Another blow to the Russian civil society



The Law on “Undesirable Organisations” threatens to cut cooperation of Russian civil society with its international partners

Statement by the Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum
The Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum expresses its deep concern and dismay over the adoption of the federal law introducing the legal notion of “undesirable organisations” .

The Russian authorities should hold on to the principles of international law and international obligations of the Russian Federation and repeal this law, believes the Steering Committee:

We support the position by the Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, which claimed the character of this law was unconstitutional already at the drafting stage[1].

The law on “undesirable organisations” – along with the law on “foreign agents”[2] adopted in 2012 – is another blow to the Russian civil society and its cooperation with partners and like-minded associations in other countries.

It is another step towards international isolation. In the modern world, open dialogue, exchange of ideas, and useful criticism are indispensable for the development of democracy and the rule of law. This includes establishment of representations of international organisations in the country and their legitimate operation.

The law on “undesirable organisations” is violating these core democratic norms and is aimed at singling out organisations. In legal terms, the Russian legislation has enough instruments to shut down the entities, which ‘pose a threat to the country’s constitutional order, defence capacity, and state security’.

Vagueness of the new law opens another avenue for the arbitrary application, for banning legitimate activities of NGOs and companies, and punishing those individuals ‘engaging in the activities of undesirable organisations’. Like in the case of infamous law on “foreign agents”, the new law does not specify what the word ‘engagement’ stands for. Hence, the biggest threat is posed not even for the foreign organisations’ operation but for the Russian citizens.

Under the new law, an organisation can be declared “undesirable” with no court verdict, by the Prosecutor General (or a deputy) alone and with agreement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The decision is effective immediately. Therefore, the rights of individuals and entities concerned will not be defended by the Court, as required by the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Russia is a party.

The new law also describes no procedure for organisations to be taken off the list of “undesirables”. Notably, it took more than two years to adopt a procedure of exclusion from the list of “foreign agents”. However, the only known way to be excluded from the list has been liquidation of the organisation so far.

While the law on “foreign agents” was intended at stigmatising NGOs by labelling them “agents” (which is synonymous to “spies” in Russian), the main purpose of the law on “undesirable organisations” is to cut off Russian activists from their international partners and colleagues, suspend their joint activities, and break the bonds of solidarity.

The Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum calls on the Russian authorities to repeal the so-called law on “undesirable organisations” and urges the international community to insist on Russia’s compliance with the international law.

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