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7. Legal personality and registration

It is well established in international law that the right to freedom of association equally protects registered and non-registered associations (Does an association need to be registered to be protected? See Association Section 1.1). The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association has on numerous occasions emphasized that the right to freedom of association applies to informal associations and does not require that a group be registered.[1]

Depending on the national legal context, registration and/or legal personality may be required to fulfill certain functions or access to certain benefits, which associations may wish to have access to.

Registration and obtaining legal personality may be – but are not necessarily – the same process in different legal systems.[2] However, the standards and principles applied in international law for both processes are very similar; therefore the arguments below are valid for both.


  1. UN Human Rights Council, First Thematic Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, UN Doc. A/HRC/20/27, 21 May 2012, at para. 56; UN Human Rights Council, Fourth Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, UN Doc. A/HRC/29/25, 28 April 2015, at para. 59.
  2. For example: in certain countries, formally acknowledged and registered religious communities may have access to certain benefits (e.g. their leaders may receive a compensation from the State). At the same time, these religious communities do not necessarily have a legal personality as such.
  3. 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, at para. 57; see also United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful Assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, Amicus curiae before the Constitutional Court of Bolivia, 30 April 2015, para. 22.
  4. Gorzelik and Others v Poland, ECtHR, Judgment of 17 February 2004, at para 55.
  5. IACHR, Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, OEA/Ser/L/V/II Doc. 66, 31 December 2011, para. 172.
  6. AComHPR, Draft Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, 22 September 2016, para. 12.
  7. Venice Commission, Opinion on the Compatibility with Universal Human Rights Standards of Article 193-1 of the Criminal Code on the Rights of Non-Registered Associations of The Republic of Belarus, 18 October 2011.
  8. 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 58(e).
  9. 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 61.
  10. UN Human Rights Council, First Thematic Report of the UN 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. 57.
  11. IACHR, Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, OEA/Ser/L/V/II Doc. 66, 31 December 2011, para. 172.
  12. See Koretskyy v. Ukraine, ECtHR, Judgment of 3 April 2008, paras. 48; 53-55.
  13. AComHPR, Draft Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, 22 September 2016, para. 13.
  14. UN Human Rights Council, First Thematic Report of the UN 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. 60.
  15. OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission, Joint Guidelines on Freedom of Association, 2015, paras. 68-9.
  16. Ismayilov v. Azerbaijan, ECtHR, Judgment of 17 January 2008, para. 48: “significant delays in the registration procedure, if attributable to the Ministry of Justice, amounts to an interference with the exercise of the right of the association’s founders to freedom of association.”
  17. Moscow Branch of Salvation Army v Russia, ECtHR, Judgment of 5 October 2006, para. 86; see also, Partidul Comunistilor Nepeceristi and Ungureanu v. Romania, ECtHR, Judgment of 2 February 2005, para. 49.
  18. Romanovsky v. Belarus, Human Rights Committee, UN Doc. CCPR/C/115/D/2011/2010, Views of 29 October 2015, paras. 7.3-7.5.
  19. Presidential Party of Mordovia v. Russia, ECtHR, Judgment of 5 October 2004, para. 31.
  20. Movement for Democratic Kingdom v. Bulgaria, EComHR, Judgment of 29 November 1995.
  21. Sidiropoulos et al. v. Greece, ECtHR, Judgment of 10 July 1998, para. 46.
  22. Sidiropoulos et al. v. Greece, ECtHR, Judgment of 10 July 1998, para. 46.
  23. Association of Victims of Romanian Judges and Others V. Romania, ECtHR, Judgment of 14 January 2014, paras. 25, 30, 32, 34.
  24. Movement for Democratic Kingdom v. Bulgaria, EComHR, Judgment of 29 November 1995.
  25. Gorzelik v. Poland, ECtHR, 17 February 2004, paras. 94, 102-105.
  26. UN Human Rights Council, First Thematic Report of the UN 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. 61.
  27. UN General Assembly, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, UN Doc. A/64/226, 4 August 2009, at para. 113.