News / Europe

Rights Official: Russia Should Drop 'Foreign Agent' Tag for NGOs

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) welcomes Nils Muiznieks (R), human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, for talks in Moscow, April 2013.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) welcomes Nils Muiznieks (R), human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, for talks in Moscow, April 2013.
Reuters
A top European human rights official urged Russia on Monday to stop labeling non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as foreign agents under a law that he says could have a “chilling effect” on their work.

Nils Muiznieks, human rights commissioner for the Council of Europe, Europe's main rights watchdog of which Russia is a member, said the law should be suspended until changes are made to bring it into line with international standards.

Critics say the law, which has prompted a wave of state inspections of NGOs, is part of a Kremlin campaign aimed at silencing independent voices since President Vladimir Putin began his third term in May last year, although he denies this.

The United States and European Union have both expressed concerns over the so-called “foreign agent” law.

The legislation requires NGOs that receive funding from abroad and are deemed to be involved in political activity to register under a label that many Russians associate with the Cold War era of espionage and treason.

“'Foreign agent' has a clearly negative connotation in the Russian context,” Muiznieks, a Latvian, said in a telephone interview. “I don't buy the claims of some in the Russian political elite that this is a neutral term.”

He said the ability of a number of organizations to work was being affected because some local governments and beneficiaries of NGOs were unwilling or afraid to work with groups that had been or could be labeled as foreign agents.

Spelling out his concerns separately in a written opinion published on Monday, Muiznieks said, “Any continuing use of the term 'foreign agent' in the legislation and practice in relation to NGOs would only lead to further stigmatization of civil society in the Russian Federation and will have a chilling effect on its activities.”

'Very intrusive'

Muiznieks' role is to promote awareness and respect for human rights in the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe. His recommendations are not mandatory.

Under the new law, Russian authorities have carried out inspections of hundreds of NGOs. Muiznieks said these were in some cases “very intrusive and disproportionate.”

Several NGOs have been fined or issued warnings. Vote-monitoring group Golos, which reported evidence of violations in a 2011 parliamentary election and the 2012 vote that put Putin back in the Kremlin, has been suspended for six months.

Muiznieks said the suspension of Golos was “highly problematic from a human rights point of view” and appeared to run counter to international human rights law.

Putin, who has steadily reasserted his authority since facing the biggest protests of his 13-year rule, said this month that the law should be changed to prevent harassment of groups that are not involved with politics.

His remarks responded to an outcry over warnings issued to NGOs involved in areas such as the environment and healthcare.

But Putin, who has accused Western states of using NGOs to spy on Russia and to meddle in its affairs, has given no indication that the term “foreign agent” could be dropped.

Russian lawmakers are expected to address the issue after the summer recess.

“I hope, in the interim, that inspections, fines, warnings and so on will be halted,” said Muiznieks.

Russian Justice Ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

You May Like

VOA Exclusive: Interview With Myanmar President Thein Sein

Thein Sein calls allegations that minority Muslim Rohingya are fleeing alleged torture in Rakhine state a media fabrication More

Video Better Protective Suit Sought for Ebola Caregivers

Current suit is uncomfortable, requires too many steps for removal, increasing chance of deadly contact with virus More

UN Rights Commission Investigates Eritrea

Three-member commission will start collecting first-hand information from victims and other witnesses in Switzerland and Italy next week More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concernsi
X
November 19, 2014 11:39 PM
The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.
Video

Video What Jon Stewart Learned About Iran From 'Rosewater'

Jon Stewart, host of the satirical news program "The Daily Show" talks with Saman Arbabi of Voice of America's Persian service about Stewart's directorial debut, "Rosewater."
Video

Video Lebanese Winemakers Thrive Despite War Next Door

In some of the most volatile parts of Lebanon, where a constant flow of refugees crosses the border from Syria, one industry continues to flourish against the odds. Lebanese winemakers say after surviving a brutal civil war in the 1970s and 80s, they can survive anything. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Video

Video China's Rise Closely Watched

China’s role as APEC host this week allowed a rare opportunity for Beijing to showcase its vision for the global economy and the region. But as China’s stature grows, so have tensions with other countries, including the United States. VOA’s Bill Ide in Beijing reports on how China’s rise as a global power is seen among Chinese and Americans.

All About America

AppleAndroid