Russia: 5 negative trends in the development of civil society

The Club of Third Sector Lawyers identifies five negative trends in the current development of Russian civil society



Experts have stated that the enforcement of the law on “undesirable organisations” has led to many international donors refusing to finance the projects of Russian organisations.

The Club of Third Sector Lawyers association have presented their report on the “Development of civic activism in spite of Russian NGO legislation ‘’on foreign agents’.” The experts have identified five main issues faced by Russian civil society: legal problems and the increase of state control over NGOs, the emergence of the concept of “unwanted organisations” in the legal sector and a sharp reduction in the funding available for NGOs, the “folding” of human rights institutions (this relates to the closure of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Moscow and the appointment of a new federal ombudsman), the continuing pressure exerted on NGOs, their leaders and civil society activists as well as opposition by the state organised non-profit organisations (GONGOs) to independent non-profit organisations.

Since May 2015 “undesirables” recognised within the territory of the Russian Federation have included the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the Soros Foundation/Open Society Foundations, the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S.-Russia Foundation for Economic Advancement and the Rule of Law. The Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation intends to ban all ”undesirable” organisations from creating and registering Russian legal entities.

The report stresses that the reforms of Russian legislation which have taken place since 2012 have sharply reduced the space avaiable for civic engagement and have forced non-profits to get used to the constant emergence of new legal risks.The law “on foreign agents” has often caused the decline or ending of the activity of independent organisations as a result of fines or closure.The legislation on “undesirable organisations” has also led to a widespread refusal of international donor organisations to finance Russian projects of organisations supporting Russian civil society over the last two decades,” the report claims.

The Club of Third Sector Lawyers has called upon the donor community to continue to support stable NGOs, to continue to implement programmes and projects aimed at providing them with structural support, continue supporting centres providing legal support to NGOs, supporting grassroots initiatives, supporting NGO workers who have been forced to leave the country and to promote the creation of new organisations as well as establish rewards to support the work of human rights defenders and civil society activists.

“The situation created by the arbitrary use of extralegal law on NGOs functioning as a “foreign agent ” will contribute to the worsening of the human rights situation in Russia, because there will be no one left to defend human rights – almost all NGOs will have been destroyed.” Ensuring the survival of the non-profit sector in Russia in such a situation requires not only a change in the law (very unlikely under the current conditions), but also the support of NGOs via the provision of resources, training and the preparation and development of existing NGOs, this focusing on providing emergency assistance to NGOs in Russia, an increase in support for the legal protection of NGOs and, finallly, allowing growth in the influence of international human rights institutions on the Russian government in order to improve the political climate for NGOs. ”The most important thing is the need to continue the dialogue, the need to continue supporting existing organisations and activist initiative groups,” state the authors of the report.

Earlier, the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation approved a law aimed at clarifying the meaning of the term “political activity” in the context of the “law on foreign agents.” The text of the draft bill adopted by the State Duma of the Russian Federation in the first reading drew criticism from the entire non-profit community and the concern of charitable funds. As a result, the Duma Committee on the Activities of Public Associations and Religious Organisations supported an amendment to the bill which proposed the exclusion of the possibility of recognising organisations involved in charitable activities as “foreign agents.”

AUTHOR: Georgiy Ivanushkin


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