50 Russian NGOs appeal to UN Special Rapporteurs over new foreign-agent bill

23 November 2020

50 leading Russian NGOs appeal to UN Special Rapporteurs over tightening of Russian legislation on NGOs.

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group

A group of 50 leading Russian non-governmental organisations, whose activities concern virtually all important issues of public life, have appealed to the UN Special Rapporteurs in connection with the tightening of Russian legislation on NGOs. On 23 November, the appeal was sent to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, and on Human Rights Defenders.

Bill No. 1052523-7, introduced into the Russian Duma on 10 November 2020, is aimed at suppression of the activities of Russian nonprofit organisations, branches of international non-governmental nonprofit organisations and human rights defenders, the statement said. According to the authors of the appeal, the requirement for NGOs to have prior official permission for their activities will minimise democratic debate, cooperation and interaction in Russian society. All initiatives that criticise or deviate from policies pursued by the state will be banned. The adoption of the bill will lead to the establishment of total control over NGOs by the state, banning pluralism and the free exchange of opinions, and will lead to an increased isolation of Russia from the rest of the world, representatives of Russian NGOs claim.

The organisations that signed the appeal include those that protect the rights of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, refugees and migrants, fight racism and xenophobia, combat torture, promote reform of law enforcement agencies and courts, monitor the work of courts, closed institutions, police, protect the rights of conscripts and military personnel, work to preserve historical memory, help establish cooperation and develop cultural links, conduct human rights education for young people, protect the rights of journalists, work for free elections, protect voters’ rights, fight against environmental pollution, protect citizens’ rights to clean water and the environment, develop third sector organisations and activists, represent LGBT people, protect the rights of victims of domestic violence, protect reproductive rights and many others.

The statement was also signed by representatives of the legal community who defend, together with human rights NGOs, the rights of victims of human rights violations. These include the St. Petersburg organisation Citizens’ Watch, the Moscow Helsinki Group, Memorial Human Rights Centre, the Sakharov Centre, the Media Rights Defence Centre, International Memorial, the Sova Centre, Public Verdict Foundation and others.

On 10 November 2020 the Russian government submitted Bill No. 1052523-7 to the Russian State Duma, according to a statement. The two main changes proposed in the bill concern the expansion of the concept of NGO-foreign agents and the introduction of an authorisation procedure for the activities of these NGOs. It is proposed that foreign agent status be recognised for those NGOs which receive funding from Russian legal entities whose beneficial owners are foreign nationals or stateless persons. The notion of a beneficial owner is set out by reference to Article 6.1(8) of Federal Law No. 115-FZ of 7 August 2001 “On Combating Money Laundering” (Article 1(1) of the draft Law).

The draft law requires NGO-foreign agents to submit to the Ministry of Justice their programmes of events, the documents providing the grounds for conducting them, and reports on their completion (points 3(а) and (b) article 1) Draft Law). The Ministry of Justice is given the right to prohibit these organisations from implementing their programmes fully or in part (article 1(3(d)) Draft Law). In the event this prohibition is not obeyed, the Ministry of Justice can bring court proceedings for the liquidation of the organisation (ibid).

As the authors of the statement write, the draft law is part of the State’s policy of pressuring NGOs using laws regulating the foreign financing of organisations. The law introducing the status of an NGO functioning as a foreign agent was signed by the President of Russia on 20 July 2012 (Federal Law from 20.07.2012 № 121-FЗ). In 2017, a similar status was extended to mass media (Federal Law from 25.11.2017 № 327-FЗ).

For violating the law on NGO-foreign agents there is both administrative liability (Article 19.34 of the Russiasn Code of Administrative Offences) and criminal liability (Article 330.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). NGO-foreign agents are obliged to submit voluminous supplemental reports to the government authorities and mark all printed and internet publications with a notice that the materials are published by NGO-foreign agents. Since November 2014, NGO-foreign agents are prohibited from participating in elections. Since January 2017, these NGOS are not eligible to receive State aid as socially responsible providers of socially useful services. Since July 2018, they have been deprived of the right to put forward candidates for membership in public oversight commissions. Since October 2018, they have no right to conduct anti-corruption expert reviews for draft laws and regulations.  In 2015 their ability to receive financing was curtailed by the introduction of criminal liability for the activity of undesirable international NGOs (Article 284.1 of the Russian Criminal Code).

These restrictions have drawn concern among the UN treaty bodies concerned with human rights (CCPR/C/RUS/CO/7 (2015); CERD/C/RUS/CO/23-24 (2017), p. 11; CERD/C/RUS/CO/20-22 (2013), p. 13; CEDAW/C/RUS/CO/8 (2015), p. 15; E/C.12/RUS/CO/6 (2017), p. 7).

The Russian NGOs that signed the statement declare that the draft law introduced on 10 November 2020 in the State Duma is “aimed at suppressing the activity of Russian NGOs, the affiliates of international NGOs, and human rights defenders. It explicitly restricts the right to freedom of association (part 2 article 22 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) and the right to freedom of expression (parts 2 and 3 article 19 ICCPR). The proposed amendments directly contradict point 9(c) of the resolution of the Human Rights Committee A/HRC/RES/22/6 (2013), under which States must ensure “that no law should criminalize or delegitimize activities in defence of human rights on account of the origin of funding thereto.” 

