Urgent Interventions

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


RUSSIANFEDERATION: A sombre horizon for civil society organisations as the new Law onNon-Commercial Organisations (NCOs) has come into force

Paris-Geneva, November 29, 2012. TheInternational Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World OrganisationAgainst Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders, is gravely concerned about theconsequences on human rights work in the Russian Federation of the law thatseeks to require non-governmental organisations to register as “foreign agents”.

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

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

The Observatory recalls that the new law requires NCOs receiving fundsfrom foreign sources in order to carry out so called “political activities”, toregister as “foreign agents” with a special governmental agency. Furthermore,all information published on their behalf using any means should include anotice that the author is a “foreign agent”. The law also introduces into theCriminal Code an offence for failing to comply with this obligation, punishedby 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 theFederal Assembly of Russia), on June 29, civil society voices and humanrights organisations, including FIDH and OMCT, as well as the internationalcommunity at large, have relentlessly denounced it as a major additionalsetback to the enjoyment of human rights in the country, in violation of mostbasic international human rights standards on freedoms of association andexpression. Despite this, the bill was adopted by the State Duma on July 13 andthe Federation Council of Russia (Upper House) on July 18, and finally signedby President Vladimir Putin on July 21.

In addition, a series of amendments to the Code of AdministrativeOffences were approved by the State Duma on October 26 and by the FederationCouncil of Russia on October 31. These amendments provide that, in the event offailure to comply with requirements regarding “foreign agents”, NCOs themselveswill face an administrative fine reaching up to 500,000 Rubles (approximately12,500 Euros), while their legal representatives, members and participants,will face an administrative fine up to 30,000 Rubles (approximately 250 – 750Euros).

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

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

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

Protecting the rights of Russian citizens is neither political nor foreignactivity. It is undertaken for and not against Russia”, said Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of OMCT. “Human rights organisations in Russia arehighly regarded for the quality and professionalism of their work. Ratherthan immunizing the country to the universal human rights discourse theauthorities should protect defenders and provide its citizens with the rightsthat 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

[1] See Observatory Press Release, RussianFederation: Utmost concern over new bill on Non-Commercial Organisations(NCOs), July 6, 2012.

[2] See Observatory Press Release, Anumpteenth law in blatant violation of the most basic international human rightsstandards, October 29, 2012.

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