Transparency International Will Not Register as a Foreign Agent

8 November 2012 


Source: HRO.org (info
The board of the non-profit, non-governmental organization, the Center for Anti-Corruption Research and Initiatives Transparency International-Russia, considers the law On the Introduction of Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation Regarding the Regulation of the Activities of Non-Commerial Organizations Acting as Foreign Agents, which was adopted on 20 July and will come into force on 21 November, 2012, as providing yet more evidence that the Russian authorities do not consider themselves subject to the rule of law.

This law—which amends and supplements the 1995 Law on Public Associations, the 1996 Law on Nongovernmental Organizations, and the 2001 Law on Countering the Legalization on Illegal Earnings (Money Laundering) and the Financing of Terrorism within the Criminal and the Criminal Procedure codes of the Russian Federation—has the overarching and purely political goal of forcing any “public association representing a legal entity that accepts financing and other aid from foreign sources and engages in political activity on the territory of the Russian Federation” to submit documentation to register itself for inclusion on a so-called “list of non-profit organizatons that serve the functions of a foreign agent.” In addition, any “malicious evasion” of this requirement, in the form of multiple refusals to submit documentation or to fulfill other obligations included in the law, will be punishable as a federal crime.

This new legislation breaks not only with the spirit, but with the letter of the Russian Constitution.

Firstly, the term “agent” (no matter what pretense the bill’s authors may give to justify its use) means someone who either carries out the direct orders of a so-called “patron” (or “principal”), or acts in the patron’s interests. It follows that a Russian organization that declares itself a “foreign agent” is essentially admitting that it acts not in the interests of its own country, but in the interests of a foreign government, or of a foreign or international organization.

We disagree that, in fulfilling our organization’s main aim to fight corruption, we are inflicting harm or doing a disservice to our country. Therefore, if we were to comply with the order to register our organization with the list of “foreign agents,” we would be voluntarily entangling ourselves in the web of lies created by the authors of the bill.

The attempt to force Russian citizens to declare themselves as working in the interests of another government violates the principle of equality embodied in Article 19 of the Russian Constitution. This article “guarantees the equality of human and civil rights and freedoms regardless of sex, race, nationality, language, origin, material and official status, place of residence, attitude to religion, convictions, membership of public associations, and other circumstances.” By limiting the rights of citizens who declare themselves as members of certain public associations, the law discriminates among Russian citizens. If a public association publicly declares itself to be a foreign agent, it automatically places itself in a degrading and unequal position compared to other associations of a similar nature. In this way, Russian citizens would limit their own rights despite the safeguards in the Russian Constitution and international legal norms.

The requirement to declare oneself, along with one’s organization, as a foreign agent, also violates the principle secured in Article 51 of the Constitution: “No person shall be obliged to testify against him or herself.” To the average citizen, declaring yourself as a foreign agent clearly constitutes a testimony against your own person, not to mention a testimony that is inherently false.

According to Article 32 of the Russian Constitution, “citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to participate in managing State affairs both directly and through their representatives.” This law basically tells organizations whose activities are funded by outside sources that they should not dare to participate in state affairs, by virtue of their being “foreign agents.”

We are asked the sly question: why don’t you seek funding from domestic sponsors? Those who ask already know the answer. Russian businessmen would never risk giving money to fund activities that might displease government officials. And government officials would never like any activity that is aimed at uncovering corruption and abuse of the law. It turns out that when it comes to civilian efforts to battle corruption—an issue that is very sensitive for the bureaucracy, but crucial for society at large—then even the law has turned its back on organizations that take the risk of engaging in such activity.

Article 55 of the Constitution states that “no laws must be adopted which abolish or diminish human and civil rights and freedoms.” In their commentary to the Russian Constitution, the judges and experts of the Russian Constitutional Court wrote that rights can be diminished when authorities “create procedures to protect the freedoms and rights of man and citizen that instead render these very rights and freedoms null and void.” It is clear that the law on foreign agents has undermined not only the principle of equality, but also the right of Russian citizens to participate in the affairs of their government.

The authors of the bill claim they were trying to protect the constitutional order. Meanwhile, one of the criteria for a public association to be declared a “foreign agent” is that the association must be involved in political activity.

Under the law, political activity is understood to mean any participation (including provision of funds) in an organization that engages in political activity aimed at influencing government decision-making, altering the formation of public policy, or shaping public opinion in favor of a specific outcome.

But this type of political engagement is the very essence and core of the citizen’s right to take part in government decision-making. With the exception of political parties, public associations do not have the right to nominate their own candidates for government elections; in other words, they cannot compete for political power. But all Russian citizens—either as individuals or as members of a public group—have the right to a voice in government policy. This is the meaning of democracy.

Political activity that informs public opinion, as opposed to competing for power, is something most public associations, no matter their ideology, must engage in. All NGOs are periodically interested in influencing public opinion on a specific area of public life, and will naturally make an effort to shape public opinion in a corresponding way.

It is true that some public associations receive financing from abroad. But if their activities do not violate the Russian Constitution, then why should they be suspected of subversion? To judge people and organizations by their sources of funding, instead of by their activities in the public sphere, is a direct violation of constitutional principles.

Transparency International-Russia has and always will be guided in its activities by its belief in the supremacy of the Russian Constitution.

In instances of discrepancy between provisions in the law on foreign agents and provisions in the Constitution—including on the issue of the registry of “non-profit organizatons that serve the functions of a foreign agent”—we will make decisions and act in accordance with Article 15 of the Constitution, by virtue of its legal supremacy, its direct stewardship over the territory of the entire country, and its priority to universally acknowledged principles and international legal standards, as well as international agreements made by Russia regarding the rights enumarated in Russian laws.

We will address any arguments or disagreements with Russian authorities regarding the application of the law on foreign agents to our organization in accordance with legal procedures established by Russian and international courts.

Board signatories: 
Krasnov, Mikhail Aleksandrovich 
Nikitinskii, Leonid Vasilyevich 
Panfilova, Elena Anatolyevna 
Genieva, Ekaterina Yuryevna 
Kabanov, Kirill Viktorovich 
Gorny, Mikhail Beniaminovich 
Golts, Aleksandr Matveyevich 
Nisnevich, Yulii Anatolyevich 
Chuklinov, Andrey Evgenyevich 
Rybakov, Nikolai Igorevich 
Sheverdyaev, Stanislav Nikolaevich 
Levin, Mark Iosifovich 

Тransparency International - Russia  
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