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6. What conditions need to be fulfilled for legitimate restrictions?

As a general matter, any restrictions imposed on freedom of association by the State must be lawful, necessary and proportionate to a legitimate aim. The various international and regional human rights instruments guaranteeing the right to freedom of association share substantially similar language and jurisprudence. There is thus a growing common approach towards these standards globally.

The UN Human Rights Committee explained the scope of Article 22(2) [on restrictions] in Belyatsky v. Belarus. It clarified that restrictions on the right to freedom of association must meet the following three requirements: (1) prescription by law; (2) the law may be imposed solely to protect national security or public safety, public order, public health or morals, or the rights and freedoms of others; and (3) the restrictions must be “necessary in a democratic society.”[1] The Human Rights Committee elaborated that the protection afforded by Article 22 extends to all activities of an association.[2] The legal framework and jurisprudence of the ACHPR, IACtHR and ECtHR also hold that allowable restrictions on the right to freedom of association must meet the same, enumerated three-prong test.[3] There are only slight variations in wording in the conventions and all relevant bodies have adopted the strict proportionality test (see Association Section 6.3).

The African Charter states that freedom of association:

shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law, in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.[4]

Similarly, the American Convention states that the exercise of the right to freedom of association:

shall be subject only to such restrictions established by law as may be necessary in a democratic society, in the interest of national security, public safety or public order, or to protect public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others.[5]

The European Convention states that no restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of the right to freedom of association except 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.[6]

In any case where the State imposes a restriction, it bears the burden of proof to demonstrate it has met this three-pronged test.[7]


