Posts Tagged ‘Foreign agent’

Human Rights NGOs in Europe no longer the standard to follow!

January 27, 2018

In January 2018 the EU Fundamental Rights Agcncy (FRA) published a Report “Challenges facing civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU“. Its conclusion is that the situation is getting more difficult. Also, on 26 January 2018, the Thomson Reuters Foundation published an interview with Michel Forst, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders said that the EU are setting a bad example by allowing some of its members to stifle human rights groups, which is encouraging crackdowns elsewhere in the world.

In the interview done by Umberto Bacchi, Michel Forst said that the EU has historically done a good job supporting and protecting rights advocates worldwide but the bloc’s authority is now being undermined from within. Officials in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Israel and other countries pointed at recent laws in Hungary and Poland to justify their own regulations which may curb the independence of non-governmental organisations.

There is a need for European countries to be more coherent … not to teach human rights outside of Europe and then not respecting human rights inside Europe,” said Forst, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. Charities in dozens of countries, from Angola to India and Tajikistan have faced restrictions targeting their funding and operations over the past two years, according to an EU report. The trend is part of a global backlash on civil society that has seen rights activists in some parts of the world criminalised or branded as troublemakers, Forst stated.

Last year, Hungary introduced a measure requiring NGOs that get money from abroad to register with the state, a bill that NGOs say stigmatizes them and is intended to stifle independent voices. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/13/human-rights-defenders-in-hungary-not-yet-foreign-agents-but-getting-close/]. Poland instead introduced legislation to set up a centralised authority controlling charities’ funding. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/03/02/backsliding-on-civic-space-in-democracies-important-side-event-on-3-march-in-geneva/%5D. As countermeasure, the EU should boost direct funding of rights groups operating within its borders, Forst said. “What is absurd for me is that the EU is funding organisations in Latin America, in Africa – which is good – but there is no more funding for EU NGOs,” he said. Money should be allocated from a dedicated fund and not channelled through governments, he said.

Besides Europe, Forst also singled out Australia for its treatment of asylum seekers held in offshore camps, adding it was “not a safe place” for human rights defenders due to pressure from the government. A December report by Pro Bono Australia and the Human Rights Law Centre, two rights groups, found Australian NGOs were often pressured into “self-silencing” their advocacy work fearing funding cuts and political retribution.

(Global civil society) space is shrinking because it is shrinking in Europe, because it is shrinking in the Americas, in Australia,” said Forst.

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The FRA’s report finds that civil society organisations in the European Union play a crucial role in promoting fundamental rights, but it has become harder for them to do so – due to both legal and practical restrictions. This report looks at the different types and patterns of challenges faced by civil society organisations working on human rights in the EU. While challenges exist in all EU Member States, their exact nature and extent vary. Data and research on this issue – including comparative research – are generally lacking. The report also highlights promising practices that can counteract these worrying patterns.

UN Rapporteur calls on Hungary to not stigmatize human rights defenders

February 16, 2016

Human rights defenders in Hungary are increasingly working in a rather https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/attila-mraz-human-rights-defenders-in-hungary-have-their-work-cut-out/ and politicized environment,” said Michel Forst, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, at the end of his first visit to the country, according to the press release of the UN. Forst also criticized attempts to de-legitimize defenders and undermine their peaceful and legitimate activities through criminal defamation and excessive administrative and financial pressure, the press release added.

In the context of the refugee crisis and the excessively manipulated fear of the ‘other’ in society, defenders face public criticism by government officials, stigmatization in the media, unwarranted inspections and reduction of state funding,” the special rapporteur noted.

The drastic constitutional changes in Hungary have resulted in the weakened constitutional court and the centralization and tightening of government control over the judiciary, the media, religious organizations and other spheres of public life, directly or indirectly affecting human rights,” the press release cited him as saying in connection with Hungary.

During his nine-day visit, at the invitation of the Hungarian government, the expert met with state officials, members of the judiciary, the parliament, ombudsman as well as human rights defenders, representatives of civil society and the diplomatic community. Forst heard specific testimonies that defenders who criticize the Government or raise human rights concerns are quickly intimidated and portrayed as ‘political’ or ‘foreign agents’, according to the press release.

See also https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/attila-mraz-human-rights-defenders-in-hungary-have-their-work-cut-out/

Source: UN calls on Hungary to not stigmatize human rights defenders | The Budapest Business Journal on the web | bbj.hu

Michael Sfardjan: Israel’s Human Rights Activists Aren’t Traitors

January 5, 2016

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Russian Olga Sadovskaya keeps fighting torture

December 2, 2015

Yesterday I announced the “10 December, 10 Defenders” Campaign by OMCT. One the first profiles concerns Russian human rights defender Olga Sadovskaya.

