Capacities to be Enjoyed by Non-Governmental Organizations

Stankov and United Macedonian Organisation ‘Ilinden’ v Bulgaria (decision), 29 June 1998 [ECtHR]

Cases nos 29221/95 and 29225/95

b)  The Government dispute the locus standi of the applicant association to bring an application under Article 25 (Art. 25) of the Convention. They submit that since this organisation has been refused registration in Bulgaria, it has no standing as a legal entity under Bulgarian law and, consequently, it may not be considered to have standing before the Commission. In the Government's view the applicant association cannot be considered a "non-governmental organisation" within the meaning of Article 25 (Art. 25) of the Convention. Furthermore, the Government insist that no reference to the non-existent United Macedonian Organisation "Ilinden" should be made in the Commission's decisions. The Government do not dispute the locus standi of the second applicant, Mr Boris Stankov.

The applicant association replies that the lack of registration does not mean that it is an "illegal" association or that it does not exist. Without being registered an association has a number of rights, including the right to hold meetings. Many unregistered associations exist in Bulgaria. Also, Article 25 (Art. 25) of the Convention does not limit the right of petition to those associations which are registered.  Finally, the applicant association may choose its own name and it is not for the Government to decide what name it should bear.

The Commission recalls its case-law in cases concerning non- governmental organisations which have been refused registration or have been dissolved. In such cases, where the complaints concerned inter alia the very fact of the dissolution or of the refusal of registration, the Commission did not question the applicants' locus standi as "non-governmental organisations" within the meaning of Article 25 (Art. 25) of the Convention (cf. No. 18874/91, Dec. 12.1.94, D.R. 76, p. 44; Nos. 19392/92 and 21237/93, Dec. 6.12.94, pending before the Court; No. 23892/94, Dec. 16.10.95, D.R. 83, p. 57; No. 27608/95, Dec. 29.11.95;  No. 28626/95, Dec. 3.7.97; No. 30985/96, Dec. 8.9.97). Indeed, any other solution would to a substantial degree restrict the right of non-governmental organisations to petition under Article 25 (Art. 25) of the Convention.

The Government's argument in the present case is in essence that where a non-governmental organisation has no legal standing under domestic law and where it is not open to the Commission to examine the conformity with the Convention of the decision which has led to such legal situation, the non-governmental organisation has no standing to submit a petition in respect of acts of the authorities posterior to that decision.

However, the Commission notes that in the present case the applicant association has been refused registration and has not been "dissolved", and that there is nothing to suggest that a non-registered association such as the applicant association had no right under Bulgarian law to function and to perform its activities.

Furthermore, the Commission recalls its case-law according to which the refusal of registration of an association does not amount to an interference with the association's right to freedom of assembly if the association is able to perform its activities without a registration (No. 18874/91, Dec. 12.1.94, D.R. 76, p. 44).

It follows that in case the authorities seek to suppress the activities of such an association following the refusal of registration there must be a possibility for it to submit a complaint under Article 11 (Art. 11) of the Convention.

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