access to and communication with international bodies with general or special competence to receive and consider communications on matters of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
5. The State shall conduct a prompt and impartial investigation or ensure that an inquiry takes place whenever there is reasonable ground to believe that a violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms has occurred in any territory under its jurisdiction.
Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, Articles 2 and 3
4. Persons belonging to minorities have the right to establish and maintain their own associations.
1. Persons belonging to minorities may exercise their rights, including those set forth in the present Declaration, individually as well as in community with other members of their group, without any discrimination.
2. No disadvantage shall result for any person belonging to a minority as the consequence of the exercise or non-exercise of the rights set forth in the present Declaration.
Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 on the legal status of NGOs in Europe, Paras 2, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25
I. Basic principles
2. NGOs encompass bodies or organisations established both by individual persons (natural or legal) and by groups of such persons. They can be either membership or non-membership based.
III. Formation and membership
20. The highest governing body of a membership-based NGO should be the membership and its agreement should be required for any change in the statutes ...
III. Formation and membership
21. No person should be required by law or otherwise compelled to join an NGO, other than a body or organisation established by law to regulate a profession in those states which treat such an entity as an NGO.
22. The ability of any person, be it natural or legal, national or non-national, to join membership-based NGOs should not be unduly restricted by law and, subject to the prohibition on unjustified discrimination, should be determined primarily by the statutes of the NGOs concerned.
23. Members of NGOs should be protected from expulsion contrary to their statutes.
24. Persons belonging to an NGO should not be subject to any sanction because of their membership. This should not preclude such membership being found incompatible with a particular position or employment.
25. Membership-based NGOs should be free to allow non-members to participate in their activities.
50. The requirement that the membership should form the highest governing body of a membership-based NGO is a manifestation of the exercise of freedom of association by their members. This does not mean that the members cannot delegate the authority to take action to other bodies but they should always be able to revoke that delegation and determine the matter themselves.
52. Freedom of association has a very important negative dimension, namely, that persons should not be unduly coerced into joining or remaining members of an NGO to which they do not wish to belong on account of ethical, philosophical, political or religious grounds. In particular individuals should not be required to forego their objections to membership of a particular NGO in order to retain a job or to continue to pursue their livelihood; see in the context of trade unions, Young, James and Webster v. United Kingdom, no. 7601/76 and 7806/77, 13 August 1981.
53. Outside of the context of work, it would also be unacceptable for someone to be compelled to belong to an NGO where they had a deep-seated objection to one or more of its objectives; see Chassagnou v. France, nos. 25088/94, 28331/95 and 28443/95, 29 April 1999 with regard to enforced membership of a hunting association. It does not matter whether the constraints imposed on someone to belong to an NGO are directly imposed by the law or are merely facilitated by it.
54. However, a requirement that someone join a professional association as part of the regulatory control of that profession would not be objectionable so long as there is no restriction on the members setting up their own organisation in addition to the one which they were obliged to join; see Le Compte, Van Leuven and De Meyere v. Belgium, nos. 6878/75 and 7238/75, 23 June 1981.
55. The guarantee of freedom of association in Article 11 of the European Convention and in other human rights instruments is applicable to “everyone” within a State’s jurisdiction and the scope for imposing limitations will thus be quite narrow. Certainly children should not be excluded – particularly since this freedom is also specifically guaranteed to them by Article 15 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – but that does not preclude the adoption of protective measures to ensure that they are not exploited or exposed to moral and related dangers. Any limitations on their ability to join membership-based NGOs will need to take account of their evolving capacities and, as well as being proportionate and respecting legal certainty, should never be such as totally to exclude them from becoming members.
56. Similarly the freedom should normally be exercisable by persons who are non-nationals and any limitation on this would need to be compatible with the limited authorisation to restrict the political activity of nonnationals allowed under Article 16 of the European Convention; see Piermont v. France, nos. 15773/89 and 15774/89, 27 April 1995. It would thus be hard to justify a bar on political activity in the non-party context and impossible to do so for one where no politics was involved at all (e.g., in the field of sport and culture).
57. It is possible that a prohibition on involvement in NGOs might be a legitimate consequence of having committed certain offences but its scope and duration must always respect the principle of proportionality (see Applic. No. 6573/74, X v. The Netherlands, 1 DR 87 (1974)) and a ban on membership as an automatic consequence of imprisonment would never be justified.
58. The essence of freedom of association is that individuals should be free to choose with whom they associate and so the law should not normally enable someone to join an NGO against the wishes of its members. However, there would be a good justification for constraining the freedom of members of an
association to determine whom to admit as new members where this was done in order to fulfil obligations to prevent discrimination on any inadmissible ground and thereby protect the rights of others, as permitted by Article 11(2) of the European Convention.
59. As with admission, the expulsion of someone from a membership-based NGO is generally a matter for the organisation itself. However, the rules governing membership in its statute must always be observed and national law should thus ensure that someone facing expulsion or who has been expelled has available an effective means on insisting on such observance; see Applic. No. 10550/83, Cheall v. United Kingdom, 42 DR 178 (1985). Moreover the rules governing expulsion should not be wholly unreasonable or arbitrary; in particular there should be a fair hearing before any decision is taken.
