Not-for-profit, nongovernmental organizations are broadly referred to in Russian law as non-commercial organizations (NCOs) and can assume different legal forms, including public associations, charitable foundations, unions, and representative offices or branches of foreign organizations.42 Public associations are regulated by the 1995 Law on Public Associations; all other forms of non-commercial organizations are regulated by the 1996 Law on Non-Commercial Organizations. Most domestic organizations discussed in this report are registered as public associations.43 Foreign NGOs are generally registered under the Law on Non-Commercial Organizations.
The 2006 NGO law consists of amendments to the 1995 Law on Public Associations and the 1996 Law on Non-Commercial Organizations, as well as to the Law on Closed Administrative Territorial Formations from 1992, and to one article of the Civil Code.
A chart below details the changes introduced by the 2006 NGO law and indicates how the law has significantly expanded state officials discretion to reject the registration of NGOs, to inspect NGOs, and to require reporting from NGOs. It is primarily this broad and vague discretion now accorded to state officials to interfere with the founding and operation of NGOs, open to discriminatory and arbitrary misuse, that is having a detrimental impact on human rights NGOs.
This discretion, combined with the abusive use of some potentially mundane, if onerous, administrative regulations, threaten both the freedom of association to establish and run NGOs and the freedom of expression of NGOs. They are also clearly inconsistent with the Fundamental Principles on the Status of Non-governmental Organizations, a nonbinding standard drawn up by the Council of Europe that sets out best practices for the regulation of NGOs, with a view to ensuring that they benefit from freedom of association and fulfill duties and obligations.44
The 2006 law introduces restrictions on who can found an NGO, and expands the grounds on which the state may reject the registration of a non-commercial organization. Whereas the Fundamental Principles state that states may disqualify persons from forming an NGO with legal personality for reasons such as a criminal conviction or bankruptcy, the 2006 law excludes individuals on far more discretionary terms, for example, foreigners whose presence in the Russian Federation has been found to be undesirable. Also excluded are individuals convicted under the anti-extremism law, whose vague and broad terms, as discussed below, are subject to arbitrary, discriminatory, and politically motivated interpretation and application. A non-commercial organization can also be rejected for registration, for example, if its name insults public morality, ethnic and religious feelings.
An organizations registration application may also be rejected if its documents are prepared inappropriately. This term is not defined, leaving it open to subjective interpretation and contradicting the Fundamental Principles provision that the process of creating a new NGO should be easy to understand, inexpensive, and expeditious.45 The vagueness of the term inappropriately, which leaves NGOs with lack of clarity and uncertainty as to what they need to do to comply, could also render any rejection on this ground an arbitrary interference with the right of association protected under human rights law (see section on European Convention on Human Rights, below).46
The 2006 law requires non-commercial organizations and public associations to report on financing obtained from foreign sources,47 and authorizes the Registration Service to request information regarding an organizations financial activities from other governmental agencies (for instance, the tax service) and financial institutions without any judicial or other independent oversight. NCOs are now also required to report on their activities, and foreign organizations must provide prior notification of their substantive work, quarterly updates on this work, and reports on the allocation of funds for each project. Under the 2006 law and implementing regulations the Registration Service can inspect NGOs annually48 and demand access to an organizations documents, including confidential documents.49 Thereby, the Russian government has very broad discretion to oversee and control NGOs in a manner that is far greater than what is provided for in the Fundamental Principles, which envisions only annual reports and balance sheets.50 In a meeting with Human Rights Watch on February 13, 2008, the chief of the department for relations with non-commercial organizations at the Registration Service, Alexander Stepanov, stated that as a rule access to confidential documents is not sought during inspections.51
The law and implementing regulations institutionalize a system under which even minor administrative infractions can result in the organization being dissolved.52 This contravenes the Fundamental Principles guideline that all sanctions imposed upon NGOs must be proportionate to the violation and that dissolution should be considered a last resort.53 Such disproportionate sanctions and the ease with which an association can be dissolved are also incompatible with the level of protection afforded to the right of association under human rights law (see below). Alexander Stepanov assured Human Rights Watch on February 13, 2008, that in practice such dissolutions do not happen, however. 54
As a member of the Council of Europe since 1997 and party to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) since 1998, Russia has strict and clear obligations to respect the freedom of association and expression, obligations that it seems to be selectively disregarding in its current strategy towards human rights NGOs and social activists.
Article 11 of the ECHR states that everyone has the right to freedom of association. The only permissible restrictions to this right are those that are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.55
The European Court of Human Rights has consistently made clear that the right to form a legal entity in order to act collectively in a field of mutual interest is one of the most important aspects of the right to freedom of association, without which that right would be deprived of any meaning.56 While a state has a right to regulate an associations aim and activities, it must do so in a manner compatible with its obligations under the Convention.57 The protection of opinions and the freedom of expression under Article 10 of the ECHR is also one of the objectives of the freedom of association.
Under the Convention governments have a duty not to interfere with the freedom of association and have positive obligations to secure the effective enjoyment of this freedom. These include an obligation to recognize the legal status of associations, and not to impose unnecessary delays or administrative burdens on any registration procedure in a way that would interfere with the right of association.58 The Court has also made clear that in circumstances in which the state requires an organization to comply with new conditions or a re-registration process and where re-registration is then refused by the state, resulting in a loss of status or entitlement, this amounts to interference with the organizations right to freedom of association.59
Russia has already been found to have violated the right to freedom of association, notably in two cases involving religious organizations, in circumstances that bear striking similarity to the current application of the NGO law to human rights and social activist organizations.60
In those cases, organizations that were required under a new 1997 Religions Act to amend their articles of association and re-register them were refused re-registration. Different and inconsistent reasons were advanced for refusing to register them at various stages of the process: amongst the reasons given were failure to comply with the documentation requirements of registration; that the intent and activities of the organizations were not clear, not fully explained, or incompatible with Russian laws; and in one case that the organization had a foreign origin. Failure to obtain re-registration for whatever reason put the organizations at risk of dissolution, and the Russian authorities had indeed sought to dissolve the two organizations.