Olga Sadovskaya does not shout, or carry banners in the streets; nor does she complain about the threats and insulting graffiti she regularly finds painted on the fence around her house.  This sober 36-year-old lawyer, who practices yoga in her spare time, has put her legal skills and intellectual rigor in the service of the cause of fighting torture.  As Deputy Director of the Committee Against Torture, theNGO that won the 2011 Council of Europe Human Rights Prize, she focuses on winning legal victories in torture cases by thorough investigative groundwork, sophisticated medical reports and legal expertise.

Everyone should care about torture because anyone could be the next victim,” Olga says. “If torture is condoned or indeed widespread, it means that the State’s legal system is not working properly, not only when torture is involved, but at all levels.” Torture works like a litmus test. If it is accompanied by impunity, the legal system is dysfunctional. “There is no guarantee that the law will work properly in ordinary, day-to-day situations, as when someone asks for a bank loan, sues for damages, needs her child to be protected from abuse or her mother to be provided with anaesthesia”, she explains.

The work pays off. In the 13 years she has been with the Committee, she and her colleagues have filed 84 complaints at the European Court of Human Rights, managed to put more than 100 police officers in jail for torture, with clients receiving almost 46 million roubles (700,000 USD) in compensation, and several lives being saved by evacuation from Chechnya.

Olga describes her work as a constant challenge given the Russian Government’s attempts to close down independent human rights organizations.  For lack of substantive arguments, the Government accuses the Committee – partially funded by international donors, as most NGOs – of being a foreign agent, in order to prevent it from accessing funds that allow it to function. This is a commonly used tactic against human rights activists. Rather than simply banning an NGO, some States block its access to external funding by a variety of restrictive measures – legal, administrative or practical – which being, less obvious, are less likely to draw international condemnation. Although, as a result, the Committee might run out of money within three months, Olga keeps ploughing through her cases with unwavering faith that her work is about restoring trust in the State. [for more on foreign agent, see: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/foreign-agent/]

Story by Lori Brumat in Geneva.

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Source: Russian Federation: Olga and the paradox of fighting torture: Revealing legal dysfunctionality, building trust / November 1, 2015 / Links / Human rights defenders / OMCT

Russia: The Supreme Court rejects a lawsuit filed against “Memorial”

February 9, 2015

On  6 February 2015, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, an OMCT-FIDH joint programme, welcomed the decision of 28 January of the Russian Supreme Court to reject the complaint filed by the Ministry of Justice against the Society “Memorial”.

[Since its foundation in the final years of the Soviet Union, the network “Memorial”, consisting in a number of independent NGOs under the same society, is known for exposing Soviet-era repression, commemorating victims of violations and monitoring the current human rights situation in the Russian Federation and other post-Soviet countries.]

The complaint filed by the Justice Ministry, was a clear attempt to harass and discredit the Society “Memorial”, undermine its tremendous human rights work and expeditiously lead to its closure. It followed years of harassment, in the form of defamation through slandering media campaigns and acts of vandalism targeting the group’s headquarters in Moscow.Russian civil society organisations are facing a deep and systematic clampdownsaid OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.OMCT-LOGO

[Human Rights Center “Memorial” is currently fighting a separate battle against an official move to label it a “foreign agent” under the controversial law targeting NGOs that receive foreign funding. Moreover, under a newly proposed piece of legislation, currently debated in the State Duma of the Russian Federation, foreign organisations would face being labelled as “undesirable” and closure and local NGOs engaged in cooperation with such bodies would face criminal charges.]

While the decision of the Supreme Court dismissing the complaint against the Society “Memorial” should be welcomed, we remain deeply concerned by the constant threats to human rights defenders in the Russian Federation in the context of an ever increasing repressive legal framework and frequent attacks targeting human rights defenders”, said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

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The Observatory recalls in this context the recent brutal attack on lawyer Mourad Magomedov, who works with the Human Rights Centre Memorial in Daghestan, by five unknown men in Makhachkala, Dagestan.

Russian Federation: The Supreme Court rejects the lawsuit filed against the renowned Historical, Educational, Human Rights and Charitable Society “Memorial” (Society “Memorial”) / February 6, 2015 / Statements / Human rights defenders / OMCT.

Russia: the next step in curtailing human rights defenders

January 19, 2015

The next ‘logical’ step by Russia in curtailing the work of human rights defenders is in the making: on 20 January the Russian Parliament (Duma) will debate a bill to declare certain foreign and international organisations as ‘unwanted’ and to fine anyone working with such entities. OMCT-LOGOThe Observatory, a joint programme of FIDH and OMCT, issued a statement today calling on the Duma to drop this bill. logo FIDH_seul

If adopted, the law will complement an already very restrictive legislative arsenal used to silence all forms of criticism against the regime in contradiction with international human rights instruments ratified by Russia and will allow authorities to ban legitimate human rights activities, though they are protected under international law. On January 14, the State Duma Committee on Constitutional Legislation recommended that the lower house pass a bill to ban “undesirable foreign organisations” in Russia and ban cooperation with them. The bill, presented initially by two members of Parliament, would allow the Prosecutor General’s Office, upon consultation with the Foreign Ministry and based on information provided by the interior and security agencies, to ban foreign and international organisations that “threaten the defence or security of the State” or “public order and health”.

