Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Letter from Gil-Robles to Russian NGOs

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights:
Letter to Russian NGOs on new NGO legislation (31 January 2006)

IHF, Joachim Frank <frank@ihf-hr.org>




Strasbourg, 31st January 2005

Dear Friends,

I write in reply to your letter of 23rd December 2005, in which you expressed your concerns about the Draft Law on Non-Profit Organisations that had just been adopted by the Duma. My Office obtained a copy of the legislation on its publication following its signature by the President of the Russian Federation and I have since been able to examine the final text and consider your views and those of other experts.

I was, indeed, somewhat concerned when I first heard about the plans to revise the legislative framework for NGOs in Russia. During my six years in Office, I have had the opportunity to witness the important contribution made by charitable and human rights organisations such as yours to the enjoyment of social and civil rights by ordinary Russian citizens and my resulting impression was that the existing legislation worked well. Whilst respecting the legitimate interest of the Russian authorities to regulate the functioning of domestic and international NGOs, I did not particularly see the need for changes in this area.

An analysis of the initial draft law and subsequent contacts with Mr. Vladimir Lukin, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation and Mrs. Ella Pamfilova, Chair of the Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation, revealed a number of specific difficulties.

I was encouraged, therefore, that the Minister of Justice, Mr. Chaika, should travel to Strasbourg to request the views of the Council of Europe on the draft legislation. My own concerns, which I was able to transmit to Mr. Chaika directly on this occasion, were broadly reflected in the resulting Council of Europe opinion and I can only welcome the fact that the finally adopted text has been significantly altered in the light of it.

A number of concerns do, however, remain – particularly, it seems to me, in respect of the state’s powers to attend NGO meetings and in the vague wording of a few remaining provisions granting discretionary powers to administrative entities. I recall, in this context, that many of the human rights problems I observed during my 2004 visit to the Russian Federation and reported on in my report of last year resulted not so much from the inadequacy of the legislation in place, but from its poor or arbitrary implementation. It is essential, therefore, that provisions of the new NGO legislation, in particular those requiring further interpretation, be
applied in practice in a manner consistent with the freedom of expression and association.

The implementing regulations and the guidelines given to the public authorities referred to in the Law will consequently be of particular importance and I have contacted the Ministry of Justice to express my hope that they will, with their scope for greater clarity than Parliamentary Acts, provide sufficient direction to exclude the abusive or arbitrary use of administrative powers. I have also requested that the legislation’s application be carefully monitored. I shall, for my part, continue to observe and, when necessary, comment on developments in this area for the remaining months of my mandate.

I cannot, in conclusion, sufficiently stress the importance of NGOs of all types to the health and development of socially conscious, democratic societies. Within the broad spectrum of organised civil society, human rights NGOs have a special and essential role to play. It is for them to measure governments against their obligations and to hold them publicly accountable for their failings. Such criticism must often be trenchant, but, if objective and expressed in good faith, can only contribute to the protection of the fundamental rights of all.

Allow me to take this opportunity, as my mandate draws to a close, to express my respect and gratitude for the work that you have done and the cooperation we have enjoyed over the last six years.

Kind regards,

Alvaro Gil-Robles
Commissioner for Human Rights

Oleg Orlov, Director, “Memorial” Human Rights Centre
Yuri Dzhibladze, President, Centre for the Development of Democracy and
Human Rights
Ludmila Alexeeva, Chair, Moscow Helsinki Group
Svetlana Gannushkina, Director, “Civic Assistance” Committee, member of the
Board, “Memorial” Human Rights Centre
Alexander Auzan, Chair of the Board, Institute of National Project “Social
Tatiana Lokshina, Chair of the Board, “Demos” Centre
Arseny Roginsky, Chair of the Board, International Human Rights, Historical
and Educational
Society “Memorial”
Natalya Taubina, Director, “Public Verdict” Foundation
Svyatoslav Zabelin, Chair of the Board, Socio-Ecological Union
Alexey Simonov, President, Glasnost Defence Foundation

Joachim Frank, Project Coordinator
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
Wickenburggasse 14/7
A-1080 Vienna
Tel. +43-1-408 88 22 ext. 22
Fax: +43-1-408 88 22 ext. 50
Web: http://www.ihf-hr.org
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