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In 1988, the association Rhino was formed to protect the housing rights of its members who were occupying 3 empty buildings in Geneva. Due to the shortage of affordable housing, the canton of Geneva has an administrative practice to evict unauthorized occupants of empty buildings only if the owners have a building or renovating permit. From 1992 to 2002, the owners entered into negotiation with the association Rhino and its members but failed to reach an agreement on the amount of the rent or the sale price of the building.

On April 4th 2005, the owners filed a request to dissolve the association Rhino at the tribunal of Geneva. On February 9th 2006, the tribunal ordered the dissolution under article 78 of the civil code on the ground that the objective of the association was unlawful. On December 15th 2006, the appeal court of Geneva confirmed the dissolution of Rhino and the seizure of its assets. On May 10th 2007, the federal tribunal rejected the appeal of Rhino (5C.36/2007 and 5P.34/2007). On June 26th 2007, the tribunal of Geneva froze the bank accounts of Rhino and requested the lawyers of Rhino to reimburse their fees to the canton of Geneva under article 57 of the civil code. On July 23rd 2007, the police evicted the occupants of Rhino.

On November 6th 2007, the members of Rhino and Rhino filed an application with the ECHR arguing that the dissolution of the association Rhino was  a violation of article 11 of the Convention. On November 24th 2009, the Court communicated the application to the agent of the Swiss confederation which replied with his observations received on March 30th 2010. On May 12th 2010 the applicants submitted their observations.

On October 11th 2011, the 2nd section of the Court found a violation of article 11 of the Convention on the ground that the dissolution was disproportionate and not “necessary in a democratic society“. It awarded the applicants €65,651 for material damages and €21,949 for legal fees. The applicants were represented by Me Pierre Bayenet and Me Nils de Dardel both lawyers in Geneva. Me Pierre Bayenet is “satisfied” with the judgment who confirmed the right of citizens irrespective of their legal situation, “to organize in association to defend their rights“.

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