In relation to provisions that discriminated against foreign nationals from being founders of organizations, the Court held that there was no reasonable and objective justification for a difference in treatment of Russian and foreign nationals as regards their ability to exercise freedom of association. In relation to complaints that the organizations had not complied with requirements to provide full descriptions of their activities and their structure, the Court made clear, as it had on other occasions, that the burden rested with the state to provide sufficient clarity and certainty as to what the applicable legal requirements were so that organizations could comply, otherwise rejection was arbitrary and unlawful. In respect of one of the organizations, the Salvation Army, the Court also noted that any allegations made about the organizations incompatibility with the Russian Constitution, or intent it had to overthrow or break Russian law had no evidentiary basis and must be rejected.61
In the current climate, the use of the NGO law to place obstacles in the way of NGOs forming and operating efficiently, and imposing administrative and bureaucratic demands on them in such a way as to ensure control and restraint on the activities of the NGOs is clearly incompatible with the principles of the case law set out by the Court in its cases on freedom of association, and the obligations states owe to individuals seeking to establish and run organizations.
The punitive, invasive elements of the law and the way in which it is implemented, as described below, are contradictory to Russias obligations under international and regional law to respect freedom of expression and association, and have a choking effect on the exercise of those rights.
New for Foreign NGOs
Compliance with the 2006 NGO law has proved onerous for numerous NGOs. Vague provisions of the law, together with the governments scope to inspect NGOs for any number of violations, mean that organizations must spend inordinate amounts of time and money on legal and accounting services to protect themselves from suspension or closure.
The 2006 NGO law has not resulted in a decline in the number of NGOs that are being registered. In fact, according to Registration Service data, from January to July 2007, 17 percent more NCOs were registered than in the first seven months of 2006. In the same 2007 period, 14 percent of organizations that applied for registration were rejected.65
At the same time, the 2006 NGO law introduced a more complicated registration procedure for NCOs than had previously existed. Organizations now need lawyers to assist them with the complicated registration procedure. The many NGOs that cannot afford qualified lawyers risk submitting flawed documents, which would be rejected, and as a result such groups may be forced to spend inordinate amounts of time revising and resubmitting documents and dealing with the Registration Service to remedy any flaws. A youth group interviewed by Human Rights Watch failed to prepare all of its registration documents properly and its application was rejected. The group had received one-time funding to cover the costs associated with the registration process, and conveyed to Human Rights Watch its concern that it would not have adequate funds to re-apply for registration.66 A corporate lawyer who assists NGOs seeking to register told Human Rights Watch that even if an organization is registered, mistakes made by the NGO in the registration process can cause it to have problems with the Registration Service in the future.67
A Moscow State University study in 2007 found that registering an NGO with the help of a consulting firm in Moscow costs 40 percent more than registering a commercial organization and takes twice as much time. These figures are even higher outside Moscow. For example, in Kalmykia, a province over 1,800 kilometers southeast of Moscow, NGO registration costs might be 50 to 100 percent higher than for a commercial organization and 130-150 percent higher in comparison to Moscow.68
A new NGO might be denied registration if its constituent documents run counter to the Constitution and the legislation of the Russian Federation.69 In a notorious case that demonstrates just how arbitrarily restrictions based on compatibility with constitutional and legal protection of security of the state can be invoked, Rainbow House, a group that protects the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons in Tyumen, was rejected on these grounds. In December 2006 Rainbow House was denied registration because its objectives are aimed at protecting personal rights and liberties, including persons of non-traditional sexual orientation [These] can undermine the security of the Russian community and state, because they undermine spiritual public values and undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation due to a reduction of the population.70The group unsuccessfully appealed this decision to a Tyumen regional court. The group separately brought a case against the local registration service for improperly refusing to register Rainbow House. The Tyumen court and the appeal court in Moscow both refused to hear this case. The group plans to submit its case to the European Court of Human Rights.
As noted above, the Registration Service may reject registration applications if the organizations documents are prepared in an inappropriate manner.71 This applies both to new registrations and notifications of organizational and operational changes. The experience of an environmental foundation in Voronezh illustrates how the Registration Service can interpret inappropriate to mean typos or errors in formatting and how this can paralyze an organization for weeks. Under the 2006 NGO law, the Foundation For Ecological and Social Justice was obligated to register the fact that it had a new director; failure to do so in a timely manner could have resulted in the organizations dissolution.72 In June 2006 the Registration Service in Voronezh refused to register the change because the documents were prepared in an inappropriate manner. Victoria Gromova, president of the foundation, told Human Rights Watch,
We submitted documents to the Registration Service within three days. And it turned out that on one of the 15 [stapled] papers that we submitted we did not type in the header Foundation for Ecological and Social Justice. That became grounds for returning the documents to us Documents were not accepted not because of factual mistakes there was just a minor typo.73
The Foundation for Ecological and Social Justice had to resubmit the relevant documents several times. It took two months to get the change registered, during which the organization could perform representative functions but could not conduct any administrative or financial activities (for example, pay taxes and salaries, or perform bank operations); without being registered, the new director did not have the authority to sign off on such operations. Gromova told Human Rights Watch that the Registration Service did not return documents to make corrections but just said Guys, we dont accept that. For two months we were not able to sign any papers. [ ] Basically we could not operate.74
Numerous state agencies, ranging from the tax inspectorate to the sanitation inspectorate, may inspect NGOs to ensure compliance with government regulations. The 2006 NGO law expands the circumstances under which the Registration Service may inspect NGOs to ensure that their work, including their financial expenditures and property management, complies with their statutory goals.75 The Registration Service is authorized to inspect NGOs in response to citizens appeals, as well as in response to information received from state agencies about alleged violations. Under the 2006 NGO law, the Registration Service can also initiate an inspection on its own, but it is not clear what the permissible criteria are for doing so.76 Yet nothing in the law or in implementing regulations requires the Registration Service to inspect every organization, so an NGO may never be subject to inspection.