60. Improper sanctions should not be imposed on persons merely because of their membership of an NGO. Thus there ought to be a remedy for anyone dismissed because he or she belongs to a trade union (see Appl. No. 12719/87, Frederiksen v. Denmark , 56 DR 237 (1988)) or because of the objectives of any other organisation to which they belong (see Vogt v. Germany [GC], no. 17851/91, 26 September 1995).
61. Similarly there ought to be protection for any other forms of sanction or pressures not to belong to an NGO, such as the loss of eligibility for certain benefits or posts; see Grande Oriente D’Italia di Palazzo Giustiniani v. Italy, no. 35972/97, 2 August 2001 and Wilson, National Union of Journalists and Others v. United Kingdom, nos. 30668/96, 30671/96 and 30678/96, 2 July 2002.
62. There is also a need to provide protection against even more aggressive forms of action taken against persons on account of their membership of an NGO, namely, harassment, intimidation and the use of violence. However, some sanctions will be admissible where membership of an NGO is clearly incompatible with the performance of either a person’s responsibilities as an employee or office-holder (see Appl. No. 11002/84, Van der Heijden v. The Netherlands, 41 DR 264 (1985)) or of other obligations that have been undertaken (such as where there is a conflict of interest between the interests of two organisations to which a person belongs).
63. The risk of incompatibility where the member is a public employee is expressly recognised in the stipulation in Article 11(2) of the European Convention that the guarantee of freedom of association does not “prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State”. However, as with any other conflict of interest, the existence of such an incompatibility must be demonstrated by direct evidence and should not thus be a matter of supposition. Moreover the restrictions must always have a basis in law and respect the principle of proportionality; see the Vogt case, Ahmed and Others v. United Kingdom [GC], no. 22954/93, 2 September 1998 and Rekvényi v. Hungary [GC], no. 25390/94, 20 May 1999. Furthermore those regarded as belonging to the administration of the State should be seen as covering only higher-ranking officials and not all employees paid out of public funds; see the Vogt and Grande Oriente cases.
64. This paragraph confirms that membership of an NGO need not be a precondition to becoming involved in any activities that it might undertake. Whether or not membership is required for this purpose – whether as regards some or all of its activities - should be a matter for the NGO itself to determine. However, membership is essential for participation in meetings of the highest governing body of a membershipbased NGO since membership must be a precondition to take part in such meetings (see Paragraph 20 of the Recommendation).]
Fundamental Principles on the Status of Non-Governmental Organisations in Europe, Principles 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23
Content of statutes
19. In the case of a membership-based NGO, the highest governing body is constituted by the members. The agreement of this body, in accordance with the procedure laid down by law and the statutes, should be required for any change in the statutes ...
20. Membership of an NGO, where this is possible, must be voluntary and no person should therefore be required to join any NGO other than in the case of bodies established by law to regulate a profession in states which treat them as NGOs.
21. National law should not unjustifiably restrict the ability of any person, natural or legal, to join membership-based NGOs. The ability of someone to join a particular NGO should be determined primarily by its statutes, and should not be influenced by any unjustified discrimination.
22. Members of an NGO should be protected from expulsion contrary to its statutes.
23. Persons belonging to an NGO should not be subject to any sanction because of their membership. However, membership of an NGO may be incompatible with a person’s position or employment.
33. ... A decision to amend the statutes accordingly lies with the NGO’s highest governing body, consisting of its entire membership, so as to ensure that the proposed amendment commands sufficient support among members
34. Membership is a particularly important issue, as it is related to the concepts of liability and legal capacity. The section of the fundamental principles dealing with this subject first reiterates the fundamental requirement that membership of an NGO must generally be voluntary. This negative aspect of freedom of association is, however, something that can be relaxed in the case of professional organisations to which members of a given profession – such as doctors or lawyers – must belong under the regulations in force, for those countries which treat them as NGOs.
35. Apart from its voluntary nature, membership is governed by two important principles: firstly, anyone should be able to join an NGO without being subject to unjustifiable restrictions imposed by law; secondly, questions relating to membership are a matter for the NGO’s statutes.
36. Thus, the statutes may provide for restrictions, such as confining membership of a club for senior citizens to persons belonging to that age group. Furthermore, in some cases membership of an NGO may be incompatible with a person’s office or employment, particularly where these are public. In addition, there may be a need to adopt restrictions to protect vulnerable persons, but any restriction on the ability of children to join an NGO should take into account the freedom of association guaranteed to them both by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 15 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, subject to these provisos, it should be lawful within a state’s jurisdiction for any person, whether natural or legal, national or foreign national, to join an NGO.
37. In the same way as an NGO’s statutes determine a person’s capacity to become a member, it is for the statutes to deal with the question of expulsion of members and to determine the procedure to be followed in that case.]
Full texts of major international standards
Full texts of major international standards
Council of Europe
European Charter on the Statute for Judges
Full texts of major international standards
Council of the UE
Full texts of major international standards
OSCE Riga Declaration