Russia needs a new NGO Law

The Russian Human Rights Council (HRC) is ready to develop the new law on NGOs together with the Ministry of Justice RF

15.10.14, Moscow

At a meeting of the Presidential Council of the Russian Federation for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC) at which President Vladimir Putin was present, members revealed that Russia requires a new law on NGOs as the current one is outdated. The HRC must be careful in their approach to the issue: any changes can only be brought about after preliminary consultations with the public.

“The current law on NGOs is undergoing a difficult time. It has been patched together, time and again, and is irreparably out of sync with the changing Civil Code. The HRC put this issue to the Presidential Commission for the Codification of Civil Law, and received the following response: yes, the law must change. And now, Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], we await your instruction, so that we can develop a new NGO law together with the Ministry of Justice,” stated Mikhail Fedotov, the chairman of the HRC, at the meeting with the head of government.

He believes that the new NGO law should pay particular attention not to “foreign agents”, but rather to socially-oriented NGOs. It must provide maximum clarity with regards to legal regulation, according to Fedotov. Moreover, he noted, the number of grants, as well as the number of donors, needs to be increased, in order to cover all areas of activity for socially-oriented NGOs.  For example, to distribute grants for the support of not-for-profit media outlets, Fedotov suggests using the Glasnost Protection Fund. He also suggested that the president consider indicators such as socially-oriented NGOs’ support when assessing the work of regional leaders.

The director of the Permanent Commission of the HRC for the Development of NGOs, Elena Topoleva, supported the proposal to rewrite the law on NGOs in order that it is clearer about concepts which are actively being applied, but are not always well-defined and well-understood. In part, she is referring to the concept of “political activity”. She suggests that international companies working in Russia and prepared to support NGOs are currently wary of doing so, as they are afraid of repercussions, insofar as they are not certain about whether their involvement would later be construed as “political”. On this point, Topoleva emphasised that there is no need to hurry over this; all laws concerning NGOs must be discussed in preliminary consultations with the public before they are adopted.

Topoleva also proposed that the president think about new avenues for presidential grants. She spoke of possible support for socially significant media outlets, the foundations of which are NGOs, support for systems of social monitoring and work of public councils under the authorities.

Topoleva directed the president’s attention to the discrepancy between the Russian Tax Code, which speaks of the possible directives, and the provision of such grants and such directives, according to which presidential grants are awarded, highlighting that, if the law is followed to the letter, then certain NGOs should pay tax on profit generated by presidential grants.

She also emphasised that the government must encourage citizens and businesses to support NGOs. She suggested creating a state concept for the development of corporate social responsibility in Russia. She reiterated that it would be good if the government were to show commercial companies that supporting an NGO would be a positive direction to take. “For that to happen, it would be appropriate for someone in parliament, even just one civil servant in, for example, the Ministry for Economy, to be somehow in charge of encouraging socially responsible business,” she suggested.

The president promised to work on the issues of “irregularities” in taxation and to discuss in parliament the authorisation of a post for “prompting” business to collaborate with NGOs.

Author: Georgy Ivanushkin

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