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(Beirut) – Authorities in Algeria are using – and even going beyond – the restrictive 2012 Law on Associations to stifle freedom of association. The authorities have been arbitrarily rejecting or refusing to process registration applications from organizations, putting both new and long established independent organizations in legal limbo and curtailing their ability to receive foreign funding or to hold public meetings.

Associations trying to register get lost in a bureaucratic labyrinth, unable to file their applications and sometimes obliged to work in the margins of the law, Human Rights Watch concluded after studying law 12-06 on associationsand interviewing more than 20 activists from nongovernmental groups.

“Algeria needs to have a vibrant public debate ahead of the April 17 presidential elections,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “There’s much the government needs to do to create an environment for credible elections, but one important step would be to allow Algerians to form associations, meet, and organize events without hindrance.”

On April 15, 2011, after popular protests ousted authoritarian rulers in Egypt and Tunisia and were challenging Libya’s, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika promised a package of political and legislative reforms. But the new law on associations, promulgated in January 2012, has in numerous ways proven more restrictive than the law it replaced, Human Rights Watch found.

Law 12-06 requires associations to obtain a registration receipt from authorities before they can legally operate. Authorities can refuse to register an association if they decide that the content and objectives of a group’s activities are contrary to Algeria’s “‘fundamental principles’ (constantes nationales) and values, public order, public morals and the applicable laws and regulations.” These vague criteria give authorities broad leeway to block a group’s legalization.

Under the previous law, the administration had to petition an administrative court to rule an association’s constitution illegal. Now, it can do so itself, and it is up to the affected association to appeal the rejection before an administrative court.

In practice, authorities have been disobeying the requirement under the law to issue a deposit receipt when an association’s founders submit its registration documents. Issuing that receipt marks the start of a period for the authorities to review the registration. If they do not object within that period, the association may begin functioning legally. However, associations with agendas that may displease authorities, such as independent human rights or anti-corruption groups, report that authorities have withheld the provisional receipt, depriving them of proof of the date when they complied with the registration requirements.

Some associations in this situation continue to operate, but on the margins of the law, unable to open a bank account or rent an office in their own name, or hire a public hall for a meeting. Moreover, members of an association that is “non-accredited, suspended, or dissolved” risk prison sentences of up to six months for conducting activities in its name.

“Algerian authorities tend not to crush independent associations that bother them outright,” Goldstein said. “They prefer to weaken and marginalize them by consigning them to a legal purgatory.”

Law 12-06 empowers the government to suspend an association if it “interferes with the internal affairs of the state or violates national sovereignty.” The law also makes any “cooperation agreement” between an Algerian association and international groups conditional on the government’s prior approval. The previous law required prior approval only for an Algerian association’s “membership” in an international organization but not for a “cooperation agreement.” This effectively gives authorities broad discretion to prevent various forms of cooperation between national and international associations.

The law obliges associations that registered under the old law to file a new application or be dissolved automatically. At least four independent groups that tried to comply encountered administrative obstacles, such as the refusal by authorities to make public halls available to them to hold a required general assembly meeting or the failure to issue the receipt for their registration documents.

Abdelwahab Farsaoui, secretary general of the association Youth Action Rally (Rassemblement Action Jeunesse – RAJ), established in 1992, and Noureddine Benissaad, head of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, established in the mid-1980s, said that when they tried in June and December 2013, respectively, to deposit their new statutes at the Interior Ministry, they could not get an appointment. They sent their documents by registered mail, but received no confirmation, so lacked proof that they had filed their application on time. Both had been duly registered under the previous law.

The new law maintains the requirement for prior authorization for an Algerian association to receive foreign funding, but adds a new requirement that there be a pre-existing cooperation agreement. Members of several groups told Human Rights Watch that the administration imposes cumbersome procedures for this authorization that forces them to choose either to operate at the margins of the law or to forego foreign grants that they need to function effectively.

For example, the League for the Protection of Youth and Children, based in the city of Tizi Ouzou, sought authorization in vain to receive funding from the Catalonian Agency for Cooperation and Development and from the European Union for projects to curb violence against children and women, in April 2012 and January 2013, respectively. But the authorization never came, forcing the group to scale back its activities to a minimum level, said Ouisa Kebbas, the group’s secretary general.

Algerian authorities have long withheld legal recognition from some associations whose objectives challenge the official narrative. One is SOS Disappeared (SOS Disparu(e)s), which has made several attempts since 2002 to obtain registration. The group demands that the government reveal the fate and whereabouts of the thousands of Algerians who were forcibly disappeared during the country’s civil strife in the 1990s.

