Civil society organizations must not face reprisals from Russia – UN experts

Credit: OHCHR

6 June 2013 – United Nations independent experts today voiced grave concern over reports that two non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been charged by the Russian Government for providing evidence to the UN Committee against Torture.

The Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial in St Petersburg and the Public Verdict Foundation in Moscow were charged in April and May respectively with violating legislation under which NGOs involved in political activity must register as ‘foreign agents’ if they receive money from abroad.

The experts stressed that the charges by Russian prosecutors against the two NGOs are “part of the worrying shift in the legislative environment governing the enjoyment of the freedoms of assembly, association, speech and information.”

According to the Chairperson of the Committee against Torture, Claudio Grossman, and the Committee’s Rapporteur on Reprisals, George Tugushi, the basis of the Government charges were the organizations’ submissions to the Committee in November, the same month the new legislation regarding NGOs was adopted.

The Committee against Torture periodically reviews countries to monitor their implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Punishment.

The Convention, which entered into force 25 years ago, provides that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

It also obliges States that have ratified the Convention to refrain from deporting or returning people to countries where they would face the risk of torture, and requires ratifying States to extradite or prosecute perpetrators of torture. Under the Convention, victims of the scourge have the right to redress, including compensation.

Mr. Grossman and Mr. Tugushi wrote the Russian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Alexey Borodavkin, seeking urgent clarification and reassurances that Memorial, Public Verdict and other NGOs will not face any reprisals “as a result of their legitimate activities, including providing information to the Committee against Torture.”

The Convention states that “steps shall be taken to ensure that the complainant and witnesses are protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of his complaint or any evidence given.” The experts noted that reprisals would contravene the Convention against Torture, to which Russia is a party.

Various UN officials and Special Rapporteurs have repeatedly expressed concern over the situation faced by NGOs in Russia due to the new legislation. Last year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned that passing the law would have a “seriously negative impact” on human rights in the country, and in May, a group of Special Rapporteurs warned that the law would have “obstructive, intimidating and stigmatizing effects” on NGOs, as it subjects them to an unprecedented wave of inspections and harsh penalties.

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