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U.S. Concerned About Impact of Russian NGO Law on Civil Society

USINFO

January 19, 2006

By Louise Fenner

The United States is urging the Russian government to ensure that the new Russian law on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) will not be used to hinder the work of those groups.

We have repeatedly conveyed our serious concerns about the legislation to the Russian Government and will continue to monitor implementation of the law and its impact on Russian civil society closely, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack January 19.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the law January 10, but this action was not reported officially until January 17, when it appeared in Rossiiskaya Gazeta. The measure takes effect 90 days after Putin's signature.

The law increases the Russian government's oversight of the registration, financing and activities of NGOs in Russia.

The United States urges the Russian government to ensure that implementation of the law not restrict the space for civil society in Russia, McCormack said.

In accordance with the Russian Government's international commitments concerning freedom of assembly and freedom of association, we urge it to enact regulations that eliminate the possibility for arbitrary implementation and facilitate, rather than hinder, the vital work of NGOs, he said.

In remarks to the European Parliament January 18, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European commissioner for external relations and European neighborhood policy, noted that the European Union and Council of Europe had expressed their concerns before the legislation was made final.

The final text of the law took some concerns into account, Ferrero-Waldner said, but we remain concerned that some of the provisions remain too far-reaching -- for example the scope for denying registration to local NGOs and the controls to be exerted on both local and foreign NGOs. We shall be taking careful note of the way in which these provisions are implemented.

NGO REACTION

Some NGOs also have expressed their concerns about the legislation.

"We are very disappointed that President Putin has signed this restrictive bill into law, further empowering bureaucrats to close organizations deemed disloyal by the Kremlin," said Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Executive Director Ann Cooper on January 17. These new restrictions could have a profound effect on local press freedom and media organizations, and we will carefully monitor the implementation."

In December 2005, CPJ wrote a letter to Putin saying it was deeply troubled by the bill. Journalists and NGO leaders say it would greatly expand government authority to harass and close organizations that criticize official policies or promote democracy and press freedom, CPJ said.

Amnesty International on January 17 expressed regret that the law had been signed. Nicola Duckworth, director of the Europe and Central Asia program, said the organization does not oppose efforts to ensure transparency and accountability of civil society organizations. However, this law gives excessive powers of scrutiny and discretion to the authorities in monitoring organizations and making decisions on their registration and closure.

These increased powers of scrutiny could be abused, she said.

In December 2005, Freedom House, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that monitors freedom around the world, said the legislation would further curtail the rights of civil society in Russia.

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