By law, an inspection by any of the relevant agencies should not last longer than two months.77 However, there is no limit to the number of inspections allowed: the prevailing Registration Service administrative regulation says that a maximum of one planned (planovaia) inspection is permitted every two years, but there is no specified limit to the number of ad hoc (vneplanovaia) inspections.78 In effect, an NGO could find itself under permanent inspectionfor example, one planned inspection and five ad hoc inspections each lasting two months, back to back (or even more if the inspections overlap). Experience of commercial entities with tax inspections also suggests that a two-month limit is not always adhered to.
Registration Service officials have wide discretion to request documents for inspection and to interpret them.79 During a 2007 inspection of Citizens Watcha St. Petersburg organization that works to establish parliamentary and civic oversight over the police, the security service, and the armed forcesthe Registration Service demanded that all outgoing correspondence be submitted for inspection, including correspondence on confidential cases.80 Inspectors may request access to all manner of technical documents.
According to Alexander Stepanov of the Federal Registration Services department for relations with non-commercial organizations, the Registration Service and its regional branches publish NGO inspection plans so that organizations will be aware of upcoming inspections.81 Not all regional branches of the Registration Service, however, have webpages or post inspection plans.82
At the end of an inspection the Registration Service prepares an inspection report, which according to Registration Service administrative regulations is a classified document; neither the Registration Service nor the audited organization can share the document with third parties.83 Citizens Watch submitted an appeal to the Russian Supreme Court in October 2007 requesting this norm be annulled, arguing it was inconsistent with the constitution and federal legislation.84 At this writing the appeal is pending.
Many of the inspections result in a warning to the organization, often for minor administrative violations. In October 2007 Federal Registration Service director Sergei Vasiliev announced that between January and April 2007 the Registration Service had found violations and issued warnings to 6,000 non-commercial organizations.85
The Individual and the Law, a human rights group based in Ioshkar-Ola, the capital of the Republic of Mari-El, was inspected by the Registration Service for a month beginning in March 2007.86 As a result the organization received a warning for such technical violations as not filling out member forms and not issuing member cards; conducting meetings of its governing body irregularly; failing to elect a secretary for these meetings; and not collecting dues from its members. The Registration Service considered these to be a violation of article 15-2 of the Russian constitution, which states that private citizens and their associations shall be obliged to observe the Constitution of the Russian Federation and its laws.
In two cases described to Human Rights Watch, inspectors issued warnings to organizations that turned out to be groundless, because documents the inspectors determined were missing from materials to be inspected had actually not been requested, or had been erroneously made subject to the inspection. The Registration Service found Ryazan-Memorial, a human rights organization, to be in violation of its statute for not re-electing the board, its chair, and an auditing commission. Ryazan-Memorial did not submit to the Registration Service the minutes from the re-election meeting because that meeting had not taken place during the period covered by the inspection, and the inspectors had not specifically requested the documents. The Registration Service issued a warning to a Voronezh-based NGO, Free University, for not submitting minutes from a board meeting that had taken place before the period of inspection.87
In at least two other cases the Registration Service found alleged major violations based on an arbitrary interpretation of an organizations documents. The Registration Services inspection of Citizens Watch noted that the organization had undertaken to acknowledge in its publications financial support the organization received from the St. Petersburg consulates of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The Registration Service argued that this commitment amounted to an agreement to provide advertisement, thereby changing the nature of the funding from tax-exempt charitable grants to commercial funding. The Registration Service said Citizens Watch was therefore obliged to pay taxes on these grants. The Registration Service similarly told the St. Petersburg-based environmental organization Bellona that it had engaged in illegal advertising for acknowledging support received from foreign consulates in its publications, and for not paying taxes on these tax-exempt grants.88 The Registration Service also found that a study tour to Germany and France that Citizens Watch organized for St. Petersburg judges violated article 14, part 4 of the Law on Public Associations, which states that regional public associations may function only within one subject of the Russian Federation.89
The Registration Services authority to make inspections was given substantial muscle by Ministry of Justice implementing regulations introduced in the course of 2006. Under one of these, an organization can be dissolved or excluded from the State Registry if it receives two warnings regarding the same violation. Another implementing regulation apparently envisages other measures the Registration Service may take to hold such organizations accountable, though it does not state what these measures are.90 There appears to be no statute of limitation for an issued warning.91
The Registration Service also has the discretion to move to dissolve an organization based on provisions in the civil code that allow a legal entity to be dissolved for repeated or severe violations of the law or regulations.92
(The explicit provisions in the 2006 NGO law itself for NGO dissolution are discussed below.)
Although the law provides a mechanism for appealing Registration Service warnings and other decisions, court proceedings tend to be time-consuming and challenging, and not all groups have resources, financial and human, that would allow them to endure lengthy court cases.