More recently, in October 2012, authorities refused to register the National Association to Fight Corruption (Association algérienne de lutte contre la corruption), providing no justification for the decision, said Halim Feddal, the group’s deputy secretary general.

“Both the Associations Law itself and the way the authorities are implementing it are totally at odds with Algeria’s international obligations to guarantee freedom of association,” said Goldstein. “The government should revise the law to bring it in line with international standards and instruct implementing authorities to stop arbitrarily hampering the work of bona fide associations.”  

New Law vs. the Old
The Ministry of Interior and Local Government states on its website that 1,027 national and 92,627 local associations are legally registered in Algeria. But many associations whose mandate or actions displease the authorities report that they have been subjected to arbitrary administrative measures designed to hamper their activities.

Algeria’s constitution guarantees freedom of association in article 41. Article 43 further states that “the State encourages the development of the associative movement.” In 1989 Algeria ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states, in article 22, that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” Article 10 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, ratified by Algeria, states that “Every individual shall have the right to free association provided that he abides by the law.”

In the wake of the pro-reform protests in Arab countries, in April 2011 President Bouteflika promised sweeping reforms, including amendments to the constitution and to the electoral, political parties, associations, and media laws. However,the new Association Law, which the parliament adopted on January 12, 2012, represented a step backward for freedom of association.

The new law maintains and tightens the existing regime of prior authorization, meaning that associations may not simply notify the authorities of their founding and begin operating. The new law empowers the administration to refuse an association’s registration, whereas under the old law it could only petition an administrative court to do so. Now, with the decision in the hands of the administration, the law leaves it to the rejected association to appeal to the court.

Under the previous law, when founders of an association submitted its founding documents, the relevant authorities were required to issue a dated receipt and then had 60 days to file an objection to its legalization before the administrative court. If it did not, then the association was considered to be lawfully established.

Article 8 of the new law states that the relevant administrative authority will issue a “mandatory deposit receipt” “on the spot” after checking the documents submitted by the association. The law gives the authority no discretion to refuse to accept the documents or to refuse to issue the receipt for the documents. The administration then has a fixed period of time to decide whether to allow the registration to go into effect – 30 days for a local (communal) association, 40 days for a province-wide group, 45 days for inter-provincial groups, and 60 days for national groups.

The law states that “at the expiration of the deadlines mentioned above, the administration’s silence is tantamount to ‘agreement.’ In this case, the administration is obliged to deliver the registration receipt.”

In practice, however, the administration has refused in some cases to fulfill its obligation to issue this registration receipt, and in others to issue the earlier receipt for receiving the documents. This has made it impossible for those groups to prove they deposited the documents or that the waiting period has ended.

The new law modifies the list of founding documents that applicants must submit and increases the required minimum number of members for most associations – 10 for a local group, 15 for regional, and 25 for a national group. The old law required only 10 members to form a national association. In addition, a national group’s members must come from at least 12 provinces. The association’s legal representative must submit documents that include the association’s statutes and objectives, its address, and – a new requirement – the judicial file for each founding member.

The old law stated that the authorities could refuse to register an association whose purpose or goals were deemed “contrary to public order, public morality and the provisions of existing laws and regulations.” The new legislation added to those grounds that the authorities can dissolve associations for “interfering with the internal affairs of the country,” “harming its sovereignty,” receiving foreign funding without prior authorization, and exercising activities outside of those provided for in their statutes. The law states that “Any member or director of a non-accredited, suspended or dissolved association who continues to conduct activities in its name shall be punished with a prison sentence of three to six months and a fine of 100,000 to 300,000 Algerian dinars (US$1,266 to $3,798).” The new law shortens the maximum prison sentence, which was two years under the previous law.

The new law gives the government more control over an association’s relations with international partners. The previous law mentioned only the “membership” of an Algerian association within an international association as requiring the Interior Ministry approval. Under the new law, any partnership agreement with an international organization requires prior authorization “from the competent authorities.” The law neither states on what basis authorities may refuse such an agreement nor requires them to justify such a refusal.

Difficult Path for Registered Groups to Re-register
The 2012 law, in article 70, requires organizations that were legally registered under the previous law to resubmit their statutes to the administration within two years or face dissolution. Their statutes must conform to the 2012 law. The law does not specify whether they have also to wait for the new receipt of registration to continue to function legally.

