Freedom of association and assembly

A central aspect of democracy is that people gather to engage in common interests, discuss or demonstrate and that organisations can be formed for different purposes. The freedoms of association and assembly are closely linked to each other and protected by Article 20 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 21–22 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 11 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Freedom of assembly
Freedom of assembly includes the right to participate in peaceful assembly, for example to demonstrate and organise opinion meetings. According to both the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, freedom of assembly may be subject to restrictions that are lawful and necessary with regard to national security, public order and safety, the prevention of crime, the protection of health or morals, or the protection of the freedoms and rights of others. 

According to the European Court of Human Rights, freedom of assembly extends to both private gatherings and meetings in public places. The requirement to have permission for meetings in public places is not considered an infringement on this right. The state has not only a obligation not to intervene, but also a duty to take positive measures in the sense of combating that individuals are prevented by others from exercising their rights.

Freedom of association
Freedom of association applies to different types of associations and includes the right of everyone to form and join trade unions for the protection of their interests. The right to form and join political parties is also covered by freedom of association, which is subject to the same types of exceptions and restrictions as the freedom of assembly.

Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains also a provision on negative freedom of association that means that no one may be compelled to belong to an association. There is no equivalent provision in either the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. However, in a case concerning Iceland, the European Court of Human Rights has declared that freedom of association extends to the right of non-membership of a trade union.