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.” The Human Rights Committee elaborated that the protection afforded by Article 22 extends to all activities of an association. 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. 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:
Similarly, the American Convention states that the exercise of the right to freedom of association:
The European Convention states that no restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of the right to freedom of association except such as are:
In any case where the State imposes a restriction, it bears the burden of proof to demonstrate it has met this three-pronged test.