Abdelwahab Farsaoui, secretary general of the Youth Action Rally (Rassemblement Action Jeunesse), created in 1992 to mobilize youth around issues of democratization, human rights, and citizenship, described the hurdles it faced when it tried to comply:

Although we are opposed to the law, we wanted to comply with it. So we booked the conference room of the cultural center Ezzedine Mjoubi in Algiers to hold our general assembly on June 28, 2013. We sent a request for authorization to the Interior Ministry two weeks before that date but received no answer. On June 28, we filed another request at the provincial Directorate of Regulations and General Affairs [Direction de la Réglementation et des Affaires Générales, DRAG] to hold our meeting on July 5 in the same place.

On July 4, at 4:40 p.m., I received a phone call from the DRAG refusing our request, without explanation. We also tried to phone the associations department at the Interior Ministry to no avail. We finally decided to hold our general assembly on September 29 on our premises, which do not require prior authorization. We held the meeting with a notary present, as required by the law, and we sent the new statutes by registered mail to the Interior Ministry. However, to date, the ministry has neither delivered to us the deposit receipt nor any form of response.

The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (Ligue Algérienne de défense des droits de l’Homme, LADDH) faced the same problems when it attempted to comply with the new law.

In the wake of internal disputes since 2007, the league currently has three separate boards, each claiming legitimacy. Noureddine Benissaad, president of one of them, told Human Rights Watch:

Under the new law, we must hold a “general assembly” to adopt new statutes that conform with the law. However, to hold such a general assembly in a public conference room, a hotel, or any other public space, you need to notify authorities in advance. As what happened in the past, the authorities refused to give us such an authorization. We filed with the Interior Ministry at the end of November 2013 a request to hold our general assembly in the Al Moujahidine Cultural Center in Algiers, on December 6 and 7. On December 5, the ministry department in charge of associations notified us of their refusal, so we decided to hold our meeting on the premises of a political party, the Democratic and Social Movement.

However, we were still unclear what to do to submit the new statutes. We wanted to submit it by hand to the Associations Department at the Ministry of Interior. However, to do that we need to have an appointment, and they never answered the phone. We decided therefore to send it via registered mail. To date, we have not received the deposit receipt or any answer from the government.

Somoud, an organization that defends the interests of families of people kidnapped by armed groups in the 1990s, encountered similar problems under the old law. In 1997, the group’s founders deposited all the necessary documents at the Interior Ministry’s Associations Department. An employee took the documents but refused to issue a receipt, said Adnane Bouchaïb, one of Somoud’s founders. Somoud has heard nothing further from the ministry, Bouchaïb said:

At the time, we urgently needed the government’s receipt for registering our association so that we could open a bank account, because we had received a grant from the Canadian Embassy and they required that we have a bank account in the name of the association. In 2000, we put together another file of declaration documents, this time as an association operating at the provincial rather than the national level, and submitted it to the governor of Algiers, who gave us a deposit receipt.

However, when Bouchaïb tried in November 2012 to submit new statutes in accordance with law 12-06, the administration responded that the group was not legally registered:

I went to the DRAG in order to check the procedure for submitting new statutes. We gave the official in charge our receipt of deposit that we had received in 2000. The official took the receipt, left the office for a while, then came back and said, “We don’t have your name as a legally registered association.” I told him that they were the ones who gave us the deposit receipt and that the receipt had the stamp of the Algiers province and the date. However, the official said since we do not exist officially, we could not submit statutes of conformity to the law but should rather submit statutes to create a new association. Now we don’t know any more if we are legal or illegal, if we can continue working and organizing events or whether everything we do is illegal.

In addition to the procedure that law 12-06 sets out to legally register associations, the Algerian administration has added other conditions for registration that the law does not mention. Human Rights Watch reviewed documents issued by governors of the provinces of Boumerdès and Béjaïa that impose such conditions. Boumerdès lists the legal authorization to hold the general assembly as one of the documents to be filed by the association. Béjaïa requires the founding members to disclose the name and address of their employers. For Said Salhi of the LADDH, “this condition is another way to monitor NGOs, and could be used for police profiling and intimidation by putting pressure on employers.”

