The Venice Commission adopts opinions, amicus curiae briefs, studies and guidelines in the field of the protection of fundamental rights, including in particular, freedom of association, prohibition of discrimination, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of conscience and religion.
Freedom of religion
In recent years, the Venice Commission has adopted opinions (in a number of cases prepared jointly with the OSCE/ODIHR) concerning legal texts on freedom of thought, conscience and religion - of Armenia (2010), Azerbaijan (2012), Bosnia and Herzegovina (2012), Hungary (2012), and Kosovo (2014).
Studies and guidelines
In response to continued challenges in the field of freedom of religion, in particular concerning registration systems of religious communities and legal obstacles to acquiring legal personality, the Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR published, in 2004, the Guidelines for Review of Legislation pertaining to Religion or Belief. In 2008, the Venice Commission examined, in its Report on the relationship between Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion , the issue of the regulation and prosecution of blasphemy, religious insult and incitement to religious hatred, while in 2010 it adopted a Report on the counter-terrorism measures and human rights.
In addition, the Commission issued, in June 2014, the Guidelines on the legal personality of Religious or Belief Communities, prepared jointly in with the OSCE/ODIHR and intended to supplement and update the more general 2004 Guidelines.
Compilation of Venice Commission documents on freedom of religion
Freedom of peaceful assembly
The Venice Commission has been providing legal assistance to numerious states in order to help them ensure that their legislation on freedom of peaceful assembly is in compliance with the applicable European and International standards. In recent years, such opinions have been adopted in respect of Belarus (2012), Bulgaria (2009), the Russian Federation (2012 and 2013), Serbia (2010), Ukraine (2009, 2010, 2011). In 2016 the Venice Commission adopted a generally positive opinion (prepared jointly with OSCE/ODIHR and the DGI) on two draft laws on guarantees for freedom of peaceful assembly of Ukraine. In its 2016 opinion on the referendum on constitutional amendments in Azerbaijan the Commission commented on the proposed changes to the constitutional provisions regarding possible limitations to the freedom of assembly.
Studies and guidelines
Joint Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, prepared in cooperation with the OSCE/ ODIHR, were first published in 2007 and revised in 2010. These Guidelines are currently being revised in the light of the most recent developments in the field. The Commission also endorsed, in 2014, a “Comparative Study on National Legislation on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly”, which was prepared at its request by the Max Plank Institute (Germany).
Compilation of Venice Commission documents on freedom of assembly
Freedom of expression and freedom to receive and impart information
The Commission adopted opinions concerning legislation on freedom of expression in Belarus (2010), Montenegro (2015), Hungary (2015) as well as on the issue of defamation in Azerbaijan (2013) and Italy (2013), and an amicus curiae brief (at the request of the Constitutional Court of Georgia in 2014), on the question of the defamation of the deceased. In 2016 the Commission commented on the proposed changes to the constitution of Azerbaijan, which concerned inter alia freedom of expression and hate speech. In 2016 the Commission also adopted opinion on the laws on the protection of whistleblowers and on the protection of privacy of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; those opinions included, inter alia, analysis of the repercussions of this legislation on investigative journalism. The Venice Commission also examined Articles 216, 299, 301 and 314 of the Penal Code of Turkey, which defined “verbal acts offences” and limited freedom of speech in the country.
The Commission also considered issues pertaining to the freedom of information in Hungary (2012) and Montenegro (2012). In 2013, it examined amendments to the law on freedom of expression of the Republic of Moldova on the prohibition of the use of communist symbols.
Freedom of association
The Commission examines legal texts regulating the operation of non-governmental organisations (in Azerbaijan in 2011 and 2014, in Belarus in 2011, in the Kyrgyz Republic in 2013 and in the Russian Federation in 2014). In this context, it addresses issues of key importance for the effective exercise of the right to freedom of association, including the NGOs’ registration and related requirements, the internal autonomy of non-governmental organisations or the question of foreign funding of such organisations, as well as cumbersome reporting obligations, imposed on such NGOs. In 2016 the Commission adopted an opinion on the federal law of the Russian Federation on undesirable activities of foreign and international NGOs, in which it essentially criticized the vagueness of criteria according to which NGOs are declared as “undesirable”. The opinion on the “Internet Law” of Turkey adopted in 2016 examined, in particular, the power of Turkish authorities to block access to internet resources, and recommended introduction in the legislation of less intrusive measures.
