Back Committee of Ministers urges Bulgaria to take decisive action to ensure freedom of association of UMO Ilinden and similar associations

Strasbourg 25 September 2023
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Committee of Ministers urges Bulgaria to take decisive action to ensure freedom of association of UMO Ilinden and similar associations

During its Human Rights meeting of 19-21 September, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe examined the execution of the UMO Ilinden and Others group of the European Court's judgments concerning the domestic courts’ unjustified refusals, between 1999 and 2015, to register associations whose aim was to achieve the recognition of "the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria”.

The Committee deplored the fact that despite the adoption of  Interim Resolution CM/ResDH(2020)197 and subsequent decisions, more than 17 years after the first final judgment in this group, the applicants and other similar associations continue to be routinely refused registration, mainly due to a wider problem of disapproval of their goals, and are confronted with the  persistent emergence  of new rejection grounds, even though the registration documents have been repeatedly examined.

The Committee exhorted the Bulgarian authorities to take decisive action to ensure that any new registration request of the applicant associations or of associations with similar goals is examined in full compliance with Article 11 of the Convention.

It noted with interest the authorities’ engagement and consideration of further awareness-raising measures, to clarify that the registration of an association is not tantamount to an approval of its goals or statements. It urged them to convey regular high-level messages, both to the public and to stakeholders, to clarify that these judgments do not give rise to an obligation to recognise a group of persons as a minority or to an obligation of automatic registration, although they mean it is not possible to refuse registration on the grounds rejected by the European Court, including those related to the goals of the associations; and that the registration of associations with similar goals is due, if they satisfy proportionate, foreseeable and consistently applied formal requirements.

The Committee also strongly urged again the Bulgarian authorities to adopt measures to extend the obligation of the Registration Agency to give instructions for the rectification of registration documents and to ensure that the Agency and courts identify exhaustively the defects of a file.

Finally, it invited its Chair to send a letter to his Bulgarian counterpart, underlining the need to find swift solutions to abide fully and effectively by the obligations deriving from the Court’s judgments in these cases. This is a relatively rare step taken by the Committee of Ministers in only a handful of cases to date.

 News item in Bulgarian (unofficial translation)

 Latest Notes and Decisions of the Committee of Ministers concerning these cases (unofficial translation into Bulgarian of the Decisions and the Notes)

 Country factsheet for Bulgaria