Two NGO advisors interviewed by Human Rights Watch called into question whether NGOs could get a fair hearing in local courts. As noted in the background section of this report, the executive has been regaining control over the judiciary in recent years, especially in high-profile, politically sensitive cases. In addition, informal personal relations affect lower-profile cases, particularly at the local level. Olga Gnezdilova, legal advisor to Interregional Human Rights Group Voronezh/Chernozemie said,
Pavel Romanov, who at the time of Human Rights Watchs research was a lawyer for AGORA, a human rights group based in Kazan (see below), also noted that personal connections are of paramount importance in the courts: In Chuvashia people who had previously worked for the Registration Service and procuracy now work for courts. They also transfer their relations and connections.94
The Individual and the Lawappealed the warning it received after its March 2007 inspection (described above) to Ioshkar-Ola City Court and then to the Supreme Court of the Republic of Mari-El, which on August 16, 2007, rejected the appeal.95 Ryazan-Memorial appealed the groundless warning it had received, but succeeded in having only part of the warning repealed.96
There are, however, examples of successful litigation against the Registration Service in Russian courts. AGORA has won three cases against the Registration Service in Kazan courts, and six in other regions. In one of the Kazan cases, the court ruling handed down on October 29, 2007, obliged the Federal Registration Service to respond to a memorandum documenting allegedly illegal actions taken by Registration Service officials in 2006 and 2007. AGORA had submitted the memorandum to Sergei Vasiliev, director of the Federal Registration Service, on June 7, 2007.97
The experience of AGORA, an interregional human rights organization that receives funding in the form of foreign grants, would appear to confirm the concerns that organizations that work on controversial issues are targeted for inspection. Based in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, AGORA provides legal services to activists and NGOs, monitors the human rights situation, and reports on its findings. For the past year-and-a-half it has been focused on documenting how the 2006 NGO law has been implemented and has been representing NGOs in court when they challenge Registration Service decisions. The Registration Service conducted a planned inspection of AGORA in May 2007. Pavel Chikov, chair of the organization, told Human Rights Watch he believes it was triggered by a request from the authorities. Around the time of the Registration Service inspection, the group was also audited by the Tax Service, the economic crimes department of the local police inspectorate, and by Rosfinmonitoring (the Federal Financial Monitoring Service).98AGORA is challenging the legality of these inspections. Agoras three partner organizationsthe Kazan Human Rights Center; the Human Rights Center of Chita; and Shield and Sword, an NGO based in the Republic of Chuvashiawere also inspected in 2007 by the Registration Service (as was its partner organization in Mari-El, The Individual and the Law, see above). Three of them were also inspected by the tax service, and one by the economic crimes department of the local police inspectorate.99
All five, including AGORA, were issued warnings for administrative infractions by the Registration Service. AGORA and the Kazan Human Rights Center were successful in their appeals to annul the warnings in court proceedings.100
A case in which foreign support appears to have precipitated inspections involved the Center for Enlightenment and Research Programs (CERP). CERP is a small St. Petersburg-based NGO that seeks to develop the capacities of local NGOs and authorities in the areas of domestic law and international human rights standards. In summer 2007 the Registration Service launched inspections of CERP and other organizations supported by the Dutch government-backed foundation MATRA.
Just days before the inspection, CERP was to hold a workshop for activists from St. Petersburg and the surrounding Leningrad province; MATRA representatives were planning on attending to meet local NGO and government representatives. CERP had originally booked a hall at the Vsevoloisky district administration office of Leningrad province. A few days prior to the event, the district administration was approached by two plainclothes Federal Security Service officers who asserted that the local administration was forbidden from holding events with participation by the Dutch. A last-minute attempt to hold the workshop at a hotel was also thwarted by Federal Security Service intervention.101 Several days after the ordeal with the workshop facilities, CERP was notified of an impending inspection by the St. Petersburg branch of the Registration Service. The month-long audit revealed several infractions, including conducting educational instead of enlightenment work as stipulated in CERP statute documents, and holding events outside of St. Petersburg despite CERPs status as a regional organization. Invoking compatibility with constitutional and legal protection of security of the state (in a way not dissimilar to the case of the Rainbow House NGO, described above), the Registration Services conclusions noted that in recent CERP project proposals for workshops for police on migration law and international standards of refugees, CERP stressed that the police do not have sufficient awareness of the rights of refugees, a claim that discredits the police force and undermines Russias interests. The Registration Services conclusions were forwarded to the procuracy and Tax Inspectorate, compelling them to inspect CERP, although neither agency was able to identify any violations.
On January 11, 2008, the Registration Service filed suit in St. Petersburg City Court to dissolve CERP; 102 proceedings are pending at this writing.
As noted above, the 2006 NGO law introduced a new reporting system for all NGOs, obliging them to detail annually their activities, the composition of their governing bodies, as well as financial expenditures, and the use of other resources.103 According to Registration Service data, as of September 1, 2007, only 36 percent of 216,000 non-commercial organizations registered with the Registration Service had submitted their annual reports. Less than 20 percent submitted reports by the due date, April 15.104
The authorities justified the requirement that NGOs report on foreign funding by referring to the need to oversee the influx of foreign money into the country and to prevent it from being used to interfere with Russian domestic affairs. In an interview with the newspaper Rossiiskaia Gazeta, Sergei Vasiliev said,
Olga Gnezdilova, of Interregional Human Rights Group Voronezh/Chernozemie, pointed out to us, however, that prior to the adoption of the 2006 NGO law the state already had a mechanism for tracking foreign funding of NGOs, as NGOs had to report on their sources of funding to the tax inspectorate. Gnezdilova commented,
Russian activists criticize the authorities for failing to make widely and easily available information about the new reporting requirements, the lack of clear instructions as to how to fill in new reporting forms, and a lack of consultation centers in the regions.107 These are clear responsibilities of the authorities if they are to respect freedom of association. Report preparation also requires significant time and resources, and even large Moscow-based groups that have access to information find the process challenging. Leading human rights groups told Human Rights Watch that it took them about two to three weeks to prepare the report, and that they had to work after hours to complete their report in order not to significantly reduce their substantive work.108
The 2006 NGO law provides that repeated failure to submit timely reports and other information to the Registration Service can lead to an organizations dissolution.109 It is commonly agreed that a significant number of NGOs that had been registered in Russia had long since ceased operations but failed to notify the authorities about the termination of their activities. The authorities have claimed that the Registration Service has been striving to rid the Registry of these phantom organizations. In a written reply to questions submitted by Human Rights Watch, the Registration Service stated that as of January 1, 2008, courts had found that 5,390 organizations were effectively not functioning and ended their legal personality.110 The petitions had been filed by local Registration Service branches. The Registration Service also stated that between 2005 and 2007 the Federal Registration Service filed 1,302 petitions to terminate the activities of public associations; courts rejected fewer than one percent of these petitions.111
At the end of January 2006just after the NGO law was adopted but before it entered into forcethe Ministry of Justice filed a lawsuit to dissolve the Russian Research Center on Human Rights, an umbrella organization of a dozen Russian human rights groups, including the Moscow Helsinki Group and the Union of Soldiers Mothers Committees. The Ministry of Justice claimed that the organization had failed to file reports of its activities for the past five years, a claim disputed by the organization. The timing of the lawsuit suggested that the authorities wished to signal that reporting requirements that existed previously but were not enforced would now be enforced vigorously. Ultimately, the Center submitted all documents, and no further action was taken against it.
