Freedom of movement

What is the freedom movement?

Freedom of movement is a person’s right to travel from place to place. 

Firstly, it includes a person’s right to move within a state and to choose their place of residence. This is an internal dimension.

Secondly, it includes a person’s right to freely leave the state. This is an external dimension.

Are there any restrictions?

Freedom of movement is not absolute and can be subject to lawful restrictions. The European Convention on Human Rights provides detailed criteria – when they are satisfied, the restriction is lawful. 

1. The restriction is allowed by domestic law;  

2. The restriction is necessary in a democratic society: 

  • in the interests of national security or public safety
  • for the maintenance of public order 
  • for the prevention of crime 
  • for the protection of health or morals 
  • for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others

3. The restriction is proportionate (not more than necessary to achieve the aim pursued). 

These criteria have also been recognised in other international conventions (for example, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), are used in court practice and are followed by many national decision-making bodies. 

What are examples of lawful restrictions to the freedom of movement? 

1. Restrictions on the freedom of movement within a state may include:

  • a prohibition from leaving one’s home during a criminal investigation
  • a general lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • prohibiting a father accused of domestic violence to return to the family home 
  • a requirement to provide fingerprints to receive a passport

note Not every requirement related to a person’s movement or travel is a restriction: for example, the requirement to fasten a seatbelt or pass a security check at the airport are not considered restrictions in the human rights context.  

2. Freedom to choose one’s residence may include:

  • a prohibition on changing address during a criminal trial
  • a requirement to report a change of place of residence
  • prohibition of residence in a closed town with nuclear facilities

example In the case of Nagovitsyn v. Russia, the applicant took part in the cleaning-up operation after the nuclear accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. Because of this, he was entitled to free housing by the State and requested the authorities to provide him a flat in Moscow. The European Court of Human Rights found that the refusal of authorities to take that preference into account is not a violation of the freedom of movement – nothing stopped the applicant from moving to the capital city. 

3. Freedom to leave a country

Travel bans imposed on the following grounds:

  • invalid passport or identity document 
  • refusal to pay customs penalties or debts 
  • during pending criminal proceedings
  • a breach of immigration rules
  • in the case of a child’s travel – due to a lack of consent by one of the parents

note This aspect of the freedom of movement does not guarantee a person’s unlimited right to travel. For example, a country is not under an obligation to provide visas to all foreign nationals wishing to visit it. 

International recognition of this right

Freedom of movement is crucial for individuals: the ability to choose one’s location based on personal preferences is truly fundamental for any individual.   

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 13: 

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

This freedom was subsequently also included in international and regional human rights conventions.

In context

Sources

Last updated 21/03/2024