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06.07.12
Urgent Interventions

Utmost concern over new bill on Non-Commercial Organisations (NCOs)

PRESS RELEASE -THE OBSERVATORY

RUSSIANFEDERATION: Utmost concern over new bill on Non-Commercial Organisations (NCOs)

Paris-Geneva,July 6, 2012 – The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, ajoint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and theWorld Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) expresses its utmost concern over thetabling of a new bill on non-commercial organisations (NCOs) which – if adopted– would significantly undermine the capacities of the civil society to operatein the Russian Federation.

OnJune 29, 2012, pro-governmental party “United Russia” Members of Parliamentsubmitted to the Duma a bill entitled “Introducing Amendments to LegislativeActs of the Russian Federation in Part Regulating Activities of Non-commercialOrganisations, which Carry Functions of Foreign Agents”.

Thebill aims at amending six federal laws, including the Laws “on PublicAssociations”, “On Non-commercial Organisations”, “On CounteractingLegalisation (Money Laundering) of Incomes received in a Criminal Way, andFinancing Terrorism”, as well as the Code of Administrative Penalties, theCriminal Code and the Code on Criminal Procedure.

Ifadopted, the bill will represent a major additional setback to the enjoyment ofhuman rights in the country, and would blatantly violate the most basicinternational human rights standards on freedom of association.

NCOsreceiving foreign funding labelled as “foreign agents”

Thenew bill provides that all NCOs wishing to receive foreign funds from foreignsources in order to carry out any kind of “political activities” shall firstregister with an “authorised government agency” within the Ministry of Justice.Such organisations would then be officially labelled as “NCOs carryingfunctions of a foreign agent”.

Overlywide definition of “political activities” carried out by “foreign agent NCOs”

Thecurrent text defines “political activities” as actions “dedicated to changingstate policy” and “influencing public opinion relating to changing publicpolicy”. This vague definition could potentially allow the Russian authoritiesto target all advocacy activities carried out by human rights NGOs which bydefinition purport to influence public policy and public opinion in an attemptto improve respect of human rights standards.

Undefinedregistration procedure for “foreign agent NCOs”

Theregistration procedure for “foreign agent NCOs” is not described in the currentversion of the bill. It is only mentioned that such procedure is to be definedby the “authorised government agency”. The Observatory fears that this mightresult in the imposition of burdensome and complex procedures, in an attempt tofurther hinder the conduct of legitimate human rights activities.

Tightcontrol over the actions and publications of “foreign agent NCOs”

Thebill also provides that as soon as an NCO is labelled as “foreign agent”, itsactivities shall be placed under the strict control of the “authorisedgovernment agency”, as it would be requested to:

- undergo annual audits

- maintain separateaccounting of assets generated through local and foreign sources

- submit activity reportstwice a year

- submit financial reportsevery quarter

Noinformation is yet available regarding the format and the content of suchreports, which shall be later determined by the “authorised government agency”.

Furthermore, anybody or any entity that would reproduce documentation of“foreign agent NCOs” would in turn be considered itself as “foreign agents”,even if no foreign funds were received by the latter to finance the publicationof the materials.

Disproportionatemonitoring of - and interference in - the activities of foreign NGOs withregistered offices in Russia

Thebill submits the Russia-based registered offices of foreign organisations totwo new major requirements, i.e.:

- to undergo annualindependent audits by a Russian auditing company and submit the audit report tothe “authorised government agency”;

- to undergo any furtheraudits decided / conducted by the “authorised government agency” itself.

The“authorised government agency” will have the right to publish all such reportsas well as the activity and financial reports of foreign organisationsoperating in Russia on its website, and to provide them to the media.

Disproportionatemonitoring of the foreign funds received by Russian offices of foreign NGOs

Underthe terms of the bill, special controls will be imposed on all transfersreceived by NCOs from foreign sources above 200,000 Rubles (4,928 Euros). Noinformation could be obtained as of what such controls would encompass and howthey would be carried out.

Extensivepowers to sanction and suspend the activities of NCOs

Thebill provides that the Government shall have the authority to suspend theactivities of any “foreign agent NCO” for up to 6 months if the latter fails toregister as a “foreign agent” while receiving foreign funding and conductingso-called “political activities”.

Thebill also introduces the following harsh penalties:

-up to 50,000 Rubles (1,232 Euros) for individuals and up to 1,000,000 Rubles(24,639 Euros) for NCOs failing tosubmit “information required by the law”.

-up to 500,000 Rubles (12,320 Euros) for individuals and up to 1,000,000 Rubles(24,639 Euros) for organisations which conduct activities without beingregistered as a foreign agent when such registration is required.

Thebill further amends the Criminal Code to introduce a penalty of either up to 2years of imprisonment or up to 480 hours of corrective work for individuals whodo not fulfil their responsibilities under the law while acting as “foreignagents”.

Consequently,NGOs will then have to choose between registering themselves as “foreignagents” or be heavily penalised under criminal law for not doing so. TheObservatory fears that labelling human rights defenders and social activists as“foreign agents” for receiving foreign funding would seriously harm their imageand credibility, and dissuade the population from trusting and confiding inthem and their work, and acting on their advice.

***

TheObservatory denounces the provisions of this bill, which blatantly violatesinternational and regional human rights standards relating to freedom ofassociation, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) ratified by theRussian Federation, as well as the 1998 United Nations Declaration on HumanRights Defenders, and in particular Article 5 (on the right “to form, join andparticipate in non-governmental organisations, associations or groups" and“to communicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations”) andArticle 13 (on the right “to solicit, receive and utilize resources for theexpress purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamentalfreedoms through peaceful means”). As emphasized by the UN Special Rapporteuron the protection of human rights defenders, the Declaration protects the rightto receive funding from different sources, including foreign funding[1].

TheObservatory is all the more concerned that such a bill is being presented onlythree weeks after the adoption of another piece of legislation which restrictsthe right to conduct peaceful assemblies and demonstrations in the country.

TheObservatory therefore strongly urges the Russian Members of Parliament not toadopt this bill and withdraw it, and, generally, to conform in allcircumstances with international human rights law, and in particular with thebest practices defined by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom ofAssembly and Association in his first report to the UN Human Rights Council.

Formore information, please contact:

FIDH:Karine Appy/Arthur Manet: +33 1 43 55 25 18

OMCT:Isabelle Scherer: +41 22 809 49 39


[1] See UN SpecialRapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Commentary to theDeclaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organsof Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights andFundamental Freedoms, July 2011.

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