Subsequent cases illustrate the risk NGOs face that the Registration Service will indeed move to dissolution when its officials believe an organization has not submitted activity reports. The cases described below suggest that, at minimum, the Registration Service is overzealous in its recourse to a punitive approach, when it could be more leniently and constructively exercising a role that educates NGOs about their legal obligations and assists them in preventing and correcting administrative violations. In at least one of the cases below, a deliberately punitive and targeted approach may be in evidence.
In Nizhni Novgorod, the District Registration Service moved to close a youth organization on grounds of non-submission of annual reports, even though a properly registered change of status by the organization meant that its reporting requirements at district level had ended. The Youth Human Rights Movement (YHRM) had initially been an inter-regional organization, but in 2004 had re-registered itself as an international organization; according to the YHRM, the Nizhni Novgorod District Registration Service had been properly notified of this change.112 As an international organization, the YHRM had been submitting its activity reports since 2004 to the Federal Registration Service in Moscow, as prescribed by law.113
On August 8, 2007, the YHRM learned that the Sovetsky District Court in Nizhni Novgorod had ruled to dissolve the organization on June 13, based on a petition filed by the Nizhni Novgorod District Registration Service. The court found that because the YHRM was not submitting reports to the Registration Service the organization must have ceased operating. The court issued its ruling in the absence of YHRM representatives. On August 9, YHRM filed a motion with the Sovetsky District Court to have the ruling overturned, stating that the YHRM representatives were not duly notified of the court hearing.
After a broad public campaign protesting the dissolution of the YHRM, the Registration Service disseminated a statement saying that it had petitioned to terminate the Inter-regional Youth Public Movement, Youth Human Rights Movement, not the International Youth Public Movement Youth Human Rights Movement.114 The Registration Service claimed that the inter-regional group was not active any longer, rather than acknowledging that it no longer existed as a legal entity. However, in its petition to court dated May 11, 2007, the Nizhni Novgorod District Registration Service had sought to terminate the Youth Human Rights Movement without specifying whether this was the inter-regional or international group.115 It is unclear whether the move to dissolve the YHRM was the result of a bureaucratic error or whether it was intentional. Regardless, the burden of appealing to a court to annul the dissolution rested with the YHRM. The organization was successful in this endeavor: In November 2007 the Registration Service revoked its petition for YHRMs dissolution, and the dissolution was annulled.116
On September 5, 2006, a court in Voronezh dissolved a regional public organization, Consumer Protection, which has been actively consulting and representing consumers in court. The Registration Service requested dissolution of the organization, concluding that Consumer Protection did not exist because it had not responded to the Registration Services requests; as it turned out, the Registration Service had sent the requests to an outdated address (who was at fault for this is not clear to Human Rights Watch). Consumer Protection was not duly notified of the court proceedings and only learned accidentally seven months later that it had been dissolved, in March 2007. The group is appealing the decision.117
Dissolution proceedings faced by an inter-regional cultural organization, Mari Union (Mari Ushem), appear to be part of other harassment against the organization (see Chapter V, Other Types of Pressure on Civil Society). Mari Union among other things promotes the participation in public life of the Mari people in the Republic of Mari-El.118 On November 8, 2006, the Ioshkar-Ola City Court granted a motion by the Mari-El Registration Service to dissolve Mari Union. The Registration Service argued that since the organization had failed to provide reports notifying the service that it was still active, it no longer existed as a legal entity, and that it had failed to inform the Registration Service that it had elected a new head of the organization. Mari Union acknowledged it had not submitted the report but appealed on the grounds that the court did not evaluate all circumstances of the case and that the organization was indeed functioning. On December 27, 2006, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Mari-El revoked the ruling and referred the case to a lower court for review. On February 6, 2007, the Ioshkar-Ola City Court refused the Registration Services request to dissolve Mari Union, noting that even though the organization failed to submit reports to the Registration Service, the organization had not terminated its activitiesit produced publications, organized cultural events, and submitted reports to the Tax Service and Pension Fund.119
Under the new law, offices of foreign NGOs operating in Russia must inform the government registration office about their projects for the upcoming year, and about the amount of money allotted for each project.120 The Registration Service has the authority to ban foreign NGO projects and even parts of projects on grounds that are not clear.121 If a foreign NGO implements a banned project, the registration office can close its offices in Russia. Registration officials may also prohibit foreign NGOs, presumably foundations, from funding projects that do not have the aim of defending the constitutional system, morals, public health, rights, and lawful interest of other people, guaranteeing defense capacity and security of the state.122 Foreign NGOs must provide the Registration Service with quarterly updates to their work plans and notify it of any new planned program at least one month prior to its realization and of any essential changes in its planned activities within 10 business days of deciding the changes.
