'Babushka Said Two Things - it Will Either Rain or Snow; it Either Will or Will Not': An Analysis of the Provisions and Human Rights Implications of Russia's New Law on Nongovernmental Organizations as Told Through Eleven Russian Proverbs
86 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2007 Last revised: 19 Nov 2013
Longtime observers of Russia increasingly have called attention to and expressed profound concern for the direction the Russian Federation has taken in recent years. In advancing President Putin's vision of "dictatorship of law" and "managed democracy," the Russian government has retreated from key democratic reforms, undermining the transition away from Soviet rule and imperiling significant gains in fundamental human rights.
It is against this backdrop that, in January 2006, President Putin ratified major amendments to the 1996 Law on Nonprofit Organizations, which regulates the creation, reorganization, activity, and liquidation of NGOs in Russia. Putin has claimed that the amendments to the NGO law are "aimed at preventing the intrusion of foreign states into Russia's internal political life and at creating favorable and transparent conditions for the financing of [NGOs]." He also has stated that the law is needed to "combat terrorism and stop foreign spies using NGOs as cover."
This essay provides a comprehensive analysis of the provisions of the amended NGO law, with an eye to exposing the human rights implications of a law that is both menacingly overbroad and blatantly discriminatory in its form and content. The analysis is strengthened by interviews with key decision-makers, as well as by contextualizing the NGO law against the backdrop of Russia's historical experience and current policies.
The paper concludes that the NGO law represents one more effort on the part of President Putin's administration to assert control over Russian society, and further argues that it should be viewed as part of the overarching effort to minimize political opposition, eliminate independent media, and silence Russia's oligarchs. The paper recommends a number of measures that may be taken to confront these developments in a manner that strengthens Russian civil society and protects international human rights principles. The end result is a timely warning to legal scholars, international lawyers, policy makers, and NGO activists both in Russia and elsewhere to challenge the creeping, obfuscatory, and mostly bureaucratic nature by which a government is seeking to stifle and assert control over a vital sector of civil society.
Keywords: human rights, nongovernmental organizations, NGO, Russia, international law, regulation, registration, freedom of assembly, freedom of association
JEL Classification: N40, K23, K33, P33, K20, L30, L31, K4
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation