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

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

Physically and culturally close to Western Europe, Lviv feels solidarity with compatriots in country’s east but says they need to decide own future More

West African Women Disproportionately Affected by Ebola

Women's roles in families and the community put them at greater risk for contracting the disease, officials say More

Video NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Arrives at Mars

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution craft will measure rates at which gases escape Martian atmosphere into space More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid