European Convention on the Recognition of the Legal Personality of International Non-Governmental Organizations

Convention opened for signature in Strasbourg on April 24, 1986. (European Treaty Service (ETS) No. 124)

Introduction

The beneficial role played by voluntary and non-profit bodies is recognized in practically all countries of the world today. The freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of association with others are fundamental human rights. The legal status and independence of associations, foundations and other private entities is protected by laws and constitutions. In many countries tax law takes into account, and stimulates, private giving for causes of general benefit.

Non-governmental organizations are also making an increasingly important contribution at the international level. Some international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been in existence for many years. (For example, the International Law Association was created in 1873). The number of these bodies has grown dramatically, in particular since 1945.

Intergovernmental organizations acknowledge the positive role ofNGOs by granting them consultative status and by involving them as observers or experts in intergovernmental work.

However, in spite of their great international prestige, many NGOs still face a basic problem. By their very nature they do not always fit easily into the legal system of the country or countries in which they have their seats or carry out their activities. Historically, national laws have developed to take account of the situation of national voluntary and non-profit bodies and not of international NGOs. In some countries there are even formal obstacles to the establishment or recognition of bodies in which “‘foreigners” play a leading role, as is necessarily the case with NGOs.

In order to function properly NGOs need, at a minimum, legal personality and legal capacity in the countries where they have their statutory offices and recognition of that status in all other countries where they operate.

It is in order to ensure such mutual legal recognition that the Council of

Europe has drawn up the present Convention.

Preparation of the Convention

The text of the Convention was prepared in 1982 and 1983 by the Council of Europe’s select Committee of Experts on international non-governmental organizations under the chairmanship of H. Teissier du Cros of the French Conseil d’Etat.

Two non-governmental organizations which are particularly representative of the voluntary and non-profit sector, i.e., the Union des Associations Internationales (UAI) and INTERPHIL, took part in the work as observers.

The text of the Convention was adopted on October 24, 1985 by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

Signature and Ratification

The Convention was opened for signature in Strasbourg on April 24, 1986. It was signed by Austria, Belgium, Greece, Portugal, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The Convention is not yet in force. It will come into force when it has been ratified by three countries. After it has come into force, countries which are not members of the Council of Europe may be invited to adhere to it.

Main Provisions

With this Convention the Council of Europe has produced the first, and present, a unique international instrument which deals directly with intc national non-governmental organizations. It applies to associations, foundatio1 and other private institutions.

In its preamble, the Convention recognises the valuable work ofinternation non-governmental organizations in a great variety of fields in the inte national community (health, culture, education, etc.), and their contributic to the realization of the purposes and principles of the United Nations Chart and the Statute of the Council of Europe. Consequently, the contracting stat agree to recognize, “as a right”, legal personality and capacity as acquired the state where such an organization has its statutory offices.

In order to benefit from the provisions of the Convention, an internation non-governmental organization must:
– have a non-profitmaking aim of international utility;
– have been established by an instrument governed by the internal law oJ contracting state;
– carry on its activities with effect in at least two states;
– have its statutory office in the territory of a contracting state and centr management and control in that state or in another contracting state.

The Convention establishes rules regarding the proof to be furnished to tl authorities in the contracting state where the recognition is sought and se down exceptional cases in which a contracting state may refuse recognitic (for instance, where activities of the organization in question contravet national security, public safety, prevention of disorder or crime, etc.).

The Council of Europe

The Council of Europe includes 400 million people living in these 21 pa liamentary democracies:
Austria Belgium Cyprus Denmark France Federal Republic of Germany Greece Iceland Ireland Italy Liechtenstein Luxembourg Malta Netherlands Norway Portugal Spain Sweden Switzerland Turkey United J9ngdom
The Council’s main objectives are to defend the principles of democracy and human rights, to promote human values, and to improve the quality of life of all Europeans. It encourages understanding among the peoples of Europe and seeks to create a sense of European identity based on their com­mon heritage.

The Council operates by bringing together governments, parliamentarians and experts to pool their knowledge and experience so as to harmonize policies and set standards for the legislation of its member states.

Convention Europeene Sur la Reconnaissance de la Personnalite Juridique des Organisations Internationales Non Gouvernementales*

Introduction

Le role benefique que jouent les organismes volontaires et sans but lucratif est reconnu aujourd’hui dans la quasi-totalite des pays dans le monde. La liberte de reunion pacifique et la liberte de s’associer avec d’autres sont des droits fondamentaux de l’homme. Le statutjuridique et l’independance des associations, des fondations et d’autres entites de droit prive est garanti par les lois et constitutions. Dans plusieurs pays la loi fiscale en tient egalement compte et favorise les dons de particuliers a des causes d’utilite publique.

