RUSSIAN FEDERATION: A sombre horizon for civil society organisations as the new Law on Non-Commercial Organisations has come into force

Urgent Appeal
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Paris-Geneva, November 29, 2012. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, is gravely concerned about the consequences on human rights work in the Russian Federation of the law that seeks to require non-governmental organisations to register as “foreign agents”.

On November 21, 2012, the new law entitled “Introducing Amendments to Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation in Part Regulating Activities of Non-commercial Organisations, which Carry Functions of Foreign Agents” entered into force in Russia [1].

The same day, offices of several NGOs were targeted by spray painted inscriptions in Moscow. Human Rights Centre “Memorial” had its front wall painted with the words “Foreign Agent (loves) USA”, while the Moscow Helsinki Group and the All Russia Public Movement For Human Rights were also targeted. On November 21, Young Guard, the ruling United Russia Party’s youth group, held an openly hostile protest near the offices of Transparency International, demanding that the anti-corruption watchdog “come out of the shadows” and officially register as a foreign agent.

The Observatory recalls that the new law requires NCOs receiving funds from foreign sources in order to carry out so called “political activities”, to register as “foreign agents” with a special governmental agency. Furthermore, all information published on their behalf using any means should include a notice that the author is a “foreign agent”. The law also introduces into the Criminal Code an offence for failing to comply with this obligation, punished by up to two years of imprisonment or up to 480 hours of corrective work.

Since the bill was submitted to the State Duma (Lower House of the Federal Assembly of Russia), on June 29, civil society voices and human rights organisations, including FIDH and OMCT, as well as the international community at large, have relentlessly denounced it as a major additional setback to the enjoyment of human rights in the country, in violation of most basic international human rights standards on freedoms of association and expression. Despite this, the bill was adopted by the State Duma on July 13 and the Federation Council of Russia (Upper House) on July 18, and finally signed by President Vladimir Putin on July 21.

In addition, a series of amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences were approved by the State Duma on October 26 and by the Federation Council of Russia on October 31. These amendments provide that, in the event of failure to comply with requirements regarding “foreign agents”, NCOs themselves will face an administrative fine reaching up to 500,000 Rubles (approximately 12,500 Euros), while their legal representatives, members and participants, will face an administrative fine up to 30,000 Rubles (approximately 250 – 750 Euros).

The Observatory recalls that these new provisions add to a wide-catching series of restrictive laws that have been adopted one after the other over the past months, considerably undermining the capacity of human rights organisations to operate in the country [2]. The Observatory therefore reiterates its deepest concern over the entering into force of this new law, which does not only mark a legislative setback for freedoms of association and expression, but also sends a biased and highly negative message about the nature of the activities carried out by human rights organisations in the country, and put all their members at a high risk of judicial harassment s well as attacks as attested by the recent events.

In this context, the Observatory therefore expresses its firm intention to keep a watchful eye on the implementation of this law and urges the Russian authorities to immediately undertake its review in order to bring it into conformity with international and regional human rights standards. Meanwhile, the Observatory insists that these restrictive provisions must not be used in order to silence voices of the civil society, and calls on the international community to monitor it closely and condemn any potential repressive impact.

“Labelling NGOs that receive foreign funds as “foreign agents” is unacceptable”, declared Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. “We seriously fear that this stigmatisation is only the first step before the new law is used to prevent human rights defenders from carrying out their legitimate activities, and even to criminalise their leaders”, she added.

“Protecting the rights of Russian citizens is neither political nor foreign activity. It is undertaken for and not against Russia”, said Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of OMCT. “Human rights organisations in Russia are highly regarded for the quality and professionalism of their work. Rather than immunizing the country to the universal human rights discourse the authorities should protect defenders and provide its citizens with the rights that it has pledged itself to ensure”.

For more information, please contact:
· FIDH: Arthur Manet / Audrey Couprie: +33 1 43 55 25 18
· OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: +41 22 809 49 39

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