The law also required all foreign NGOs to re-register their offices in Russia by October 18, 2006. Dozens of foreign NGOs, including those that submitted their documents prior to the October 18 deadline, were not recorded in the State Registry by October 18 and had to suspend their activities in Russia for days or weeks until the registry reviewed their registration documents and officially re-registered the organizations.123
42 Law on Non-Commercial Organizations FZ-7 of 1996, art.2, part 3: Non-commercial organizations can be established in the form of public or religious organizations (associations), non-commercial partnerships, institutions, autonomous non-commercial organizations, social, charitable and other foundations, associations and unions, as well as other forms provided for by federal laws. Article 7 of the Law on Public Associations No. 82-FZ from 1995 provides that public associations can be established in one of the following legal forms: public organization; public movement; public foundation; public institution; amateur organization (organ obschestvennoi samodeiatelnosti); political party.
43 This report uses the term NGO to refer to all not-for-profit organizations, including public associations, except for cases in which reference to an organizations legal form is relevant. Russian officials often use the term NKO (NCO). It is not always clear whether they refer to all legal forms of NGOs, or whether they mean only those registered as non-commercial organizations under the 1996 Law on Non-Commercial Organizations.
44 Fundamental Principles on the Status of Non-governmental Organizations in Europe, November 13, 2002, http://www.coe.int/t/e/legal_affairs/legal_co-operation/civil_society/basic_texts/Fundamental%20Principles%20E.asp (accessed February 1, 2008).
45 Fundamental Principles, art. 28.
46 The European Court of Human Rights has on several occasions found that rejection of registration of organizations on the grounds that they have incomplete or inappropriate documentation will be a violation of freedom of association, if the state has not made clear what exactly the organization must do to comply. See, for example, Tsonev v. Bulgaria, April 13, 2006; andThe Moscow Branch of The Salvation Army v. Russia, October 5, 2006.
47 Federal law on Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation, No. 18-FZ, 2006 art. 3(10).
48 Ibid., arts. 2(8) and 3(10)
49 Ibid., art. 3(10).
50 Fundamental Principles, art. 60.
51 Human Rights Watch interview with Alexander Stepanov, chief of the department for relations with non-commercial organizations, Federal Registration Service, Moscow, February 13, 2008.
52 As described below, if an NGO repeatedly fails to submit timely information to the Registration Service, or receives as few as two warnings (which are often issued for minor technical inaccuracies in recordkeeping), the Registration Service can petition for the organizations dissolution.
53 Fundamental Principles, arts. 70 and 71.
54 Human Rights Watch interview with Alexander Stepanov, February 13, 2008.
55European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), European Treaty Series No. 5, art. 11. Russia became a party to the ECHR on May 5, 1998. Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also sets out that the only restrictions permissible on freedom of association are those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Russia ratified the ICCPR on October 16, 1973.
56 See for example, Sidiropoulos and Others v. Greece, judgment of 10 July 1998, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998-IV, para. 40; Gorzelik and Others v. Poland [GC], judgment of February 17, 2004; and most recently Ramazanova and Others v. Azerbaijan, judgment of February 1, 2007, para. 54, Zhechev v. Bulgaria, judgment of June 21, 2007., para. 34, and Ismayilov v. Azerbaijan, judgment of January 17, 2008.
58 For example, Tsonev v. Bulgaria, judgment of April 13, 2006, para. 55.
59 Ibid; and The Moscow Branch of the Salvation Army v. Russia, judgment of October 5, 2006.
60 The Moscow Branch of the Salvation Army v. Russia, judgment of October 5, 2006; Church of Scientology Moscow v. Russia, judgment of April 5, 2007. See also Presidential Party of Mordovia v. Russia, judgment of October 5, 2004.
62 As noted below, the number of ad hoc inspections an organization may be subjected to is unlimited.
63 Prior to 2006 public associations could be dissolved or suspended. The 2006 amendments also provide for their exclusion from the State Registry. Exclusion from the State Registry means that an organization is deprived of its status as a legal person and can no longer have bank accounts, sign contracts, etc. Under article 3 of the 1995 Law on Public Associations, public associations may operate without registering as a legal person, but with significant limitations: they may not participate in federal and municipal authorities decision making; establish mass media outlets and conduct publishing activities; or participate in elections and referendums (Federal Law on Public Associations No.82-FZ of 1995, art. 27).
64 Notification can be also rejected if the required documents are not submitted in full, are filled out inappropriately, or contain false information (art. 3(4)).
65 Between January and July 2007, 37,560 organizations were registered; 32,000 were registered for the same period in 2006. Federal Registration Service, September 13, 2007 Collegium chaired by Sergei Vasiliev, Federal Registration Service Director, on implementation of the Federal Law # 7 issued on January 12, 1996 on Non-Commercial Organizations, December 6, 2007, http://www.rosregistr.ru/index.php?menu=1005000000&id=3672 (accessed September 20, 2007). See also Human Rights Watch interview with Alexander Stepanov, February 13, 2008, and written answers provided at the meeting (on file with Human Rights Watch).
66 Human Rights Watch interview, Russia, 2007 (identifying information withheld by request).
67 Human Rights Watch interview with Igor Pastukhov, lawyer, Moscow, August 15, 2007.
68 Laboratory for Institutional Analysis of Economic Reforms at the State University Higher School of Economics, Department of the Applied Institutional Economics and Laboratory for the Institutional Analysis at the Economic Faculty of Moscow State University, Institute for National Project «Social Contract», Institute for Civil Analysis with the support of Levada Analytical Center, Economic Consequences of the New Russian NGO Legislation, PowerPoint presentation, May 20, 2007, on file with Human Rights Watch.
