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I. Introduction

The European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and its protocols (the European Convention on Human Rights) is an international treaty adopted by the Council of Europe to protect and safeguard the rights and freedoms of individuals living within the jurisdiction of the forty-seven Member States of the Council of Europe who have ratified the Convention.[1]  In 1959, the European Convention on Human Rights established a system composed of the European Commission of Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights, and the Committee of Ministers to hear allegations of violations of human rights and enforce compliance by the states parties.[2]  In 1998, Protocol No. 11 abolished the European Commission and established the European Court of Human Rights as the only judicial organ to adjudicate cases instituted before it by individuals, nongovernmental organizations, or group of victims.[3] 

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II.  Right to Peaceful Assembly

The right to peaceful assembly is established in article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.[4]  States parties may impose certain limitations on the exercise of this right.  However, such restrictions must be (a) prescribed by law; (b) necessary in a democratic society; and (c) 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.[5]  Article 11 of the European Convention not only protects an individual’s right to peaceful assembly, but also imposes a positive obligation on state authorities to facilitate the exercise of this right and enable assemblies to take place peacefully.[6] 

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III.  Advance Notification and Authorization of Assemblies

In general, international human rights law and specifically article 11 of the European Convention do not require that advance notification of a forthcoming assembly be given.[7]  However, contracting states may request prior notification in order to take the necessary measures to protect public order and the rights and freedoms of others.[8]  Thus, the purpose of providing prior notification is to indicate the intent of the organizers involved; it must not amount to permission.[9]  The now defunct European Commission on Human Rights stated in Rassemblement Jurassien Unité Jurassienne v. Switzerland that “[s]uch a procedure is in keeping with the requirements of Article 11(1) [of the Convention], if only in order that the authorities may be in a position to ensure the peaceful nature of the meeting, and accordingly does not as such constitute interference with the exercise of the right.”[10]

The Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly prepared by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization on Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) provide that states may require notification when large assemblies are to take place or not require notification in the case of certain assemblies.[11]  The Guidelines cite as an example the laws of Moldova and Poland, which do not require notification for small assemblies.[12]

The Guidelines do not endorse a permit requirement because such a requirement is more “prone to abuse than notification,”[13] and recommend that countries that require permission to hold assemblies amend their domestic legislation to require only notification.[14]  The Guidelines also cite the Constitutional Court of Georgia, which declared part of a law requiring a permit procedure unconstitutional.[15]

There are no rules regarding how far in advance notification should be provided by organizers to state authorities.  The Venice Commission states that a few days should be sufficient to allow state authorities to take any necessary precautions and also to allow organizers to challenge in court an official negative response.  The Commission also states that if a law specifies certain limits, these should only be indicative.[16] 

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IV.  European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has produced a rich body of case law on the right to peaceful assembly.  With regard to notification requirements, the ECHR reiterated in the case of Eva Molnar v. Hungary that

a prior notification requirement would not normally encroach upon the essence of that right.  It is not contrary to the spirit of Article 11 [of the Convention] if, for reasons of public order and national security, a priori, a High Contracting Party requires that the holding of meetings be subject to authorisation.[17]

The ECHR went on to say that the mere absence of prior notification can never serve as a legitimate basis for crowd dispersal; that prior notification serves the goal of reconciling the right to peaceful assembly with that of preventing disorder and crime; and that in order to balance these conflicting interests,

the institution of preliminary administrative procedures is common practice in Member States when a public demonstration is to be organized.  In the Court’s view, such requirements do not, as such, run counter to the principles embodied in Article 11 of the Convention, as long as they do not represent a hidden obstacle to the freedom of peaceful assembly protected by the Convention.[18]

In the case of Bukta and Others v. Hungary, the ECHR found that Hungary had violated article 11 of the European Convention because the police had dispersed a peaceful assembly on the basis that it was held without prior notification.[19]  Although the police were acting on the basis of Hungary’s Right of Assembly Act 1989, which requires that the police be informed of an assembly at least three days in advance and gives the police the authority to disband an assembly that takes place without prior notification,[20] the ECHR held that a decision to dispel a peaceful assembly solely because of the failure of the organizers to comply with a notice requirement, without any illegal conduct by the participants, is a disproportionate restriction on peaceful assembly.[21]