  1. Aleksander Belyatsky et al. v. Belarus, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/90/D/1296/2004, 24 July 2007, para. 7.3.
  2. Korneenko, et. al v. Belarus, Human Rights Committee, CCPR/C/88/D/1274/2004, Views of 31 October 2006.
  3. ECHR, art. 11; ACHPR, art. 16; see also Koretskyy v. Ukraine, ECtHR, 3 April 2008, para. 43; Gorzelik v. Poland, ECtHR, 17 February 2004, para. 53; Sidiropoulos et al. v. Greece, ECtHR, Judgment of 10 July 1998, para. 32; Escher et al. v. Brazil (Preliminary Objects, Merits, Reparations, and Costs), IACtHR, Judgment of 6 July 2009, para 173. Civil Liberties Organisation (in respect of Bar Association) v. Nigeria, Comm. No 101/93, ACtHPR, Judgment of 22 March 1995; AComHPR, Explanatory Note to the African Commission Human and Peoples’ Rights Guidelines on Freedom of Association as Pertaining to Civil Society & Guidelines on Peaceful Assembly 4 (2016); AComHPR, Draft Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, 22 September 2016.
  4. ACHPR, art. 11.
  5. ACHR, art. 16(2).
  6. ECHR, art. 11.
  7. UN Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/115/D/2011/2010, Views adopted 29 October 2015, para. 7.3.
  8. UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 34: Article 19 (Freedom of opinion and expression), UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/34 (2011), para. 25.
  9. UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 27: Article 12 (Freedom of movement), UN Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.9 (1999), para. 12.
  10. IACHR, Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, OEA/Ser/L/V/II Doc. 66, 31 December 2011, para. 65.
  11. UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 34: Article 19 (Freedom of opinion and expression), UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/34 (2011), para. 25.
  12. See Tanganyika Law Society, Legal and Human Rights Centre and Reverend Christopher R. Mtikila v. United Republic of Tanzania, ACtHPR, Judgment of 14 June 2013; Kimel v. Argentina (Merits, Reparations, and Costs). IACtHR, Judgment of 2 May 2008, para. 63; Uson Ramirez v. Venezuela (Preliminary Objection, Merits, Reparations, and Costs), IACtHR, Judgment of 20 November 2009, para. 56; Koretskyy v. Ukraine, ECtHR, Judgment of 3 April 2008, para. 47.
  13. IACtHR, The Word “Laws” in Article 30 of the American Convention on Human Rights, Advisory Opinion OC-6/86, May 9, 1986, para. 38.
  14. IACHR, Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, OEA/Ser.L/V/II, Doc. 66, 31 December 2011, para. 165.
  15. IACtHR, The Word “Laws” in Article 30 of the American Convention on Human Rights, Advisory Opinion OC-6/86, May 9, 1986, para. 36.
  16. Tanganyika Law Society, Legal and Human Rights Centre and Reverend Christopher R. Mtikila v. United Republic of Tanzania, ACtHPR, Judgment of 14 June 2013, at paras. 107.1, 112-113.
  17. Gülcü v. Turkey, ECtHR, Judgment of January 19 2016, para. 104. With references to several other ECtHR cases.
  18. OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission, Joint Guidelines on Freedom of Association, 2015, para. 34 (principle 9).
  19. OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission, Guidelines on Political Party Regulation, 19 May 2011, para. 49.
  20. AComHPR, Report of the Study Group on Freedom of Association & Assembly in Africa, 2014, para. 20.
  21. Maestri v. Italy, ECtHR, Judgment of 17 February 2004, para. 41. With references to numerous other cases.
  22. IACHR, Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, OEA/Ser/L/V/II Doc. 66, 31 December 2011, para. 165.
  23. UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 34: Article 19 (Freedom of opinion and expression), UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/34 (2011), para. 25.
  24. Maestri v. Italy, ECtHR, Judgment of 17 February 2004, para. 41. With references to numerous other cases.
  25. ICCPR, art. 22(2); ACHR, art. 16(2); ECHR, art. 11(2) (using the phrase prevention of disorder or crime instead of “public order”).
  26. See, e.g., Mr. Jeong-Eun Lee v. Republic of Korea, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/84/D/1119/2002, Views of 20 July 2005, para. 7.3.
  27. UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 34: Article 19 (Freedom of opinion and expression), UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/34 (2011), para. 33.
  28. UN Human Rights Council, Joint report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on the proper management of assemblies, 4 February 2016, UN Doc. A/HRC/31/66, para. 31.
  29. UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 34: Article 19 (Freedoms of opinion and expression), UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/34 (2011), para. 33.
  30. See Young, James and Webster v United Kingdom, ECtHR, Judgment of 13 August 1981, para. 63.
  31. UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, UN Doc. A/HRC/32/36, 10 August 2016, para. 33.
  32. UN General Assembly, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin, UN Doc. A/61/267, 16 August 2006, para. 20; see also 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 21; IACHR, Second Report on the situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, OEA/Ser.L/V/II doc. 66, 31 December 2011, para. 167.
  33. UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, UN Doc. A/HRC/23/40, 17 April 2013, para. 60.
  34. Alekseev v. Russia, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/109/D/1873/2009, Views of 25 October 2013, para. 9.6. (The State argued that the subject addressed by the demonstration would provoke negative reaction that could lead to violations of public order, the Committee found that “[…] an unspecified and general risk of a violent counterdemonstration or the mere possibility that the authorities would be unable to prevent or neutralize such violence is not sufficient to ban a demonstration.”) See also Mr. Jeong-Eun Lee v. Republic of Korea, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/84/D/1119/2002, Views of 20 July 2005, para. 7.3.
  35. UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 34: Article 19 (Freedom of opinion and expression), UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/34 (2011), para. 33.
  36. Schumilin v. Belarus, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/105/D/1784/2008, Views of 23 July 2012, para. 9.4. (The Committee found the restriction violated the ICCPR because the state had not explained “how, in practice, in this particular case, the author’s actions affected the respect of the rights or reputations of others, or posed a threat to the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.”)
  37. Kim v. Republic of Korea, Human Rights Commitee, CCPR/C/64/D/574/1994, Views of 4 January 1999, para. 12.5.
