On 4 April 2017 Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, wrote about “The Shrinking Space for Human Rights Organisations“. The new EU ‘alert site I referred to yesterday [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/03/protectdefenders-eu-launches-new-alert-website-but-no-single-stop-yet/] showed in 2016 some 86 reported violations in the European (and Central Asian) region, mostly detention and judicial harassment. Also the recent CIVICUS findings of the narrowing space for civil society points in this direction. An example could be Hungary as illustrated by reports of Human Rights Watch (2016), Human Rights First (2017) and Amnesty International (2016/17); the issue of academic freedom is not directly related but part of the restrictive trend [see links below].
Posts Tagged ‘foreign agent law’
UN rapporteurs urge India to repeal law restricting human rights defenders access to foreign fundingJune 17, 2016
While most attention on the issue of foreign funding of NGOs has gone to Russia, which for this purpose invented the ‘foreign agent’ law, [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/foreign-agent-law/], another big country – India – has been stepping up its own version through a law restricting civil society access to foreign funding:
On 16 June 2016 three United Nations rapporteurs on human rights called on the Government of India to repeal a regulation that has been increasingly used to obstruct civil society’s access to foreign funding. The experts’ call comes as the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs suspended for six months the registration of the non-governmental organization Lawyers Collective, under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), according to a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva. [see also my post form 2013: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/india-should-end-funding-restraints-on-human-rights-defenders-says-hrw/]
The suspension was imposed on the basis of allegations that its founders, human rights lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, violated the act provisions by using foreign funding for purposes other than intended.
“We are alarmed that FCRA provisions are being used more and more to silence organisations involved in advocating civil, political, economic, social, environmental or cultural priorities, which may differ from those backed by the Government,” said UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, Michel Forst, on freedom of expression, David Kaye, and on freedom of association, Maina Kiai.
Despite detailed evidence provided by the non-governmental organization (NGO) to rebut all allegations and prove that all foreign contributions were spent and accounted for in line with FCRA, the suspension was still applied. “We are alarmed by reports that the suspension was politically motivated and was aimed at intimidating, delegitimising and silencing Lawyers Collective for their litigation and criticism of the Government’s policies,” the experts said noting that the NGO is known for its public interest litigation and advocacy in defence of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of Indian society.
Many civil society organizations in India now depend on FCRA accreditation to receive foreign funding, which is critical to their operations assisting millions of Indians in pursuing their political, cultural, economic and social rights. The ability to access foreign funding is vital to human rights work and is an integral part of the right to freedom of association. However, FCRA’s broad and vague terms such as ‘political nature’, ‘economic interest of the State’ or ‘public interest’ are overly broad, do not conform to a prescribed aim, and are not a proportionate responses to the purported goal of the restriction.
“Human rights defenders and civil society must have the ability to do their important job without being subjected to increased limitations on their access to foreign funding and the undue suspension of their registration on the basis of burdensome administrative requirements imposed to those organizations in receipt of foreign funds,” the UN human rights experts concluded.
In 2013 it was feared that Kyrgyzstan would follow the bad example of Russia with regard to introducing a foreign agent law even if the President had his doubts. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/kyrgyz-president-says-no-need-for-foreign-agent-law/]. On 13 April 2016 the Observatory published an urgent appeal to the lawmakers to reject the bill.[Kyrgyzstan: Parliament must reject discriminatory bill targeting NGOs / April 13, 2016 / Urgent Interventions / Human rights defenders / OMCT]. Today AKI press agency reports the good news that the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan rejected the bill. Only 46 MPs voted for the bill and 65 MPs voted against it
An update on the situation human rights defenders in Russia is unfortunately needed too frequently. Recently the Martin Ennals Foundation condemned the attacks on its 2013 Laureate, the Joint Mobile Group (JMG) which is known for its courageous work in opening legal cases on behalf of victims of torture in Chechnya. On March 9th, they were travelling together with journalists and the group was physically attacked, their confidential notes stolen, and the vehicles they were in burned. Their offices in Ingushetia were also attacked. The international and local media have reported (see list at bottom of the post). This is part of an ongoing pattern of threats and intimidation directed against JMG.
Now, Human Rights Watch and others report that yesterday (16 March) Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, one of the founders and participants of the Joint Mobile Group, was attacked as he was leaving his hotel in Grozny. They also pelted him with eggs, and threw flour and bright antiseptic liquid on him, which stained his face and clothes. “The attack on Igor Kalyapin shows again that it’s open season on human rights defenders in Chechnya,” said Hugh Williamson, of Human Rights Watch. “The authorities’ utter failure to hold anyone to account for a series of vicious attacks in recent years is like a bright green light for further attacks.”
Only a few days ago I referred to the widening impact of the ‘foreign agent’ law in Russia [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/russian-foreign-agents-law-starts-to-affect-monitoring-in-detention-centers/]. Now it seems that even organizations that do NOT accept foreign funding, may actually fall under it.
reports that on 28 January 2016, the Orenburg regional department of the Ministry of Justice accused the Committee for Prevention of Torture (CPT) and its chairman Mr Igor Kalyapin of violating the ‘Foreign Agents’ law. Read the rest of this entry »
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. Read the rest of this entry »
In December 2015 the ISHR published this profile of Russian human rights defender Stephania Koulaeva
Stephania Koulaeva, a historian by education, explains the ever-expanding scope of her human rights work. Her interest was drawn to the memorial movement in Russia: ‘at first from a historical perspective, then from a human rights perspective.’ As a student, Stephania was involved in anti-fascist and anti-racist groups, primarily focused on the rights of the Roma minority, the most visible minority in Russia at the time. After new waves of migration began from Central Asia in the late nineties, Stephania expanded her work to issues surrounding migration. This then broadened further to include women’s rights, LGBTI rights, and she eventually became involved in the protection of human rights defenders. Her organisation, Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial (ADC Memorial) is the only organisation in Russia that combats discrimination on such a wide range of issues.