Les organisations non gouvernementales apportent egalement une con­tribution toujours croissante au niveau international. Certaines organisations non gouvernementales (ONG) existent depuis longtemps (pour ne citer qu’un exemple, !’Association de Droit International a ete creee en 1873). Le nombre de ces organismes s’est accru de fa'<on spectaculaire notamment depuis 1945.

Les organisations internationales ont reconnu le role positif des ONG en leur accordant le statut consultatif et en les associant a titre d’observateurs ou d’experts aux travaux intergouvernementaux.

Toutefois, en depit de leur grand prestige international, nombre d’ONG se heurtent sou vent a un obstacle fonda mental. Par leur nature meme elles ne s’integrent pas toujours facilement dans le systeme juridique du pays ou se trouve leur siege et ou se deroulent leurs activites. L’histoire demontre que les lois nationales prennent en consideration la situation des organismes nationaux volontaires et non commerciales mais non pas celle des ONG internationales. Dans certains pays il existe meme des obstacles formels contre l’etablissement ou la reconnaissance d’organismes dans lesquels des
*Convention ouverte a la signature a Strasbourg le 24 avril 1986. (Serie des Traites europeens (STE) No. 124)’etrangers” jouent un role important, ce qui est forcement le cas des ONG.

Pour pouvoir fonctionner de fa<;on adequate ces ONG doivent jouir, au minimum, de la personnalite juridique et de la capacite juridique dans le pays ou elles oeuvrent.

C’est dans le but de leur garantir une telle reconnaissance juridique recipro­que que le Conseil de !’Europe a etabli la presente Convention.

Travaux pn?paratoires

Le texte de 1a Convention a ete prepare en 1982 et 1983 par 1e Comite restreint d’experts du Conseil de !’Europe sur 1es organisations internationales non gouvernementales, place sous la presidence de M. H. Teissier du Cros, du Conseil d’Etat fran<;ais.

Deux organisations non gouvernementales particulierement representatives du volontariat et du secteur non lucratif, a savoir !’Union des Associations internationa1es (UAI) et INTERPHIL, ont pris part aux travaux en qualite d’observateurs.

Le texte de la Convention a ete adopte le 24 octobre 1985 par le Comite des Ministres du Conseil de !’Europe.

Signature et ratification

Le Convention a ete ouverte a la signature a Strasbourg le 24 avril 1986. Elle a ete signee par l’Autriche, la Belgique, la Grece, le Portugal, la Suisse et le Royaume-Uni.

La Convention n’estpas encore entree en vigueur. Elle entrera en vigueur lorsqu’elle aura ete ratifiee par trois pays. Apres son entree en vigueur des pays non membres du Conseil de !’Europe peuvent etre invites a y adherer.

Dispositions principales

Par cette Convention le Conseil de !’Europe a cree le premier, et jusqu’a present !’unique, instrument international qui traite specifiquement des organisations internationales non gouvernementales. Elle s’applique a associations, fondations et autres institutions privees.

Dans le preambule, la Convention reconnait la grande utilite pour la com­munaute internationale des activites qu’exercent les organisations internationales non gouvernementales dans de nombreux domaines (sante, culture, education, etc … ) et leur contribution a la realisation des buts et principes de la Charte des Nations Unies et du Statut du Conseil de !’Europe. En consequence, les Etats contractants conviennent de reconnaitre “en plein droit” la personnalite et la capacite juridiques qu’une organisation a acquises dans l’Etat dans lequel elle a son siege.

Afin de beneficier des dispositions de la Convention une organisation inter­nationale non gouvernementale doit :

– avoir un but non lucratif d’interet international;
– avoir ete creee par un acte relevant du droit interne d’une Partie con- tractante;
– exercer une activite effective dans au moins deux Etats; et
– avoir son siege statutaire sur le terri toire d’une Partie et son siege reel sur le territoire de cette Partie ou d’une autre Partie.

La Convention etablit certaines regles concernant la preuve qui est a fournir aux autorites des Etats contractants auxquelles est presente une demande de reconnaissance et elle definit des cas exceptionnels dans lesquels un Etat con­tractant peut refuser la reconnaissance (par exemple lorsque l’ONG con­trevient a la securite nationale, a la surete publique, a la defense de l’ordre eta la prevention du crime, a la protection de la sante ou de la morale, a la protec­tion des droits et libertes d’autrui etc … ).

 

FRITS W. HONDIUS

Deputy Director of Legal Affairs, Secretariat General, Council of Europe