Greenpeace: Do you need to be a foreign agent to act in accordance with the Constitution?

1 May 2013 

Source: (info
Statement by Greenpeace Russia on the classification of environmental organisations as "foreign agents." 

Since the start of 2013, following an instruction by the President, agencies of the Public Prosecutor's Office have been conducting widespread inspections of non-profit organisations. The inspections have impacted, among others, a large number of non-governmental environmental organisations. 

According to the results of the inspections, at the majority of environmental organisations no serious violations have been uncovered (at least this is what the inspectors themselves have said). 

However, the first wave of inspections was followed by a second, as a result of which many organisations received notifications or warnings from the prosecutors that they were "foreign agents" and should register as such on the appropriate register. Otherwise their leaders could be held accountable, up to and including criminal prosecution. 

Notifications or warnings have been sent to: 

Irkutsk Regional NGO Baikal Environmental Wave, 

Amur Region environmental NGO AmurSoES (Amur Social-Ecological Union), 

Chelyabinsk regional charitable foundation For Nature, 

Khabarovsk Territory charitable NGO Green House, 

Siberian Environmental Centre (Novosibirsk), the regional NGO SPOK (Petrozavodsk), 

Kola Peninsula Environmental Centre and Kola Peninsula Wildlife Conservation Centre (Murmansk Region), 

Amur environmental club Ulukitkan, 

Phoenix Fund (Vladivostok), 

NGO the Tengri School of Spiritual Ecology (Republic of Altai), 

Association of Special Protected Natural Areas of the Republic of Altai, 

Eyge Environmental Education Centre of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) (Yakutsk). 

In the opinion of Greenpeace, these actions by the agencies of the Public Prosecutor's Office are gross violations of the existing legislation. 

The reason for the Public Prosecutor's Office classifying environmental organisations as "foreign agents" is the fact that their statutes contain a clause on their right to participate in the formulation of decisions by government bodies in their sphere of activities, which in the prosecutors’ view amounts to "political activity." 

These provisions of the statutes are based on a provision of the Russian Constitution, under which "citizens of the Russian Federation have the right to participate in managing affairs of state, both directly and through their representatives." 

According to the law On Environmental Protection, economic and other activities by government bodies of the Russian Federation, government bodies of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation and local government bodies are based on the principle of the participation of citizens, and non-governmental and other non-profit organisations in resolving the tasks of environmental protection. 

In addition, according to this law, non-governmental and other non-profit organisations who are conducting activities in the field of environmental protection have the right to "participate in establishing the regulations for the taking of economic and other decisions, the implementation of which may have a negative impact on the environment, life, health and property of citizens." 

According to the Framework for Government Policy for the Environmental Development of the Russian Federation Until 2030 (approved by the Russian President on 30 April 2012), in implementing the task to ensure effective participation by citizens, non-governmental associations and non-profit organisations in resolving issues connected to the preservation of the environment and the provision of environmental security, one of the mechanisms is the "participation of non-governmental associations and non-profit organisations in working out, discussing and taking decisions in the field of environmental protection and provision of environmental security, as well as nature conservation activities." 

Unfortunately the Russian state and civil society in Russia are not yet sufficiently developed to enable NGOs to fully carry out their statutory activities using Russian sources of funding, as a result of which they are forced to receive their funding from abroad, in strict compliance with the existing Russian legislation (as demonstrated by the prosecutor's inspections). 

It turns out that in order to fulfil the provisions of the Constitution and the federal laws, environmental organisations need to become foreign agents. 

Since the absurdity of this situation was obvious even to those who developed the law on foreign agents, before it was adopted clarifications were added to the law, under which "a non-profit organisation is recognised as participating in political activity if it participates in the organisation and conducting of political actions aimed at influencing decisions by government bodies or which are designed to change government policies, or in shaping public opinion for these purposes." 

However the Public Prosecutor's Office found no evidence of political activities, so their opinion relates only to the provisions of the statutes of the NGOs. 

Moreover, activities in the field of the protection of plant and animal life, charitable activities and activities aimed at promoting philanthropy and volunteering are not classified as political activities. 

These are precisely the activities environmental organisations are involved in. Nevertheless, the Public Prosecutor's Office has shown no hesitation in declaring the most active regional environmental organisations to be "foreign agents." 

It is interesting to note that according to several employees of the Public Prosecutor's Office who conducted the inspections, they original informed the leaders that no violations had been uncovered. However, on 22 April the General Prosecutor issued an order to the prosecutor's offices in the regions to conduct additional inspections of NGOs and to find "unregistered agents" anyway. 

In connection with this, Greenpeace Russia: 

  • demands that the General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation immediately withdraw the warnings (notifications) of the registration of non-governmental environmental organisations as foreign agents; 
  • requests that the Public Chamber, the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and the Ombudsman for Human Rights take control of the situation of prosecutor's inspections of non-governmental environmental organisations and not to allow unfounded allegations against them. 
Greenpeace Russia also draws the attention of the bodies of the Public Prosecutor's Office to the fact that the zeal with which they have conducted the inspections of NGOs could be used to good effect in the fight against the continuing rise in violations of environmental laws, including those carried out by the authorities and local government. 

As an example we could take the situation with Russian World Heritage Sites where illegal economic activities are being carried out. 

For instance, illegal exploration has been taking place for three years running at the Chudnoe gold mine in the Virgin Komi Forests, a World Heritage Site. Although the General Prosecutor declared this activity illegal, no steps have been taken to halt the work and restore the integrity of the park.

In the Golden Mountains of Altai, another World Heritage Site, illegal exploration work has been carried out for two years on the construction of the Altai gas pipeline. Even though the Public Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Altai declared this work illegal back in 2011, no measures have been taken against the perpetrators, and in 2012 the Government of Altai illegally allowed the construction of a gas pipeline on the territory of the Ukok Quiet Zone Natural Park. 

In the Caucasus, in the Sochi Wildlife Sanctuary and Caucasus Nature Reserve (the Western Caucasus World Heritage Site), work has started on the illegal construction of a road to a non-existent weather station. 

Greenpeace has contacted the bodies of the Public Prosecutor's Office on all these issues, but so far no decisions have been taken, and the destruction of unique natural sites continues. 

Greenpeace calls on the bodies of the Public Prosecutor's Office not to apply pressure on environmental organisations without justification, but to make maximum use of their potential to conduct monitoring of compliance with environmental legislation, as provided for by governmental policy on environmental development, which has been approved by the President.