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Human Rights Defenders in Hungary: not yet ‘foreign agents’ but getting close

June 13, 2014

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, an FIDH-OMCT joint programme, expressed its concern that the Hungarian government is alarmingly shrinking the space of civil society by hindering their access to funding, conducting unexpected inspections and blacklisting prominent human rights organizations. The Observatory – not by accident – did so on 12 June 2014, the day the Hungarian Government was meeting representatives from a group of donor Governments including Norway.OMCT-LOGOlogo FIDH_seul

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Russia’s export promotion to Armenia includes the foreign agents law

June 4, 2014

In TransConflict of 4 June 2014, Edgar Khachatryan writes a thoughtful piece on the “foreign agents” law and especially how Russia tries to expert this tool to silence human rights defenders to other countries, such as Armenia. 

I am sure that Russia should declare its presence in the information sphere of Armenia more actively. There is no doubt about it. However, other methods should be used to neutralize the NGOs which stick a wedge in the Armenian-Russian relations. By the way, Russia has adopted a law which clearly defines the activities of NGOs” – announced Russian ambassador to Armenia, Ivan Volinkin. Earlier this year, on 12 April, the same Volinkin announced in Yerevan that Russia will halt any attempts at aggressive intervention of third parties in the domestic affairs of its friendly states “in an effort to instil ideas alien to their mind soul”.

After briefly analyzing the Russian law and its application (at least 3 NGOs have already been affected: ‘Women of the Don’ ‘Memorial Anti-Discrimination Centre’ and the ‘Center for Social Policy and Gender Studies’), the author draws the conclusion that it is clear what effective interference the Russian Ambassador to Armenia is referring to. There is no doubt that human rights, democracy and peacebuilding seem alien and dangerous to the Russian authorities. By presenting the activities of human rights defenders as a betrayal of the nation and its values, the authorities are trying to silence those who think differently.

Ambassador Volinkin has called upon the Armenian authorities to use the ‘Russian experience’ in order to appease civil groups in Armenia. Moreover, the Ambassador warns that Russia itself will prevent the spread of such ‘alien’ ideologies in partner countries. A number of NGOs in Armenia qualified Volinkin’s announcements as a violation of accepted diplomatic norms and gross interference in the internal affairs of Armenia.

Claims made by NGOs the Armenian authorities to hold the Russian Ambassador to account fell on a deaf ear: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that they do not see any validity to the claims. Thus, the threat that the civil groups opposed by the authorities will be silenced with the ‘power of law’ is becoming more tangible. The phrase “keep silent or confess that you are a foreign agent!” may soon become an acceptable idea in Armenia too.

Edgar Khachatryan is the director of Peace Dialogue, a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation.

Russia – keep silent or confess that you are a foreign agent | TransConflict.

For older posts on the foreign agents issue: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/foreign-agent/

Ukraine follows Russia’s example again: human rights defenders labeled as “foreign agents”

January 21, 2014

The ‘eastern’ pull of Ukraine is now also reflected in its repressive legislation on human rights defenders. On January 16, 2014, Ukrainian Parliament unexpectedly and hurriedly adopted a comprehensive restrictive bill, which punishes protests, criminalises libel, restricts civic organisations receiving foreign funding and labels them as “foreign agents”. The bill, entitled “On Amendments to the Law on Judicial System and Status of Judges and Procedural Laws on Additional Measures for Protecting Citizens’ safety”, was introduced on January 14, 2014 and voted only two days after, with no legal assessment, no parliamentary hearings, and no consultation. The text was swiftly adopted by show of hands, backed by 235 out of 450 parliamentarians, before it was immediately signed it into law by the President. According to the bill, all civic organisations receiving funds from foreign sources must include in their title the term “foreign agents”, register as such, submit monthly reports regarding the organisations, publish quarterly reports on their activities in the official media and may not benefit from a tax-exempt status. The bill specifies that all organisations taking part in political actions, defined as actions aimed at influencing decision-making by state bodies, a change in the state policy which those bodies have defined as well as forming public opinion for those purposes, are deemed civic organisations. Organisations failing to register may be closed by court decision.

There were quite a few other restrictions passed in the same bill as can be seen from the Open Letter of 20 January 2014 sent to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and Parliamentary Speaker Volodym, signed by Karim Lahidji, FIDH President, and Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General:

Ukraine: Call to repeal highly restrictive law on so-called “foreign agents”, libel and extremism, which blatantly violates Ukraines international obligations / January 20, 2014 / Urgent Interventions / Human rights defenders / OMCT.

Russia publishes report on human rights in the EU

January 17, 2014

On 14 January 2014 the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs published its report “On the situation with human rights in the European Union” (posted on the ministry’s website ) in which it claimed that the EU was struck by “serious human rights illnesses.” A large part of he report relies on information from international human rights organizations, such as AI. In the document the Russian Foreign Ministry Read the rest of this entry »