69 Federal law on Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation, No. 18-FZ, 2006, arts. 2(6) and 3(9).
70 Letter No. 01- 20-022675/06 from the Ministry of Justice, Federal Registration Service branch of Tyumen Region, Khanti-Mansi and Yamalo Nenetsk autonomous district, to A.V. Zhdanov, who is a representative of Rainbow House, December 29, 2006, on file with Human Rights Watch.
71 Federal Law on Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation, No. 18-FZ, arts. 2(6) and 3(9).
72 The 2006 NGO law requires non-commercial organizations to inform the Registration Service within three days about a change in the head of the organization, a change in his/her passport data, a change of the organizations address, bank information, and other information. Grounds on which the Registration Service may decline to register these changes are the same as for rejection of an organizations registration. Repeated failure to submit this information, or failure to submit annual reports in a timely manner gives the Registration Service the right to petition for dissolution of the organization. Federal law on Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation, No. 18-FZ, art.3 (10).
73 Human Rights Watch interview with Victoria Gromova, president, charitable foundation For Ecological and Social Justice, Voronezh, October 2, 2007. The Voronezh-based foundation For Ecological and Social Justice aims to unite ecological protection and human rights and supports youth initiatives related to these issues.
75 Federal law on Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation, No. 18-FZ, arts. 2 (8) and 3 (10).
76 Order of the Ministry of Justice No. 380 on Approval of Registration Service Administrative Regulations as Relates to its State Function to Conduct Inspections Ascribed to Registration Service Jurisdiction, and Taking up Measures based on the Inspections Results as Stipulated by Russian Federation Legislation (Registration Service Administrative Regulations), December 25, 2006, http://www.rosregistr.ru/docs/norm_akt/frs/prikaz_mu_372_25122006.doc (accessed October 17, 2007), art. 9.
77 Ministry of Justice Order 222 Approving the Procedure for Conducting Inspections into the Conformity of Non-commercial Organizations Activities, Including the Expenditure of Finances and Use of Property, with the Goals Envisaged in Its Founding Documents (Statutory Goals ), July 11, 2006, and Registration Service Administrative Regulations No.380, December 25, 2006.
78 Ministry of Justice Order 222 and Registration Service Administrative Regulation 380 are inconsistent with regard to planned inspections. Ministry of Justice Order 222 in point 5 provides for one planned inspection per year, whereas Registration Service Administrative Regulation 380 provides for one planned inspection every two years (point 8(3)). Alexander Stepanov of the Federal Registration Service told Human Rights Watch that Regulation 380 prevails over Order 222 in this regard. Human Rights Watch interview with Alexander Stepanov, February 13, 2008.
79 For example, Ministry of Justice Order 222, points 7 and 19, list the kinds of documents the Registration Service may request of organizations being inspected. Some are quite specific, such as documents relating to the organizations finances. Others are open ended. For example, with regard to organizations the Registration Service is inspecting through an off-site inspection, such open-ended terms as other documents that, in accordance with legislation of the Russian Federation, the Registration Service has at its disposal (point 7). Point 19 states that an inspection agency has the right to request and receive documents that are necessary to achieve the goals of the inspection.
80 The inspection took place in July and August 2007. Human Rights Watch interview with Yuri Vdovin, deputy chair, Citizens Watch, St. Petersburg, October 9, 2007.
81 Federal Registration Service, Main presentation points of A.V. Stepanov, chief of the department for relations with non-commercial organizations, Federal Registration Service, at a meeting with representatives from Russian nongovernmental and international organizations titled Pressing Problems of Cooperation between a State Institution and Nongovernmental Organizations, May 30, 2007, http://www.rosregistr.ru/index.php?menu=1520000000&id=3314 (accessed October 19, 2007).
82 A scan of regional Registration Service websites in December 2007 indicated that 31 branches did not have webpages, for example.
83 Registration Service Administrative Regulations, art. 51, para 3.
84 Citizens Watch decided to appeal after it received an inspection report on August 31, 2007, labeled for internal use. Human Rights Watch interview with Yuri Vdovin, deputy chair, Citizens Watch, St. Petersburg, October 9, 2007.
85 Yamshanov, Registration without Rejections Rossiiskaia Gazeta.
86 The Individual and the Law was founded in 1999. The group addresses human rights violations in detention facilities, including facilities for juveniles; conducts trainings on human rights issues for law enforcement personnel; provides legal services; and publishes reports based on its human rights monitoring.
87 Free University conducts trainings on human rights issues. Human Rights Watch interview with Maria Gordeeva, program coordinator, Free University, Voronezh, October 2, 2007.
88 Human Rights Watch interview with Yuri Vdovin, deputy chair of the board, Bellona, St. Petersburg, October 9, 2007.
90 Registration Service Administrative Regulations, point 76. This point reads: The issuing of a new (repeated) warning (representation, instruction) and failure to eliminate the violation indicated in this, is grounds for applying measures of accountability in cases envisaged by legislation of the Russian Federation, including petitioning a court to stop the work (dissolve) of the subject of the inspection.
91 In September 2007 Ryazan-Memorial received a letter from the Ryazan district Registration Service stating that the current legislation of the Russian Federation does not have a cancellation procedure for an issued warning. Letter No. 33/3662 from the Ministry of Justice, Federal Registration Service branch of Ryazan district, to A. Blinushov, board chair, Ryazan-Memorial, September 21, 2007, 0n file with Human Rights Watch. Articles 2(8) and 3(10) of the 2006 NGO law state that a warning can be appealed to a higher organ, for example, the Federal Registration Service, or to a court.
92 Dissolution of legal entities is regulated by article 61 of the Civil Code. Article 61 also allows an NGO to be dissolved for systematically undertaking an activity that is counter to its founding goals. Civil Code of the Russian Federation, Num. 51-FZ of 11/30/1994, http://www.consultant.ru/popular/gkrf1/ (accessed February 1, 2008), art. 61.