Unfortunately, shrinking space for civil society has consistently been a serious threat within Russia. ‘In the 1990s and early 2000s, neo-nazis attacked and occasionally murdered human rights defenders working on discrimination issues. At that time that was the primary danger; the main danger we face now is political oppression by the Government.’
Over the past few years – particularly since Vladimir Putin’s 2012 return to presidency – the Russian Government has cracked down on NGOs, often by accusing them of being ‘foreign agents’ due to their ‘political activity’. ADC Memorial was forced to choose between officially registering as a ‘foreign agent’ or closing down for submitting a report to the UN Committee against Torture in the lead up to Russia’s 2012 review by that body. As the label of ‘foreign agent’ would greatly restrict the work ADC Memorial was able to carry out, it made the difficult decision of closing the organisation down in 2014. Since then, ADC Memorial has been operating without official Russian registration.
The continued operation of ADC Memorial does not indicate an alleviation in the Government’s harsh approach to civil society, and in November of this year, prominent NGO Memorial Human Rights Centre was targeted in the same manner: ‘They received a letter from the prosecutor stating that they had violated the Constitution of the Russian Federation for fulfilling their work.’ Memorial Human Rights Centre had previously ‘criticised Russian aggression in the Ukraine’ and ‘disagreed with the arrest of certain civil activists’. It is most likely being threatened due to this ‘political action’. ‘This is a very dangerous step for the Government to take. They are now criminalising human rights activity; the situation is rapidly getting worse.’
Stephania has a positive outlook on her previous interactions with the UN, acknowledging that the UN has done their utmost to stop the criminalisation of human rights defenders. ‘We’re very grateful for all the support that we’ve received from various treaty body committees that we’ve worked with; they’ve all recognised the work of civil society and given meaningful recommendations in the framework of their mandate.’ However, the political reality of the UN’s influence is not always as effective. ‘It’s very difficult to oppose Russian politics, even at the level of the United Nations.’ Stephania is now looking outward to bring domestic change to Russia, as anti-discrimination laws now seem ‘unlikely – although pressure on the Government will continue.’ She hopes to find some success in international courts, citing potentially useful precedents at the European Court of Human Rights in cases regarding migrants and stateless people.
‘We can’t simply stay within our borders – it’s impossible to tackle issues solely within Russia without also looking at related issues in neighbouring countries.’
On 7 October, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights announced that Ms. Natalia Taubina, a leading human rights defender from Russia, has been selected as the laureate of the 2015 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, now in its 32nd year. “..I know my father would be proud of her work” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “This award is not just a recognition, it is an opportunity to work hand in hand with human rights defenders to protect the rights and freedoms of the Russian people.”
Natalia is the Director of the Public Verdict Foundation in Russia and is being recognized for her work to hold law enforcement agents accountable for human rights violations and support victims of torture in Russia. The Public Verdict Foundation litigates on behalf of citizens wrongfully arrested, beaten, tortured, and illegally detained by police. In 2014, the Russian government categorized the foundation as a “foreign agent”to publicly invalidate, shame, and render inoperable organizations with international ties. Natalia’s organization has resolutely fought this label in court and is committed to protecting human rights despite the government’s attempt to shut down civil society groups.
“This recognition of our work is especially important today when civil society in Russia is under unprecedented pressure. The climate in which we now operate is hostile like never before. But victims of abuse in Russia need us, and we are not going to abandon them” said Natalia Taubina.
Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy will present Natalia with the 2015 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in Washington, D.C., in a ceremony on 19 November.
About the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award see their website or http://www.brandsaviors.com/thedigest/award/robert-f-kennedy-human-rights-award
For more info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Human rights defenders find it difficult to function with a fair and functioning legal regime for the creation and administration of associations (NGOs). In my post of yesterday on Russia I drew attention to the draft law declaring some NGOs ‘undesirable”. Today Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Kyrgyz lawmakers in the coming days not to follow Russia’s bad example of passing a Foreign Agents law [see also my earlier: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/kyrgyzstan-follows-bad-example-set-by-russia-foreign-agents/].
And also today Front Line and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint OMCT-FIDH programme) ask the Cambodian Government to withdraw its draft law on civil society which would create many uncertainties and restrictions. The NGOs trace the lack of consultation in the process of law- making (since 2010) and conclude that the draft law as it stands will be used arbitrarily to restrict the legitimate work of human rights organisations.
The text of the Open Letter by the Observatory can be viewed at: Open Letter – Cambodia : Draft law on civil society.
reports that on 20 May 2015, the Upper House of Russia’s Parliament has approved the draft Federal Law No. 662902-6, otherwise known as the draft law on “undesirable organisations”. The draft law was already approved by Russia’s State Duma (lower house) [see post: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/russia-the-next-step-in-curtailing-human-rights-defenders/] and now awaits signature into law by the President. Read the rest of this entry »