Civil society in Russia facing increasingly hostile environment – UN experts

Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peacful assembly and of association Maina Kiai. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

14 May 2013 – Three United Nations independent experts today urged Russian authorities to revise a law that is having “obstructive, intimidating and stigmatizing effects” on the country’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Mr. Kiai stressed that this close monitoring lacks appropriate legal basis as according to international human rights law, the protection of sovereignty is not listed as a legitimate ground to restrict citizens’ freedom of association.

“Unfortunately, our fears seem to have been confirmed,” said the Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai. “Since the law was passed, we now witness an unprecedented wave of inspections some of which have led to administrative cases against NCOs [non-commercial organizations], including severe penalties.”

In July, the experts had warned that the new law would require all non-governmental organizations wishing to engage in “political activities” to register as organizations “performing the functions of foreign agents” before receiving foreign funding, and would submit them to close monitoring by the Government and harsh penalties. The law was adopted in November.

Mr. Kiai stressed that this close monitoring lacks appropriate legal basis as according to international human rights law, the protection of sovereignty is not listed as a legitimate ground to restrict citizens’ freedom of association.

“We already warned against the extensive requirements contained in this law for NCOs allegedly ‘engaging in political activities,’ which could infringe on the right of human rights defenders to publically raise human rights issues and conduct advocacy work,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya.

“Defenders should be able to participate in public affairs by raising issues of public interest in a critical way, irrespective of where their funding comes from,” she said. “This type of work should not been seen as a political activity but as an essential component of an open and democratic society.”

The Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, underlined that “everyone should be entitled to promote and express their ideas freely without undue restrictions.”

The three Rapporteurs called on the Government to revise the law due to its lack of compliance with international law and standards and its adverse consequences on the work of hundreds of organizations and human rights defenders.

They also drew special attention to the stance adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in a recent landmark resolution against any type of legislation used to obstruct or criminalize the work of human rights defenders on account of the origin of their funding.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


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