93 Human Rights Watch interview with Olga Gnezdilova, legal advisor, Interregional Human Rights Group Voronezh/Chernozemie, Voronezh, October 2, 2007.
94 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Pavel Romanov, lawyer, Interregional Human Rights Organizations Association AGORA, August 2, 2007.
95 Human Rights Watch interview with Sergei Poduzov, co-chair, The Individual and the Law, Ioshkar-Ola, May 31, 2007; Human Rights Watch email correspondence with Sergei Poduzov between June and October 2007; and Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Julia Sereda, member of the board, Ryazan-Memorial, February 2008. With regard to the latter, the Registration Service had also found that according to Ryazan-Memorials statute it was, inter alia, a charity organization but had not carried out any charitable work. Ryazan-Memorial was unsuccessful in its challenge to this point of the warning.
96 Human Rights Watch interview with Julia Sereda, member of the board, Ryazan-Memorial, Moscow, October 5, 2007.
97 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Pavel Chikov, chair, Inter-regional Human Rights Organizations Association AGORA, October 31, 2007.
98 Established in 2002, the Federal Financial Monitoring Service is an executive body that combats money laundering and the financing of terrorism, and coordinates the work of other federal executive agencies in this sphere.
99 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Pavel Chikov, October 31, 2007.
101 After being notified that the event was banned from the local district offices, CERP representatives booked a room at a local hotel. One day prior to the event, the hotel administrator called back explaining that there had been a mistake and that a room was in fact not available. After prodding, the administrator admitted that the hotel too had been approached by the FSB and was forbidden to host the event for CERP. Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Maria Kazankova, a St. Petersburg lawyer specializing in non-profit law and head of CERP, February 4, 2008.
102 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Maria Kazankova, February 4, 2008. The inspections conclusions of the Registration Services St. Petersburg branch, the suit filed by the Registration Service with the St. Petersburg City Court, and CERPs counter-arguments submitted to the court are on file with Human Rights Watch.
103 As noted above, foreign organizations must also file quarterly activity reports and annual reports projecting future work. Prior to the adoption of the 2006 NGO law, public associations had to notify the Registration Service about the continuation of their work. Other types of NCOs were not obligated to report to the Registration Service. The 2006 NGO law obliges public associations to report on foreign funds.
104 Andrey Sharov and Mikhail Falaleev, Amnesty Year. Registration of dacha property rights will be further simplified. Interview with Sergei Vasiliev, director of the Federal Registration Service, Rossiiskaia Gazeta, September 12, 2007, http://www.rg.ru/2007/09/12/amnistiya.html (accessed October 22, 2007).
105 Yamshanov, Registration without Rejections, Rossiiskaia Gazeta.
106 Human Rights Watch interview with Olga Gnezdilova, Voronezh, October 2, 2007.
107 See Olga Gnezdilova, United Group on Freedom of Association, New Legislation: NCO and Federal Registration Service 5 problems of interaction, 2007, pp. 19-20.
108 Human Rights Watch interviews with Tatiana Kasatkina, director, Memorial Human Rights Center, Moscow, July 18, 2007; Svetlana Gannushkina, chair, Civic Assistance, Moscow, August 1, 2007; and Nina Tagankina, executive director, Moscow Helsinki Group, Moscow, June 26, 2007.
109 Federal law on Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation, No. 18-FZ, 2006, art. 3(10).
110 Written answer provided during Human Rights Watch interview with Alexander Stepanov, February 13, 2008, on file with Human Rights Watch.
112 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Andrei Yurov, honorary president, YHRM, August 9, 2007.
114 Federal Registration Service of Nizhni Novgorod district, Information about activities of International Youth Movement Youth Human Rights Movement, undated, http://www.reis.nnov.ru/news30082007.html (accessed November 7, 2007).
115 Ministry of Justice, Federal Registration Service branch of the Nizhni Novgorod District Registration Service, petition to court No. 41/553454, May 11, 2007, on file with Human Rights Watch.
116 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Dmitri Makarov, lawyer for f YHRM, January 31, 2008. See also FRS Revoked Its Suit Against MPD, http://yhrm.org/news/archives/11_2007/?vw=384 (accessed February 6, 2008).
117 Human Rights Watch interview with Valentina Badalova, chair, Voronezh city public organization Consumer Protection, Voronezh, October 2, 2007.
118 Mari-Ushem (Mari Union) is the largest organization representing ethnic Mari, the indigenous population of the Republic of Mari-El. See pp. 66-68 for details of other forms of harassment experienced by Mari Union, including a criminal investigation against its head, extremism charges against its members, and physical attacks on its members.
119 Human Rights Watch interview with Nina Maksimova, head of Mari Union, Ioshkar Ola, May 30, 2007.
120 Federal law on Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation, No. 18-FZ, art. 3(10).
121 Alexander Stepanov of the Registration Service told Human Rights Watch that this had been done in only one case, when a foreign NGO registered in Russia planned a project to be carried out in Belarus. Human Rights Watch interview with Alexander Stepanov, February 13, 2008.
122 Federal law on Introducing Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation, No. 18-FZ, art. 3(10).
123 Human Rights Watchs office in Russia had to suspend its activities for three weeks pending re-registration papers. The application for re-registration, formally called notification (uvedomlenie) was rejected for technical reasons such as the way the official name of the Russia office was formulated. These corrections required that original documents be signed de novo in the head office, notarized and apostilled de novo, sent to Russia and then translated and notarized de novo. The Registration Service also required Human Rights Watch to translate the charter of the Russia office (which was drafted by a Russian lawyer in Russian) into English and then translate it back into Russian (with an official, notarized translation).