A group of United Nations independent experts Thursday warned that a draft law being considered by Russia could adversely impact civil society, and urged on the Government not to adopt this legislation.
"These amendments constitute a direct affront to those wishing to freely exercise their right to freedom of association," the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, said in a news release.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the proposed draft legislation, which is currently being discussed in the State Duma, states that non-commercial organizations (NCOs) wishing to engage in "political activities" will have to register as organizations "performing the functions of foreign agents" before receiving foreign funding.
The term 'foreign agent' has been considered as carrying a negative connotation in Russia, and could be interpreted as a synonym for foreign espionage.
"I am dismayed at the Russian Government's plans to unduly restrict access to foreign funding for civil society," Kiai said. "Civil society organizations should be entitled to foreign funding to the same extent as Governments are entitled to international assistance."
In addition, the draft law requires close monitoring of NCOs and strict control measures by Russian authorities, including a mandatory auditing from a Russian organization whose results would be made available on a Government website or mass media.
"I am gravely concerned that putting human rights defenders under such scrutiny will deter them from performing their important work," said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya. "Furthermore, the extensive requirements proposed for NCOs 'engaging in political activities' could apply to any advocacy activity performed by NCOs with foreign support, and therefore infringes on the right of human rights defenders to raise human rights issues in public."
The draft law also contains harsh penalties for non-compliance with the new requirements. These include fines of up to one million rubles - the equivalent of $35,500 - for failing to register as a foreign agent, for failing to submit information, or for failing to acknowledge published materials by NCOs as 'foreign agents.'
"Labelling NCOs and their materials by law as foreign agents is clearly intended to stigmatize any activity conducted by civil society receiving foreign support, including legitimate ones," said the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue. "Everyone should be entitled to promote their ideas freely without arbitrary restrictions."
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs - such as Kiai, Sekaggya and La Rue -are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.