The draft law further restricts the already limited freedom of local and international NGO activity in Russia by introducing what is, in fact, an approval procedure for an NGO to perform its activities.  This restriction cannot be considered to have a legitimate aim, or to be proportionate or necessary, in a democratic society.  The draft law aims to further delegitimize and stigmatize the activity of independent NGOs in Russia. 

This approval system for NGO activity will lead to a minimum of democratic discussion, cooperation, and interaction in Russian society.  All initiatives that criticize, or differ from, State policies will be prohibited. Passing this law will lead to total State control of NGOs, prohibit pluralism and the free exchange of opinions, and intensify Russia’s isolation from the rest of the world.” 

Submission of Information to Special Procedures Report

Communication RUS

Signers of the appeal:

Marina Agaltsova, lawyer, Memorial Human Rights Centre

Galina Arapova, director of the Mass Media Defence Centre

Svetlana Astrakhantseva, executive director of Moscow Helsinki Group  

Sergei Belyaev, Sutyazhnik

Valentina Cherevatenko, chair, Women of the Don Foundation

Aleksandr Cherkasov, chair of the board of the Memorial Human Rights Centre

Vyacheslav Bakhmin, co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Elena Belokurova, director, German-Russian Exchange  

Andrei Blinushov, chair of the Ryazan Memorial organization

Valery Borshchev, co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Almaz Choloyan, Volga Migration Centre interregional charitable non-governmental organization

Sergei Davidis, Memorial board member 

Francois Deveyer, Memorial, France          

Yuri Dzhibladze, Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights    

Grigory Durnovo, OVD-Info

Ekaterina Efremova, International Protection Centre              

Daria Egereva, director of the Centre for the Study of Cultural Heritage – Supporting Indigenous Peoples of the North

Aleksandr Esipyonok, co-chair of the Russian Social-Ecological Union

Alla Frolova, human rights activist, OVD-Info  

Svetlana Gannushkina, chair of the Civic Assistance Committee

Valentin Gefter, director of the Institute of Human Rights

Nadezhda Inieva, “42,” a local ecological group

Veronica Katkova, chair of a regional branch of the Golos Movement

Svyatoslav Khromenkov, chair, Siberia without Torture

Anton Khvostov, Centre for Social, Legal and Environmental Initiatives, Saratov Region   

Igor Kochetkov, director of the Sfera Charitable Foundation for Social and Legal Aid      

Irina Korobeinikova, president of the Union of Indigenous Minorities of the North, Tomsk Region  

Tatiana Kotlyar, chair of the council of For Human Rights, a Kaluga-based advocacy group  

Dmitry Kraiukhin, editor-in-chief of the Analytical Human Rights Agency TsentrRus           

Sergei Krivenko, member of the board of Memorial         

Leonid Krikun, St. Petersburg International Bar Association          

Robert Latypov, chair of the Perm branch of Memorial   

Anatoly Lebedev, Bureau of Regional Public and Environmental Campaigns

Lev Levinson, human rights activist          

Sergei Lukashevsky, executive director of the Sakharov Centre   

Karina Moskalenko, International Protection Centre 

Magomed Mutsolgov, head of the MASHR human rights organization      

Oksana Preobrazhenskaya, International Protection Centre         

Oleg Orlov, Memorial board member  

Anna Orlova, chair of the interregional charitable non-governmental organization RNO Centre    

Sergei Poduzov, Man and Law interregional public human rights organization      

Ella Mikhailovna Polyakova, chair of Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg 

Lev Ponomarev, chair of the Russian organization For Human Rights        

Irina Protasova, Man and Law interregional public human rights organization      

Jan Zbignievich Rachinsky, chair of International Memorial           

Kristian Rinchinov, member of the Buryat Regional Association for Lake Baikal     

Igor Sazhin, human rights activist, member of Memorial in Syktyvkar, Komi   

Vitaly Servetnik, Russian Social-Ecological Union / Friends of the Earth – Russia, Co-Chair     

Oleg Sharipkov, executive director, Civil Union local community foundation in Penza  

Liliya Shibanova, Moscow Helsinki Group member

Evgeny Simonov, Secretary of the Green Silk Road Initiative         

Anna Skvortsova, director for external relations, interregional charitable non-governmental organization RNO Centre 

Pavel Sulyandziga, Batani International Fund for the Development and Solidarity of Indigenous Peoples  

Rodion Sulyandziga, Centre for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North  

Aleksandr Yurevich Sungurov, president of the Strategy Humanitarian/Political Science Centre       

Natalia Taubina, Public Verdict Foundation      

Aleksandr Verkhovsky, SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis

Svetlana Voevodina, Public Participation debate club

Viktor Mikhailovich Voronkov, director of the Centre for Independent Social Research    

Viktor Yukechev, director of the Tak-Tak-Tak Human Rights Foundation

Translated by John Tokolish, Nina dePalma and Simon Cosgrove

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