  38. See Freedom and Democracy Party (ÖZDEP) v. Turkey, ECtHR, Judgment of 8 December 1999, paras. 44-48; Parti Nationaliste Basque-Organization Regionale D’Iparralde v. France, ECtHR, 7 June 2007, para. 47.
  39. Kovalenko v. Belarus, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/108/D/1808/2008, Views of 17 July 2013, para. 6: “In the absence of any pertinent explanations from the State party, the restrictions on the exercise of the author’s right to freedom of expression cannot be deemed necessary for the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public) or for respect for the rights or reputations of others. The Committee therefore finds that the author’s rights under article 19, paragraph 2, of the Covenant have been violated.” See also Nurbek Toktakunov v. Kyrgyzstan, Human Rights Committee, CCPR/C/101/D1470/2006, Views of 28 March 2011, para. 7.7 and V. Evrezov et al. v. Belarus, UN Doc. CCPR/C/112/D/1999/2010, Views of 10 October 2014, paras. 8.7-8.8.
  40. 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. 21.
  41. 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 70.
  42. UN General Assembly, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin, UN Doc. A/61/267, 16 August 2006, para. 20; see also 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 21. In the same sense see also IACHR, Second Report on the situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, OEA/Ser.L/V/II doc. 66, 31 December 2011, para. 167.
  43. UN General Assembly, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin, UN Doc. A/61/267, 16 August 2006, para. 53.
  44. UN Human Rights Committee, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 40 of the Covenant (Concluding Observations: Russian Federation), UN Doc. CCPR/CO/79/RUS, 1 December 2003, para. 20.
  45. UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment 34: Article 19 (Freedom of opinion and expression), UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/34 (2011), para. 33.
  46. Mr. Jeong-Eun Lee v. Republic of Korea, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/84/D/1119/2002, Views of 20 July 2005, p. 7.2; since then the Committee has confirmed this position in Aleksander Belyatsky et al. v. Belarus, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/90/D/1296/2004, 24 July 2007, para. 7.3.
  47. IACHR, Second Report on the situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, OEA/Ser.L/V/II doc. 66, 31 December 2011, para. 167.
  48. Escher et al., v. Brazil, IACtHR, Judgment of 6 July 2009.
  49. UN Human Rights Council, Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of fundamental rights while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin, HRC/13/37, 28 December 2009, para. 36.
  50. United Nations General Assembly, Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, UN Doc. A/59/401, paras. 46-7.
  51. Tebieti Mühafize Cemiyyeti and Israfilov v Azerbaijan, ECtHR, Judgment of 8 October 2009, para. 53.
  52. AComHPR, Report of the Study Group on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, 2014, p. 15.
  53. Aleksander Belyatsky et al v. Belarus, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/90/D/1296/2004, Views of 24 July 2007, para 7.3.
  54. Mr. Jeong-Eun Lee v. Republic of Korea, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/84/D/1119/2002, Views of 20 July 2005, para 7.2.
  55. Mr. Jeong-Eun Lee v. Republic of Korea, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/84/D/1119/2002, Views of 20 July 2005, para 7.2.
  56. Tanganyika Law Society, Legal and Human Rights Centre and Reverend Christopher R. Mtikila v. United Republic of Tanzania, ACtHPR, Judgment of 14 June 2013, at para. 106.1; AComHPR, Report of the Study Group on Freedom of Association & Assembly in Africa, 2014, p. 14.
  57. 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. 17.
  58. UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom ofpeaceful assembly and of association, Country report Rwanda, A/HRC/26/29/Add.2, 14 April 2014, para.86(a); see also, Manfred Nowak, UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: CCPR Commentary, Article 22, para. 21, p. 394 (1993).
  59. Mr. Jeong-Eun Lee v. Republic of Korea, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/84/D/1119/2002, Views of 20 July 2005, at para.7.2; Aleksander Belyatsky et al. v. Belarus, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/90/D/1296/2004, Views of 24 July 2007, at para. 7.3; Korneenko, et. al v. Belarus, Human Rights Committee, CCPR/C/88/D/1274/2004, Views of 31 October 2006, at para.7.3.
  60. Manuel Cepeda Vargas v. Colombia (Preliminary objections, merits, reparations and Costs) IACtHR, Judgment of 26 May 2010, para. 173; Tebieti Mühafize Cemiyyeti and Israfilov v. Azerbaijan, ECtHR, Judgment of 8 October 2009, para. 53 (“The harmonious interaction of persons and groups with varied identities is essential for achieving social cohesion. It is only natural that, where a civil society functions in a healthy manner, the participation of citizens in the democratic process is to a large extent achieved through belonging to associations in which they may integrate with each other and pursue common objectives collectively.”); Handyside v. the United Kingdom, ECtHR, Judgment of 7 December 1976, para. 49; Tanganyika Law Society, Legal and Human Rights Centre and Reverend Christopher R. Mtikila v. United Republic of Tanzania, ACtHPR, Judgment of 14 June 2013.
  61. Mr. Jeong-Eun Lee v. Republic of Korea, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/84/D/1119/2002, Views of 20 July 2005, para. 7.2.
  62. Mr. Jeong-Eun Lee v. Republic of Korea, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/84/D/1119/2002, Views of 20 July 2005.
  63. UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 27: Article 12 (Freedom of Movement), UN Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.9, para. 14.
  64. OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission, Guidelines on Political Party Regulation, 19 May 2011, para. 52.
  65. See Tebieti Mühafize Cemiyyeti & Sabir Israfilov v. Azerbaijan, ECtHR, Judgment of 8 October 2009, para. 63.
  66. See Refah Partisi (the Welfare Party) v. Turkey, ECtHR, Grand Chamber Judgment of 13 February 2003, paras. 98-100.
  67. Tanganyika Law Society, Legal and Human Rights Centre and Reverend Christopher R. Mtikila v. United Republic of Tanzania, ACtHPR, Judgment of 14 June 2013, para. 106.4.
  68. Escher et al. v. Brazil, IACtHR, Judgment of 6 July 2009, paras. 174, 176.
  69. OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission, Joint Guidelines on Freedom of Association, 2015, para. 114.
  70. Interights and Others v Mauritania, AComHPR, June 2004, para. 3.
  71. Interights and Others v Mauritania, AComHPR, June 2004, paras. 81-82.
  72. Huri v. Nigeria, AComHPR, Communication of 23 October – 6 November 2000, para. 47-48.