Squatters May Freely Associate, EU Court Says

     (CN) – Switzerland violated citizens’ right to association by disbanding a Geneva squatters’ group, the European Court of Human Rights ruled.



     Association Rhino was made up of the people who occupied an apartment building in downtown Geneva, starting in 1988.
     The building’s owners sought to evict the squatters, eventually getting eviction permits that were not enforced. A local policy tolerated squats when no renovation to the empty building was pending.
     After the property owners obtained renovation permits in 2005, however, Swiss courts granted the owners’ application for dissolution of the squatter’s organization.
     Police helped the owners forcibly evict the tenants two years later, leading the squatters to file a challenge still pending before the human rights court.
     As to the Rhino’s case, the European Court of Human Rights said Monday that dissolving the association’s legal status had been ineffective toward the goal of removing the squatters, or “to prevent disorder.”
     Since the action was disproportionate, it violated the residents’ right to freedom of assembly, the Strasbourg-based court ruled.
     The court ordered Switzerland to pay the association around $120,000 in damages and costs.
     The well-known Rhino squat was reportedly Geneva’s oldest. In addition to housing several dozen residents, it also hosted a bar, event space and a bistro.
     In Europe, a largely left-radical squatters’ movement has been going since the 1970s.

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