Amendments to Federal Laws on civil society

Press release
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The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders hereby makes known its grave concern regarding the amendments entitled "Amendments to some federal laws of the Russian Federation", adopted at a third reading by the lower House of Parliament (Douma), on 23rd December 2005. This Law will come into force 90 days after its publication in the Official Journal, following its signature by President Putin.

This draft seeks to amend three laws: Federal Law No.7 of 12th January 1996, on non-profit making organisations (Law on NKOs - O Nekommercheskaia Organizakiia), Federal Law No. 82 of 19th May 1995 on public associations, and the Law of 14th July 1992 on closed territorial administrative entities. It addresses all non-profit making organisations (social, local sports club voluntary charities), including those working on Human rights protection and defence.

Even though several restrictive provisions were withdrawn following the adoption of the draft law at its first reading, on November 23, 2005, due to the mobilization of Russian civil society and international pressure, this law is in blatant violation of international human rights norms, in particular the right to freedom of association1.

Registration of NGOs

Amendment No.1 to the Law on closed2 territorial administrative entities prohibits NGOs whose founder members are foreigners, stateless persons, foreign organisations or NGOs, including those who represent foreign chapters of NGOs operating in Russia, from the establishing or operating in these territories.

Amendment 3§5 of article 15 of the Federal Law on NKOs and amendment 2§3 of article 19 of the Federal Law on public associations stipulates that foreign nationals or stateless persons who do not hold permanent resident status cannot be founder members or ordinary members of an organisation, including any foreign national or stateless person whose presence is considered "undesirable", in accordance with a decision taken by the authorities.

Furthermore, any person who is subject to the provisions of the Federal Law on the "fight against the laundering of money received by criminal means, and the fight against terrorism", or any individual who is sentenced for carrying out acts that bearing signs of extremist activity, is also forbidden to be a founder or an ordinary member of an organisation. Similarly, any association whose activity is suspended in the context of the fight against extremist activity may not be a founder or an ordinary member of another organisation. The Observatory notes in this respect that no clear definition of "extremism" appears in Russian legislation and fears that, as a result, these reasons may be used arbitrarily by the authorities. Finally, at the end of the provisions relating to public associations, it is stated that an individual who is placed in detention as a result of a court decision is subject to the same interdictions.

Furthermore, amendment §4 amends article 21 of the Law on public associations, so that "the decision to register a representative office of a foreign NGO can only be taken by the State registration body". Such a decision will be based on other documents related to the NGO in question, in particular, its statutes and many other documents, supplied in the original language and supported by a process server approved translation. This requirement makes registration particularly difficult, because of the long and tedious procedure involved.

Amendment 6 of article 23 of the Law on Public Associations broadens the reasons for refusal of registration3. From now on, a request for registration of an organisation may be rejected4 "if the status of the organisation is in contravention of the Constitution or the legislation of the Russian Federation", "if the person who is presented as founding member of the organisation may not be a founding member according to article 19 of the Law" or "if the name of the organisation is an offence to morality or to the national and religious feelings of citizens".

Amendment 3§9 of article 23.1 of the Law on NKOs repeats these provisions and also provides reasons for refusal that are specific to chapters of foreign NGOs, in particular "if the aims of creating the chapter create a threat to the sovereignty, political independence, territorial inviolability, national unity and uniqueness, to the cultural heritage and national interests of the Russian Federation", or "if an NGO chapter has previously been registered in the territory [...] and disbanded because of clear violation of the Constitution or of Russian legislation".

Although amendment 6§4 specifically stipulates that organisations that already exist do not need to re-register, article 6§5 states that representative bodies or chapters of foreign NGOs must, for information purposes, notify the authorities of their existence within six months of the Law coming into force. Beyond this period, associations that have not carried out this procedure must cease their activities.

Monitoring of NGO activity

Amendment 2§8 of article 38.2-4 of the Law on NKOs, stipulates that the "State registration body in charge of vetting registration applications from organisations, shall also monitor their activities and funding, and shall have access to all the organisations’ financial papers". Hitherto, access to such papers required a request from the Prokuratura5, the police or the Tax Inspectorate. Furthermore, the representatives of the State registration body may take part in all the activities of the organisations, be they internal or public, and shall conduct, at least once a year, an audit to check activities against the aims as set forth in the statutes (this audit was restricted to once a year at most, in the version sent for a second reading). Should the statutes not be in compliance, the registration body shall serve a justified warning in writing, and the organisations shall have at least one month to comply with their statutes. An appeal can be made against this written warning. This amendment also stipulates that the health, epidemiological and fire services or any other State service may verify the charities’ compliance with rules and standards.

Amendment 3§10 to article 32 of the Law on NKOs stipulates that the organisation shall transmit, by a report on the activities, the implementation of tasks and the use of funding in keeping with the statutes as filed, as well as the names of the director members to a federal justice body". The federal body with this responsibility has as yet to be designated. If the NGO chapter or representative does not transmit this information, the registration body may decide to disband it without a court procedure.

Disbanding of NGOs

Amendment 2§7 of article 23-1§5 of the Law on the NKO stipulates that repeated failure to supply the financial and budgetary documents within the allotted time may constitute grounds for an application from the State registration body (as yet not designated) to the court to order the cessation of the activities, the disbanding or striking off the legal entity register of the organisation. These documents relate to, amongst other subjects, the amount of resources and other goods received by the association from international or foreign organisations, foreign or stateless persons, and the purpose for which they are intended to be spent or used.

Amendment 2§9 adds a new paragraph to article 44.1 of the Law on NKOs, which indicates that failure on the part of the association to correct the infringements found within the deadlines, may constitute grounds for a procedure whereby the Public Prosecutor of the Russian Federation or the State registration body requires dissolution.

Amendment of article 33 to the Law on NKOs lists grounds for dissolution or cessation of activities of an organisation through a court procedure, namely: if the organisation undertakes extremist activities (no definition of such activities is provided), if it assists in legalising illegally acquired funds, if it violates the rights and freedoms of citizens, if it commits repeated and serious violations of the Constitution, to federal laws or any other norms, or if the activities do not comply with the aims set forth in the statutes. The particularly vague wording of these provisions makes us fear an arbitrary interpretation.

The Observatory considers that this draft constitutes a blatant violation of the regional and international instruments on Human Rights which safeguard freedom of association (European Convention on Human Rights, Document on the Copenhagen Conference on the human dimension of the CSCE, the International Convention on Civil and Political rights) and the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 9th December 1998, and, in particular article 5 , according to which "for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at national and international levels: b) to form, join and participate in non-governmental organisations or groups;..)

The Observatory considers that this law constitutes a blatant violation of the regional and international instruments on Human Rights which safeguard freedom of association (the International Covenant of Civil and Political rights, European Convention on Human Rights, Document on the Copenhagen Conference on the human dimension of the CSCE and the provisions of the Declaration of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 9th December 1998.

The Observatory calls on the President of the Russian Federation, Mr. Putin, not to sign this text in order to prevent it from coming into force and to guarantee respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in all situations.

The Observatory requests the European bodies to use all means at their disposal to ensure that the Russian Federation complies with its international human rights obligations.

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