Guidelines on Prohibition and Dissolution of Political Parties and Analogous Measures Adopted by the Venice Commission at its 41st plenary session (Venice, 10 - 11 December, 1999)
At the request of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the European Commission for Democracy through Law conducted a survey on the prohibition of political parties and analogous measures.
Countries which co-operate with the Venice Commission were invited to answer a questionnaire on the prohibition of political parties, covering the existence of rules prohibiting political parties or providing for similar measures in order to study the situation existing in different countries. 40 countries contributed to the study.
The conclusions of the study highlighted the following issues:
party activities everywhere are guaranteed by the principle of freedom of association;
there is a possibility to sanction political parties that do not respect a certain set of rules, through prohibition and dissolution of political parties, in a number of countries which answered the questionnaire;
the procedure regarding measures restricting the activities of the political parties show the authorities' concern to respect the principle of freedom of association.
The Commission adopted the report on prohibition of political parties and analogous measures ( CDL-INF (98) 14 ) at its 35th plenary meeting in Venice , 12-13 June 1998. The study provided a good starting point for further analysis of the question. Considering the importance of the issue the Commission decided to continue its work with a view to drafting guidelines in this field.
The Sub-Commission on democratic institutions at its 6th meeting (Venice, 10 December 1998) appointed Rapporteurs to draw up preliminary draft guidelines on the prohibition of political parties and analogous measures for its first meeting in 1999.
The draft guidelines on the prohibition of political parties were discussed by the Sub-Commission on democratic institutions during its meeting on 17 June 1999 . Members of the Sub-Commission introduced a number of changes in the text prepared by Mr Alexandru Farcas and revised by the Secretariat on the basis of comments by Messrs Kaarlo Tuori and Joseph Said Pullicino. In addition, the Secretariat was asked to prepare an explanatory memorandum to the guidelines.
The Sub-Commission on democratic institutions further discussed the draft guidelines on the prohibition of political parties and analogous measures and the explanatory report during its meeting in Venice on 9 December 1999 and decided to submit them to the plenary session. The Venice Commission adopted both documents and decided to forward them to the Parliamentary Assembly and the Secretary General (41st plenary meeting, Venice , 10 - 11 December 1999).
II. Guidelines on prohibition of political parties and analogous measures
The Venice Commission:
Being committed to the promotion of the fundamental principles of democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human rights, in a context of enhanced democratic security for all, throughout the entire Council of Europe area,
Taking into account the essential role of political parties in any democracy, considering that freedom of political opinion and freedom of association, including political association, represent fundamental human rights guaranteed by the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and are primordial elements of any genuine democracy as envisaged by the Statute of the Council of Europe,
Having particular regard to States' practice in the field of protecting (and of organising) the exercise of the rights to freedom of association and to freedom of expression,
Committed to the principle that these rights cannot be restricted other than by a decision of a competent judicial body in full respect of the rule of law and the right to a fair trial,
Recognising the need to further promote future standards in this field, based on the provisions of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and on the values of the European legal heritage,
Has adopted the following guidelines:
1. States should recognise that everyone has the right to associate freely in political parties. This right shall include freedom to hold political opinions and to receive and impart information without interference by a public authority and regardless of frontiers. The requirement to register political parties will not in itself be considered to be in violation of this right.
Any limitations to the exercise of the above-mentioned fundamental human rights through the activity of political parties shall be consistent with the relevant provisions of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and other international treaties, in normal times as well as in cases of public emergencies. Prohibition or enforced dissolution of political parties may only be justified in the case of parties which advocate the use of violence or use violence as a political means to overthrow the democratic constitutional order, thereby undermining the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution. The fact alone that a party advocates a peaceful change of the Constitution should not be sufficient for its prohibition or dissolution. A political party as a whole can not be held responsible for the individual behaviour of its members not authorised by the party within the framework of political/public and party activities. The prohibition or dissolution of political parties as a particularly far-reaching measure should be used with utmost restraint. Before asking the competent judicial body to prohibit or dissolve a party, governments or other state organs should assess, having regard to the situation of the country concerned, whether the party really represents a danger to the free and democratic political order or to the rights of individuals and whether other, less radical measures could prevent the said danger. Legal measures directed to the prohibition or legally enforced dissolution of political parties shall be a consequence of a judicial finding of unconstitutionality and shall be deemed as of an exceptional nature and governed by the principle of proportionality. Any such measure must be based on sufficient evidence that the party itself and not only individual members pursue political objectives using or preparing to use unconstitutional means. The prohibition or dissolution of a political party should be decided by the Constitutional court or other appropriate judicial body in a procedure offering all guarantees of due process, openness and a fair trial.