Freedom of Association and Assembly / Protests, National Security, Political Expression
Vogt v. Germany
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The plaintiffs founded an NGO aimed at aiding the homeless in Azerbaijan. They filed a request for its registration, but it was repeatedly returned because the Ministry of Justice claimed that the NGO’s charter failed to satisfy relevant national legislation. It took almost four years for the plaintiff’s NGO to be officially registered. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the delay in the NGO’s registration constituted a violation of Article 11.
Azerbaijan’s law provides for a ten day statutory period for the Ministry of Justice to respond to NGO registration requests and a five day statutory period to review resubmitted registration requests.
The plaintiffs founded an NGO aimed to help the homeless in Azerbaijan. They initially filed a request to register the organization with the Ministry of Justice on April 9, 2001. On May 18, 2001, their request was not officially denied, but returned with a note that the NGO’s charter failed to satisfy relevant national legislation. The NGO resubmitted their registration request four more times between June 4, 2001, and February 18, 2005, when it was finally became registered. The Ministry of Justice denied the state registration a total of five times, with each denial coming at least a month after the filing date, as opposed to the five to ten day statutory requirement.
Each time the registration request was denied, the Ministry of Justice cited the NGO’s charter’s failure to comply with the relevant national legislation. After each denial, the NGO redrafted its charter and resubmitted the registration.
After the third registration attempt, the NGO filed a suit against the Ministry in a district court on May 22, 2002, for evading registering the NGO. The district court dismissed the NGO’s suit on the basis of the Ministry’s letter, which explained that the NGO failed to provide a lawful organizational charter. The higher courts upheld the district court’s decision.
In August 2002, the NGO again sued the Ministry of Justice for procedural violations and unlawful delays in the examination of the NGO’s registration requests. On September 5, 2002, the district court declared the suit inadmissible since the NGO’s initial registration request was still pending at the Ministry. The appeals and the supreme courts upheld the district court’s decision of inadmissibility.
On February 23, 2004, the plaintiffs complained to the Constitutional Court that the lower courts violated their rights. The case was accepted by the Constitutional Court, which quashed the lower courts’ decisions and remitted the case to the courts of general jurisdiction for a new examination of the plaintiff’s violation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to public association. On reexamination, the district court ruled for the plaintiffs and ordered the Ministry of Justice to pay a fine for violation of their freedom of expression. The decision was upheld in the higher courts. The plaintiffs then filed another lawsuit seeking acknowledgement of a breach of domestic law by the Ministry of Justice. The plaintiffs won the case on appeal and received compensation for moral damages.
The ECtHR admitted the case despite the plaintiffs having had their NGO registered and received monetary compensation for the delays. The Court justified admissibility by stating that the domestic courts and authorities never expressly acknowledged a violation of freedom of association. Moreover, not all of the plaintiffs received compensation. These factors, in addition to the fact that the NGO was not registered for almost four years, satisfy the victim status of the plaintiffs.
The ECtHR noted that the Ministry of Justice never rejected the NGO’s registration request. However, the Court determined that the repeated failures to register the NGO amounted to a de facto refusal to register it. Moreover, even if the NGO could have operated without the registration, it was not able to receive grants, which is the lifeblood of non-governmental organizations. Thus, the delays constituted an interference with the plaintiffs’ freedom of association.
The Court then turned to whether the interference was justified. The Court found that the interference was not “prescribed by law” nor did it pursue aims that are necessary in a democratic society. Therefore, the interference was not justified. The ECtHR dismissed Azerbaijan’s defense for the delays being due to “heavy workload.”
Moreover, the Court highlighted that Azerbaijan’s laws did not offer adequate legal protection against arbitrary actions of the Ministry. The Court gave examples of adequate legal protection that included: automatic registration after a certain period and a set limit of times the government could return the registration request without a final decision.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision permits the punishment of governments that indefinitely delay the process of organization registration. The decision also allows for punishment even when the organization was eventually registered or even received compensation.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The significance of the case is in that the ECtHR accepted the case and punished Azerbaijan despite the fact that the NGO was compensated and eventually registered.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.