RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Hundreds of inspections conducted against NGOs throughout the country to paralyse human rights work

Urgent Appeal
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Paris-Geneva, March 25, 2013. While a resolution was adopted last week by the UN Human Rights Council recalling that “domestic law and administrative provisions […] should facilitate the work of human rights defenders, including by avoiding any criminalization, stigmatization, impediments, obstructions or restrictions thereof contrary to international human rights law”, hundreds of NGOs are being subjected to inspections by Government officials across the Russian Federation. This follows the adoption in 2012 of several laws contradicting the right to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), denounces this crackdown, which appears to merely aim at intimidating discommoding vocal Russian human rights groups. This campaign also attempts to tarnish the image of NGOs in the public eye.

Since the end of February and until today, dozens of inspections of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been launched in at least 13 regions of the Russian Federation, including Krasnodar, Moscow, Orenburg, Penza, Perm and Altai territories, St. Petersburg, Primorsky, Saratov and Rostov provinces. In St. Petersburg, the Spokesperson for the Office of the Prosecutor declared on March 19, 2013 that over the month some 5,000 inspections would be conducted to check compliance with the laws on terrorism, extremism as well as other offences. After this date, dozens of NGOs were inspected in St. Petersburg, including LGBT, human rights and environmental NGOs.

Across the country, these operations have been conducted by prosecutors, together with, in some cases, officials from the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Ministry of Emergencies, the Federal Service for Supervision of Protection of Consumer Rights and Human Well-Being, the Tax Inspectorate, the Centre E, a unit specialised in anti-extremism, and even the fire service.

According to the information received, inspections have particularly targeted groups that supposedly receive foreign funding and conduct monitoring or advocacy work. The scope of the inspections appears to be far-ranging, though inspectors have particularly insisted on the issue of funding. The massive character as well as methods used during inspections disproportionately interfere with the right to freedom of association: the number of inspections is massive, most inspections are unannounced, NGOs have been given short deadlines to provide a huge amount of documents and vague and non-exhaustive lists of requirements. In the case of prominent NGO Human Rights Centre “Memorial”, a pro-government TV crew was informed and present during the inspection. The news report entitled “Memorial hides its income from the Prosecutor’s Office” was broadcast the same day before the end of the inspection, in flagrant violation of the presumption of innocence.

Information on NGOs’ sources of funding are public. They are posted on their websites and regularly reported to relevant agencies in compliance with national laws. All programmes are also regularly audited by donors. This massive crackdown and media campaign amounts to a large-scale defamation and attempts to hamper the legitimate and necessary activities of NGOs”, said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.

In Russia, we are witnessing a spreading of laws and practices that target human rights NGOS under the pretext of their international connections, and particularly of foreign financial support. The right of NGOs to access funding is a universal right that is protected under the right to freedom of association. It has nothing to do with politics”, said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.

While States have a legitimate right to impose regulations and ensure security and public order, they should not instrumentalise legitimate concerns to impose unnecessary restrictions targeting NGOs. Under international law, States have an obligation to support, directly or indirectly, the funding of civil society activities, in particular by creating a conducive environment, without interfering in their independence. The Russian authorities should stop creating and maintaining an amalgam between defenders and criminals.

Therefore the Observatory is calling for an end of this campaign of State-sponsored harassment as well as the repeal of recently adopted laws that contain provisions inconsistent with Russia’s international and constitutional commitments on human rights.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders has recently released a comprehensive study on restrictions on human rights defenders’ access to funding, which demonstrates how NGOs’ access to funding, in particular foreign funding, is increasingly being hindered by governments around the world.

The Report is available here.

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