ECHR Article 11-1
Freedom of association
Dissolution of association involved in anti-Roma rallies and paramilitary parading: no violation
Facts – The applicant was the chair of the Hungarian Guard Association (‘the Association’), which was founded in May 2007 by ten members of a political party called Movement for a Better Hungary with the stated aim of preserving Hungarian traditions and culture. In July 2007 the Association founded the Hungarian Guard Movement (‘the Movement’), whose objective was defined as ‘defending Hungary, defenceless physically, spiritually and intellectually’.
Shortly after its foundation, the Movement started to carry out activities which were not in accordance with its charter, including organising the swearing-in of fifty-six guardsmen in Buda Castle in August 2007. The authorities requested the Association to put an end to its unlawful activities. In November 2007 the applicant notified the authorities that the unlawful activities had ceased and that the Association’s charter would be modified accordingly. However, members of the Movement dressed in uniforms subsequently held rallies and demonstrations throughout Hungary, including in villages with large Roma populations, calling for the defence of ethnic Hungarians against so-called ‘Gipsy criminality’. Following an incident in December 2007 when the police refused to allow a march to pass through a street inhabited by Roma families, the authorities sought a court order for the dissolution of the Association. This was granted in December 2008, and in July 2009 following two further demonstrations organised by the Movement, the the scope of that order was extended to the latter in a judgment that was upheld by the Supreme Court.
(a) Admissibility – Article 17: The Government had argued that the application should be declared inadmissible as being incompatible ratione materiae with the Convention in the light of Article 17, because the Association provided an institutional framework for expressing racial hatred against Jewish and Roma citizens. The Court noted, however, that the applicant’s complaint concerned the dissolution of an association essentially on account of a demonstration which had not been declared unlawful at the domestic level and had not led to any act of violence. Those activities did not prima facie reveal any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth in the Convention or any intention on the part of the applicant to provide an apology or propaganda for totalitarian views. Accordingly, the application did not constitute an abuse of the right of petition for the purposes of Article 17.
Conclusion: preliminary objection dismissed (unanimously).
(b) Merits – Article 11: The dissolution of the association chaired by the applicant and subsequently of the movement, constituted an interference with the applicant’s right to freedom of association. The interference was prescribed by law and pursued the aims of ensuring public safety, preventing disorder and protecting the rights of others.
Although the case concerned the dissolution of an association and a movement, rather than the dissolution of a political party, the Court acknowledged that social organisations such as the applicant’s could play an important role in the shaping of politics and policies. It reiterated that a State did not have to wait until a political movement had recourse to violence before intervening. Even if the political movement had not made an attempt to seize power and the danger of its policy was not sufficiently imminent, a State was entitled to take preventive measures to protect democracy as long as it was established that such a movement had started to take concrete steps in public life to implement a policy incompatible with the standards of the Convention.
Although no violence had actually occurred during the rallies, the activists had marched in villages wearing military-style uniforms in a military-like formation giving salutes and commands. Such rallies were capable of conveying the message that its organisers were willing and able to have recourse to a paramilitary organisation in order to achieve their aims. In addition, the paramilitary formation was reminiscent of the Hungarian Nazi movement (Arrow Cross), the backbone of the regime responsible for the mass extermination of Roma in Hungary. In view of historical experience – such as that of Hungary in the wake of Arrow Cross power – the reliance of an association on paramilitary demonstrations expressing racial division and implicitly calling for race-based action had to have had an intimidating effect on members of a racial minority, therefore exceeding the scope of protection under the Convention for freedom of expression or of assemblies. Indeed, such a paramilitary march had gone beyond the mere expression of a disturbing or offensive idea, given the physical presence of a threatening group of organised activists.
As regards the dissolution of the Association, it was irrelevant that the demonstrations, in isolation, had not been illegal since it was only in the light of the actual conduct of such demonstrations that the real nature and goals of the association became apparent. Indeed, a series of rallies organised to allegedly keep so-called ‘Gipsy criminality’ at bay by paramilitary parading could have led to a policy of racial segregation being implemented. While the advocacy of anti-democratic ideas was not enough in itself for banning a political party, still less an association, the entirety of the circumstances – in particular the Movement’s coordinated and planned actions – constituted sufficient and relevant reasons for such a measure. Therefore, the arguments of the Hungarian authorities had been relevant and sufficient to demonstrate that the dissolution had corresponded to a pressing social need.
The threat posed by the Movement could only be effectively eliminated by removing the organisational backup of the Movement provided by the Association. The general public could even have perceived the State as legitimising such a menace, had the authorities continued to acquiesce in the activities of the Movement and the Association by upholding their legal existence. This would have meant that the Association, benefiting from the prerogatives of a legally registered entity, could have continued to support the Movement, and that the State would have indirectly facilitated the orchestration of its campaign of rallies. Finally, since no additional sanction had been imposed on the Association or the Movement or their members, who had not been prevented from continuing political activities in other forms, the Court concluded that the dissolution had not been disproportionate.
Conclusion: no violation (unanimously).
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 20 November 2021; Ref: scu.515143