Arbitrary Rejection of Applications and Withholding Deposit Receipts
Authorities sometimes notify new groups of a refusal to legalize them, such as in the case of the National Association to Fight Corruption (Association nationale de lutte contre la corruption, ANLC). Halim Feddal, deputy secretary general of the association, told Human Rights Watch:

We organized our general constitutive assembly on July 7, 2012. The association is composed of 28 members. On August 9, 2012, we filed the request for registration at the general registry office of the Interior Ministry. We complied with the requirements of article 12 of the new law by providing two certified copies of the statutes of the association, the official request for registration signed by its president, the list of its members and the relevant information about them, their judicial records, the minutes of the constituent general assembly duly established by a notary, and the documentary proof of the address of the organization.

The Interior Ministry sent us, on October 29, 2012, a notification of its refusal to register us, without explaining the basis for the refusal or recommendations on what should be changed in the statutes. We appealed before the administrative court of Algiers within the 30-day legal deadline. However, the administrative tribunal declined jurisdiction on the case on January 1, 2013, claiming that the State Council [Conseil d’Etat, the country’s highest administrative tribunal], had jurisdiction. We have since filed a complaint before the State Council and are still awaiting its decision.

In addition to directly rejecting an association’s registration on occasion, authorities also withhold the deposit receipt that they are obliged by law to deliver when an association files its documents. For example Salah Dabouz, who has split with others from the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), said that his LADDH organized a general assembly on December 27 and 28, 2013, and elected a new board. On January 15, 2014, he went to the Interior Ministry to deposit the papers, but the officer in charge said he would not give Dabouz the deposit receipt. Dabouz decided to send the papers by registered mail, but he still received no receipt.

The practice of selectively refusing to issue deposit receipts predates the new law, as the case of SOS Disappeared (SOS Disparu(e)s) illustrates. Since its founding in 2002, SOS Disappeared has sought unsuccessfully to perform the procedures stipulated for obtaining legal status. Nassera Dutour, the mother of Amine Amrouche, who was “disappeared” near his home in al-Baraqi, in Algiers province, in 1997, said that in 2002, SOS Disappeared organized a general assembly and filed the papers required by the Associations Law then in effect. However, the association received neither the deposit receipt upon submitting the papers nor a registration receipt. SOS Disappeared attempted several times to get a receipt from the Interior Ministry, Dutour said:

I didn’t try to file another application under this new law because I know from my previous attempts to register my association that any attempt will be useless. In 2002, when we tried to register the Algiers branch of the association at the municipality, they just sat in front of us with their arms crossed across their chests and refused to touch our papers. Thus, we could not get a receipt showing that we had submitted the documents. They always say they need “orders from above” before they accept our file.

We also tried to submit the registration for our local branch by certified mail. I have the receipt proving I mailed it, but not the receipt showing that they received it.

The last time I tried was in February 2010. I phoned the Interior Ministry, and like many times before, they transferred me to a certain civil servant who I believe works in the section dealing with NGOs and associations. He told me, “But the problem of ‘disappearances’ has been resolved.” I responded that it’s not for him to decide, and it’s not his business since I have the right to register an NGO. But when I request a meeting he says he will call me back and never does. This has happened again and again.

We also went to the Solidarity Ministry to solicit their support so we could get through with the Interior Ministry. They just advised us to change the name of the association, saying that would make it easier to register.

Lacking the official receipt, Dutour explained:

SOS Disappeared has no legal status. We cannot open a bank account in the name of the association or register its employees so that they can receive social security and retirement benefits. Nor do we have the standing to file cases in court. When we rent an office, or register for utilities, it all has to be done in the name of an individual.

The lack of legal status is an obstacle to raising funds as well, Dutour said: “A lot of potential donors want to see that your association has legal status. This applies to the European Commission and embassies in Algiers. Some embassies expressed an interest in funding us but backed away when they learned we were not legally recognized.”

The agenda of SOS Disappeared runs counter to state policy as expressed in the 2006 Law on Peace and National Reconciliation. That law offers compensation to relatives of the disappeared but provides amnesty for state agents complicit in disappearances, and criminalizes speech or activity concerning the 1990s conflict that “harms” state institutions, “the good reputation of its agents” or “the image of Algeria internationally.” Some of SOS Disappeared’s members have called for holding accountable those responsible for forcibly disappearing Algerians during the civil conflict of the 1990s.

Restrictions on Holding Public Meetings
Algeria’s law 89-28 on Public Meetings and Demonstrations, enacted in 1989 at the height of the political and legal liberalization, was modified by parliament in 1991, when the country was experiencing massive demonstrations and sometimes violent clashes between anti-government demonstrators and the security forces. Authorities imposed a blanket ban on demonstrations in Algiers on June 18, 2001, four days after a huge march focusing on the rights on the Amazigh, or Berber, ethnic group, that drew participants from all over the Amazigh majority Kabylia region and that resulted in some looting of shops and clashes involving the police, demonstrators, and local youths. Authorities did not rescind the ban when they lifted the 19-year-old state of emergency in 2011.

