Russian Foreign Agents Law starts to affect monitoring in detention centers

February 4, 2016

Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped

reports that on 26 January 2016, the Russian Duma (lower chamber of Parliament) adopted at first reading amendments to the law regulating the work of Public Monitoring Commissions (PMCs). There is serious concern that if passed, the draft  amendments will put an end to the independent and effective monitoring of places of detention by excluding the many human rights defenders labeled as foreign agents. 

On 10 June 2008, the Public Monitoring Commissions were established by the federal law with the aim of ensuring public control over respect for human rights and standards of detention in detention facilities. The PMCs are composed of representatives of civil society organisations who have been approved by the Federal Public Chamber. The primary task of the PMCs is to monitor places of detention and provide government agencies with reliable information on any violations of detainees’ rights discovered during their visits. The members of the commissions currently have a significant degree of freedom in their work, being able to unrestrictedly access any detention facilities, talk to detainees, receive complaints, request  relevant documents from state bodies and use photo, video and audio equipment to document  human rights violations.

The draft amendments stipulate that representatives of NGOs recognised by the Ministry of Justice as organisations performing functions of “foreign agents” cannot become members of PMCs. The problem is that all main human rights organisations in the Russian Federation have received this qualification. As a consequence, the draft amendments shall exclude them from monitoring the situation in detention facilities and defending the rights of prisoners.

Moreover, candidates for the PMCs will be required to obtain a recommendation from the Regional Public Chamber or Regional Ombudsman before the Federal Public Chamber can take a decision on their appointment. Concern is expressed that in practice this would result in Regional Public Chambers seeking to defend the reputation of their regions by recommending only those candidates whom they could subsequently influence.

[In a positive development, the draft law expands the list of facilities that can be submitted to monitoring by PMCs, adding psychiatric wards, hospitals and other facilities of involuntary hospitalization.]

This blog has had quite a few posts devoted to the “foreign agents” issue in Russia and elsewhere (see: and major human rights NGOs (such as AI, FIDH/OMCT, Front Line) continue to report cases. See e.g. Human Rights Watch’ assessment for 2015 in or the Note written by HRW’s Russia Program Director Tanya Lokshina on 10 November 2015 saying in short:

Russia’s Ministry of Justice has accused a leading rights group of undermining the country’s “constitutional rule” and using foreign funding to harm Russia. Memorial Human Rights Center – known worldwide for its courageous work, including in armed conflict zones – learned of the accusations when the ministry delivered the official findings of its planned inspection of the group, which had taken place this fall.  According to the ministry, Memorial was doing all this by fostering negative public attitudes toward the government, specifically through its criticism of the government’s actions and policies. What the ministry conveniently ignored is that the Russian Constitution – and Russia’s international human rights obligations – guarantee free expression, in particular critical expression on issues of public interest. The ministry also chooses to ignore that their harassment and persecution of independent critics gives rise to violations of domestic and international human rights obligations and is wholly incompatible with democratic society based on rule of law and respect for human rights.Just a few days earlier, authorities in Ingushetia, a small region in Russia’s Caucasus, searched the house and the office of a prominent local human rights defender, Magomed Mutsolgov, alleging that he and the group under his leadership were engaged in anti-Russian sabotage. At the time, one may have thought: this is the North Caucasus, a particularly high-risk place for human rights defenders in Russia, and thus rather an exception than a rule.But now that something very similar is happening to a world renowned organization in Moscow, it’s becoming crystal clear: targeting of human rights defenders is not an exception but the tactic of the Russian government. The Ministry of Justice can now use its own “findings” to go to court and demand that Memorial be shut down. It could also ask the prosecutors to open a criminal case against Memorial for allegedly attempting to dismantle the constitutional rule…

Source: Dispatches: Russian Government Targets Human Rights Giants | Human Rights Watch

One Response to “Russian Foreign Agents Law starts to affect monitoring in detention centers”

  1. […] Russian Foreign Agents Law starts to affect monitoring in detention centers […]

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