Support for tightening of NGO reporting
Members of the Public Chamber support tightening reporting requirements for “foreign agents”
The Bill clarifying the level of detail and structure of information to be included in NGO reports, including those organisations classed as “foreign agents”, has passed the “Zero” Readings stage. A number of Public Chamber members think that the introduction of additional reporting requirements for “agents” is justified, in contrast to the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC).
According to Elena Sutormina, Chair of the Public Chamber’s Commission for the Development of Social Diplomacy and Support for Compatriots Abroad, the Chamber has to support laws that seek to enhance legal regulation of the activities of NGOs operating as “foreign agents”.
The text was put together by the Justice Ministry and has already been scrutinised by the Russian Government’s Commission on Legislative Activities which concluded that further work on the Bill was necessary. The HRC has reacted unfavourably to the proposal, believing that the Bill does nothing to address current problems relating to the legal status of those NGOs classified as “foreign agents”.
The Bill in particular introduces an extra reporting requirement on “foreign agents” to submit reports that include information on “programmes and other documents which highlight activities that are financed and (or) undertaken with the participation of foreign sources”.
Sutormina has also suggested that the Justice Ministry should provide information and awareness-raising support to help NGOs comply with this requirement, and assess the reporting forms for their ease of use, making changes to them if necessary.
Sutormina said that ever since the term “foreign agents” was introduced into Russian legislation, NGOs have repeatedly highlighted their difficulties in accounting for money received from abroad given the lack of information on sources of foreign funding transferred to them by third parties. She believes that placing a requirement on Russian legal entities to inform NGOs of the origin of funds and property being transferred to them, while not solving the problem entirely, will best serve NGO interests and make their lives easier.
According to Mikhail Fedotov, Chair of the HRC, there is no urgency to amend the “foreign agents” law. There is more than one Russian Presidential Order setting out the requirements for analysing the legal enforcement practices involved in this particular law, the results of which must inform the drafting of proposals. In fact, there is a Presidential Order that gives interested parties until 20 December to come up with suggestions for clarifying the term “political activity”, he said. This is just one of a number of Orders signed off by the Russian President following a meeting with HRC back in October. A panel of experts has been established to refine the term “political activity”. Its work will be supervised by the President’s Office.
Fedotov stressed that all their Presidential Orders specifically refer to “foreign agents” so there is no need to rush through the Justice Ministry’s Bill. “We’ll only create more anxiety and tension on this issue which the President is particularly keen to avoid”, he said.
The Bill has been drafted on the basis of an assessment of legal enforcement practices for enhancing the regulation of activities undertaken by “foreign agents”, said Anna Kotova, Director of the Justice Ministry’s NGO department. She called HRC’s reaction “totally expected”, but agreed that in further discussions on this issue “it is vital that we proceed with the utmost care in order to avoid unnecessary insinuations and stoking further tensions”. Kotova also said that all proposals and comments made by experts will be taken into account in drafting a revised version of the Bill.
Author: Georgy Ivanushkin