The 1991 law significantly narrowed the right to assemble and to hold meetings, and thus restricts associations’ ability to function. The 1991 law requires organizers of any public meeting to notify the governor three days before the meeting. The administration can prohibit the gathering “by informing the organizers that it appears to create a real risk of disturbing the public order, or it appears manifest that the real purpose of the meeting constitutes a danger for preserving public order.” The authorities are not obliged to explain the decision.

The law specifies that it is “forbidden for any meeting or demonstration to oppose national ‘fundamental principles’ (constantes nationales),” or “to harm the symbols of the revolution of the 1st of November [the date the Algerian war of independence from the French colonial power began], the public order or public morals.” The organizers can appeal a negative decision by the administration to an administrative court. The law defines a “public meeting” as a gathering in an enclosed space accessible to the public, away from outdoor public thoroughfares and spaces, “for the purpose of defending common interests or exchanging ideas.”

The administration’s long established practice when it wishes to prohibit an assembly, several groups said, is to notify the organizers of the refusal to allow them to hold the meeting at the last minute, leaving them no time to appeal to an administrative tribunal before the meeting is scheduled to start.

The government recently sent a ministerial note to the regional authorities asking them to consult with the Interior Ministry before granting any authorization to hold meetings for 19 listed groups, including the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights. The order, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, is signed by the chef de cabinet of the Interior Ministry and dated January 8, 2014. The ministry justifies this measure by referring to internal conflicts within the listed organizations.

Mehrez Bouich, a vice president of the League, told Human Rights Watch that on February 7, 2013, he went to the DRAG of Béjaïa province to ask for authorization to hold an associations’ forum meeting in the conference room of Hotel le Royal in Béjaïa on February 9. Directorate officials told him they are no longer allowed to authorize the group’s meetings without first obtaining authorization from the ministry, he said.

Arbitrary Suspension of Associations
Under the 2012 law on associations, authorities may dissolve a legally constituted association or suspend its activities if they deem that “it interferes in the internal affairs of the country or violates national sovereignty” (article 39). This contrasts with the 1990 law, which required a judge’s ruling to suspend an association.

The Canastel Residents Association (Association des résidents de Canastel, ARC), dedicated to the protection of the environment and especially the Canastel forest in the city of Oran, faced suspension after it opposed the governor’s decisions to authorize construction in the Canastel forest. The deputy secretary general of the association, Adel Taibi, told Human Rights Watch that the group filed a complaint in June 2013 before the administrative court of Oran asking it to order a halt to the construction on the grounds that it was illegal. On July 24, the Oran governor sent the association a notification of suspension for six months, stating that it had “infringed the law by interfering with the internal affairs of the state.” Taibi said:

We filed an appeal to the Oran administrative court against the governor’s decision to suspend us. On September 1, the court ruled against the governor, stating that he had not followed the procedure under article 41 of the new law, which requires the administration, before any suspension, to issue a warning to the association to conform with the law. Since then, we have had no problems with the new governor and we have operated without interference.

Funding Restrictions
The previous legislation allowed Algerian associations to receive donations from foreign groups once authorities had approved their request. Law 12-06 adds another prerequisite, saying that except under a “duly established cooperation agreement,” Algerian associations are forbidden from receiving donations, grants, or any other type of contribution from any “foreign mission or non-governmental organization.”The law does not define such cooperation agreements. This limits the associations’ access to foreign support, which is often critical for their functioning.

Ouisa Kebbas, secretary general of the League for the Protection of Youth and Children (Ligue de prevention et de sauvegarde de la jeunesse et de l’enfance), an association in Tizi Ouzou that received its legal registration in 2003, told Human Rights Watch:

We have worked since 2003 in the field of prevention of violence against women and children. Our programs included a hotline and an assistance center, “Repère Lewhi,” for abused children and women, where we had several doctors and psychologists. We used to have funding from the European Union. We never asked for authorization, we just disclosed the funding and submitted our financial statements to the authorities in accordance with the law.

