Accusing NGOs of engaging in political activity is a denial of citizens' constitutional rights

17 April 2013 

Source: (info)
Statement by the Human Rights Council 

Evidently at the behest of the Kremlin, the Ministry of Justice has accused the Golos Association for Voters’ Rights and other organizations of failing to register as organizations ‘carrying out the functions of a foreign agent.’ Much has already been said about the fact that this law is unconstitutional, and its purpose is to effectively destroy independent NGOs. The attack on Golos, and also the attack on the Kostroma Centre of Support for Public Initiatives and the Kostroma Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee, are an inseparable part of the current wave of harassment of hundreds of NGOs that are being subjected to humiliating and baseless inspections.

Representative of the Ministry of Justice Tatyana Vaghina recently stated that even the monitoring of elections constitutes political activity.

The authorities, clearly, are seeking to foil any non-party efforts to establish civil society oversight over elections and, in an aggressive manner, to  obtain revenge for the broad campaign of election observation which, thanks to the enthusiasm and selflessness of tens of thousands of civil society activists, enabled the creation in the autumn of 2011 of a real system of civic oversight, which led to the revelation of wide-scale electoral fraud.

We consider the assertion that an organization leading the struggle for honest elections in Russia is acting in the interests of foreign governments and is a foreign agent to be absurd.

We categorically do not agree that public oversight of the actions of politicians, parties and authorities is political activity.

Human rights organizations, including those represented in the Human Rights Council, by their own status, confirmed in international law, exert influence on public opinion, on officials and members of legislative bodies, for the purpose of ensuring the strict observance of civic and human rights and freedoms.

In just the same way, the strengthening of mutual understanding between peoples and states, and the clarification of the positions of participants in international relations, does not constitute political activity.

Such activities are the civic duty of each citizen, each real civil society organization. And we declare that we shall continue this activity, no matter what government officials may call it.

The Constitution of the Russian Federation which is still nominally in force guarantees each citizen of our country and their associations the right to freely express their opinions about what is happening and the right to appeal to government bodies. The interpretation of such activities as politics signifies an unlawful restriction on human rights.

We express our solidarity with the Golos Association, the Kostroma Centre for Support of Civic Initiatives, and the Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committee of Kostroma.

We demand that the authorities implement the recommendations contained in the resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council of 21 March 2013 on protecting human rights defenders and end discrimination against, and harassment of, Russian non-governmental organizations.

We declare that under any circumstances we shall strive to promote civil society oversight of the public authorities and shape public opinion in favour of democratic principles and basic freedoms.

Ludmila Alekseeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group
Valery Borshchev, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group 
Yury Vdovin, Citizens’ Watch, member of the Human Rights Council of St. Petersburg 
Svetlana Gannushkina, Philanthropic Civic Assistance Committee 
Sergei Kovalev, Public Commission for the Heritage of A. D. Sakharov 
Oleg Orlov, member of the board, Memorial Human Rights Centre 
Lev Ponmarev, Movement For Human Rights