In December 2014, the Venice Commission adopted the Joint Guidelines on Freedom of Association, prepared jointly with the OSCE/ODIHR and in consultations with representatives of the civil society. The Guidelines are proposed as a reference text not only for the Commission itself in its work on the right to freedom of association, but also for other international organisations, governments and NGOs.
Compilation of Venice Commission documents on freedom of association
In recent years, the Commission has also been asked to assess legislation on the protection national minorities (Hungary, 2012, Montenegro, 2015) as well as on the protection, by states members, of their state language and of the languages of national minorities (Slovakia, 2010), (Ukraine, 2011). It also examined constitutional provisions for the protection of national minorities in Hungary and Romania in the framework of the constitutional reforms in these countries.
In the sphere of minority protection, the Commission examined inter alia, the participation of national minorities in decision making, including the question of the dual voting for persons belonging to national minorities ( see 2008 report, the issue of non-citizens and minority rights (Report on Non-citizens and Minority Rights, 2007), as well as, already in 2001, the question of the preferential treatment of national minorities by their kin-state (Report on the Preferential Treatment of National Minorities by their Kin-State) .
Compilation of Venice Commission documents on protection of national minorities
In 2016 the Commission adopted an opinion whereby it analysed amendments to the Police Act of Poland, which regulated the powers of the law-enforcement bodies to intercept and analyse private communications, and, in particular, to get access to the “metadata” of telephone and Internet users.
An opinion on two laws of ‘the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ – on the protection of whistleblowers and on the protection of privacy – sought to analyse a difficult balance between privacy and commercial secrecy, on the one hand, and the right of the population to know important facts pertinent to the public life in the country.
At the request of the Constitutional Court of Albania, in 2016 the Venice Commission adopted an amicus curiae brief which analysed legal aspects related to the restitution of property confiscated by the previous (communist) regime.
In 2016 the Venice Commission also adopted an opinion on the curfew regime imposed in certain regions of Turkey, in particular concentrating on the human rights implications of such measures.
The 2016 preliminary opinion on the amendments to the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic expressed concern about the vaguely defined “highest values” in the Constitution, which could be used to restrict human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The 2016 Joint Opinion on draft law amending and completing existing legislation in the field of combating cybercrime in the Republic of Moldova examines powers of the law enforcement agencies in this field and recommends to clarify regulations governing searches, data seizures, screening and retention of data, Internet blocking etc.
The opinion on the emergency regime in France (Opinion on the Draft Constitutional Law on the Protection of the Nation) touched upon, inter alia, the deprivation of French nationality or of the rights attached to it as an ancillary measure of criminal punishment related to certain categories of offences. In the Commission’s view, while such a measure is not per se against international standards, it must respect the principles of fair trial and proportionality.
Amicus curiae briefs
In the area of fundamental rights, the Commission also provided amicus curiae briefs for the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Moldova (on prohibition of communist symbols and on judges immunity, 2013) and for the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina (on possible discrimination in the selection of the Republic Day of the Republika Srpska, 2013). In 2015, the Commission examined, jointly with the OSCE/ODIHR, the Law of Ukraine on the condemnation of the communist and Nazi totalitarian regimes.
At the request of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in 2015 the Venice Commission adopted a comparative report on restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of association, right to peaceful assembly and political rights of judges.
As a contribution to the Council of Europe Strategy for the rights of the children, in 2014 the Venice Commission adopted a Report on the children’s rights in constitutions. The report contained an overview of international standards and identified domestic good practices in the constitutional protection of children’s rights and of their enforcement.
Also in 2014 the Commission adopted a report on the implementation of human rights treaties in domestic law and the role of courts.
In 2013, the Commission studied the compatibility with universal human rights standards of statutory provisions containing prohibitions of “propaganda of homosexuality” adopted or proposed to be adopted in some European countries.