With the new law, things started to change. We received funding from the Catalan Agency for Cooperation and Development for our center. On April 3, 2012, we sent a letter to the governor asking for the authorization to receive the money. We didn’t receive an answer. After a month I went to see the director of DRAG of Tizi Ouzou. He told me that our association should provide proof of the cooperation agreement between Algeria and Spain. I asked my Spanish partner to search for the document as I could not access it through the Algerian administration. The partner sent it to us and we filed the request for the authorization of funding again with the required documents, to the governorate, to the Ministries of Interior and of Foreign Affairs. We didn’t receive an answer from any of these administrations.

In January 2013, the European Union approved funding for a project of ours called Together For Better Action (Ensemble pour mieux agir), for training and capacity building for civil society activists to combat violence against children. The same thing happened; the director of DRAG asked us to provide the partnership agreement between Algeria and the European Union. Then we filed it along with all the documents to the same three administrations, and we waited for an answer that never came. The refusal to authorize the funding prevented us from receiving the money allocated to us by our Catalonian partner and the EU, and resulted in our reducing by almost 80 percent the work of our center, as we could not afford anymore to pay the salaries of the social workers.

International Law
The right to freedom of association, and the only grounds on which it may be restricted, are set out in article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Algeria in 1989:

“(1) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

(2) No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on members of the armed forces and of the police in their exercise of this right.”

Certain other requirements are necessary under international law to justify freedom of association restrictions even on the grounds specified in article 22(2) of the ICCPR. Notably, restrictions can only be imposed if they meet the standard of being “necessary in a democratic society.” This implies that the limitation must respond to a pressing public need and be oriented along the basic democratic values of pluralism and tolerance. The term “necessary” also contains the principle of proportionality, i.e. it requires a careful balancing of the intensity of a measure with the specific reason for the limitation. In applying a limitation, a state is to use no more restrictive means than are required for the achievement of the purpose of the limitation. The dissolution of an association or the prohibition of its formation, as the severest type of restriction on freedom of association, should constitute an ultimate sanction, and may be imposed only when lesser measures of restriction are insufficient.

No other limitations than the ones mentioned above are allowed under article 22(2) of the ICCPR. For example, procedural formalities for recognition of associations must not be so burdensome as to amount to substantive restrictions on the right of freedom of association. This has been made clear by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the body that issues definitive interpretations of the ICCPR, for example in its concluding comments on onerous registration procedures for nongovernmental groups in Belarus and Lithuania.

Article 10 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights states that, “Every individual shall have the right to free association provided that he abides by the law.” The African Commission of Human and People's Rights, in its resolution 5 (XI) 92, on the right to freedom of association (1992), considered that “the competent authorities should not override constitutional provisions or undermine fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution and international standards” and that “[i]n regulating the use of this right, the competent authorities should not enact provisions which would limit the exercise of this freedom.” Algeria ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights in 1987 and is thus bound by the Commission’s interpretation of the convention.

The special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, in its 2012 thematic report to the UN Human Rights Council, states that “the procedure to establish an association as a legal entity varies from one country to another, but it is vital that Government officials act in good faith, in a timely and non-selective manner.”

The special rapporteur states further that a “notification procedure” for associations complies better with international human rights law than a “prior authorization procedure,” and should be implemented by states. “Under this notification procedure, associations are automatically granted legal personality as soon as the authorities are notified by the founders that the association has been created. In many countries, such notification is made through a written statement containing a number of elements of information clearly defined in the law, but this is not a precondition for the existence of an association. It is rather a submission through which the administration records the establishment of the said association.”

Algerian authorities should:

  • Revise the law by introducing an effective declarative regime for the creation of associations that erects no arbitrary barriers to the exercise by any group of individuals of their right to form an association. For example, the law should be revised to state that an association should be considered as legally constituted beginning on the date it sends its declarative documents to the relevant authorities. It should be able to prove its registration through a receipt for depositing the documents or the registered mail stamp to the administration and not need any further receipt for registration to be able to operate legally;
  • Revise the preamble and article 39 of the law on associations to bring it into conformity with international standards on freedom of association (including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ article 22 and the African Charter's article 10), by eliminating excessively vague or broad criteria by which an association may be suspended, such as “interference with a country’s internal affairs” or “harming national sovereignty;”
  • Immediately direct all implementing authorities to deliver the deposit receipt to associations upon their submission of founding documents or any other documents required by law; and
  • Ensure that local authorities do nothing to subvert the exercise of the right to freedom of association and suppress all local directives that restrict the right of association above and beyond the restrictions already found in the Associations Law.

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