Conference of INGOs: thematic study on “Using criminal law to restrict the work of NGOs supporting refugees and other migrants in CoE Member States

Introduction taken from Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe website – December 2019. The  full publication is accessible here.


The Expert Council on NGO Law has a study entitled “Using Criminal Law to Restrict the Work of NGOs Supporting Refugees and Other Migrants in Council of Europe Member States”.

The study considers the situation of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) carrying out humanitarian assistance and related work in support of refugees and other migrants in Council of Europe (CoE) Member States, and the extent to which criminal law and its enforcement impact on legitimate NGO activity.

The study finds that laws criminalising NGO activity, and the enforcement of such laws, impact significantly on legitimate NGO activity, negatively affecting freedom of association and related human rights. The laws themselves are vague and lack legal certainty in the way in which they have been applied and the limitations placed on lawful NGO activities are often neither necessary nor proportionate.

The Expert Council on NGO Law is preparing guidelines based on this study to help CoE Member States ensure that their law and practice when taking action against trafficking, smuggling and border control is consistent with applicable European standards governing freedom of association and the rights of NGOs.