Concerning the right to assemble for religious ceremonies or worship, the ECHR held in the 2007 case of Barankevich v. Russia[22] that the right to peaceful assembly must be interpreted in the light of article 9 of the European Convention, which guarantees freedom of religion.[23]  In this case, the town authorities had refused, on the basis of a 1988 decree applicable at that time, to permit a minority religion (Christ’s Grace Church of Evangelical Christians) to hold a religious service in a public park on the grounds that the service would provoke public disorder among the majority of residents, who practiced other religions.[24]  The government argued that the imposed ban had been reviewed by domestic courts, which had upheld the decision of the town authorities.[25]  The ECHR “welcomed” the fact that Russia had amended its law on public assemblies in 2004 to replace the requirement of prior authorization with simple notification of an intended assembly.[26]  However, the ECHR stated that there was no justification for interfering with the rights of the followers of a religion merely because they were a minority group.[27]  The Court also noted that there was no indication that those participating in the service would incite or resort to violence, nor any indication that the local authorities had considered adopting measures “necessary for neutralizing the threat” of a violent counter-demonstration and allowing the assembly to take place peacefully; instead they had “den[ied] the applicant the possibility of exercising his rights to freedom of religion and assembly.”[28]  Consequently, the ECHR found against Russia because the prohibition did not meet the test of being “necessary in a democratic society.”[29]

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Theresa Papademetriou
Senior Legal Specialist
October 2014


[1] European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Sept. 3, 1953, 213 U.N.T.S. 222, as amended, http://www.echr.coe.int/documents/convention_eng.pdf.

[2] 50 Years of Activity: The European Court of Human Rights: Some Facts and Figures 3, http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Facts_Figures_1959_2009_ENG.pdf (last visited Oct. 1, 2014).

[3] Protocol No. 11 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Restructuring the Control Machinery Established Thereby, May 11, 1994, entered into force Nov. 1, 1998, http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/en/Treaties/Html/155.htm.

[4] European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights, supra note 1, art. 11(1).

[5] Id. art. 1(2).

[6] Jim Murdoch & Ralph Roche, The European Convention on Human Rights and Policing 103 (Dec. 2013), available at http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/cooperation/capacitybuilding/Source/documentation/ EuropeanConventionHandbookForPolice.pdf.

[7] OSCE/ODIHR, Venice Commission Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly (Guidelines) paras. 113–117 (2d ed. July 9, 2010), http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/ default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD%282010%29020-e.  The Guidelines and Explanatory Notes are based on international and regional treaties and state practices as derived from national court decisions. 

[8] Id.

[9] Id. paras. 118–121.

[10] Id. para. 114 (quoting Rassemblement Jurassien Unité Jurassienne v. Switzerland (Eur. Comm’n H.R. 1979) at 119).

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id. para. 118.

[14] Id. para. 119.

[15] Guidelines, supra note 7, at 56 n.182.

[16] Id. para. 116.

[17] Éva Molnár v. Hungary, App. No. 10346/05 Final, Eur. Ct. H.R. ( Jan. 7, 2009), http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/ sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-88775 (citing Nurettin Aldemir and Others v. Turkey, App. Nos. 32124/02, 32126/02, 32129/02, 32132/02, 32133/02, 32137/02 and 32138/02 (joined), § 42, Eur. Ct. H.R. (Dec. 18, 2007)).

[18] Id. at 37.

[19] Bukta and Others v. Hungary, App. No. 25691/04 Final, Eur. Ct. H.R. (Oct. 17, 2007), http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/ sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-81728.

[20] Id. para. 19.

[21] Id. para. 36.

[22]Barankevich v. Russia Final, App. No. 10519/03 Final, Eur. Ct. H.R. (Oct. 26, 2007), http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/ sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-81950.

[23] Id. para. 35.

[24] Id. paras. 28–29.

[25] Id. para. 22.

[26] Id. para. 28.

[27] Id. para. 31.

[28] Id. paras. 32–33.

[29] Id. para. 35.

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Last Updated: 08/24/2016