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Freedom of association encompasses both an individual's right to join or leave groups voluntarily, the right of the group to take collective action to pursue the interests of its members, and the right of an association to accept or decline membership based on certain criteria. It can be described as the right of a person coming together with other individuals to collectively express, promote, pursue and/or defend common interests. Freedom of association is both an individual right and a collective right, guaranteed by all modern and democratic legal systems, including the United States Bill of Rights, article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and international law, including articles 20 and 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 22 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work by the International Labour Organization also ensures these rights.
Freedom of association is manifested through the right to join a trade union, to engage in free speech or to participate in debating societies, political parties, or any other club or association, including religious denominations and organizations, fraternities, and sport clubs and not to be compelled to belong to an association. It is closely linked with freedom of assembly, particularly under the U.S. Bill of Rights. Freedom of assembly is typically associated with political contexts. However, (e.g. the U.S. Constitution, human rights instruments, etc.) the right to freedom of association may include the right to freedom of assembly.
The courts and delegated officers of local jurisdictions may impose restrictions on any of the rights of a convicted criminal as a condition of a legal stipulation. Rights to freedom of association and freedom of assembly are waived under certain circumstances, such as a guilty plea or conviction, restraining orders and probationer's search and seizure procedures.