The horror is unfolding so rapidly that even La Russophobe can barely keep up with or believe it. The Washington Post now reports that Neo-Soviet Russia has already moved from the frying pan of the Politkovskaya killing to the fire of obliterating the presence of all the major foreign NGOs in the country, including Amnesty and HRW. For sheer bellicose provocation, this makes the murder of Politkovskaya seem minor, when only days before her killing made all that had preceded it seem so. Here’s the Post‘s report:
Russia has suspended the activities of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Republican Institute and more than 90 other foreign non-governmental organizations on grounds they failed to meet the registration requirements of a controversial new law designed to bring foreign activists here under much closer government scrutiny.
The measure, signed into law by President Vladimir Putin at the start of the year, was criticized as an attempt to rein in one of the last areas of independent civic life in Russia. But Russian officials called it necessary to prevent foreign states interfering in Russia’s political process.
On Thursday, they defended the suspensions as simply due to the failure of private groups to meet the law’s requirements, not a political decision on the part of the state.
“No political order has been given . . . to tighten the screws,” said Vladimir Lukin, Russia’s federal ombudsman, speaking at a Moscow forum hosted by the Council of Europe, a 46-country human rights organization based in Strasbourg, France. “Colleagues from international NGOs are not in the habit of keeping their affairs and documents in order.”
Many of the suspended groups are American, including adoption agencies, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute. The latter two organizations are funded by the U.S. Congress but act independently to promote democracy.
Other suspended groups include two branches of Doctors without Borders, the Danish Refugee Council and the Netherlands-based Russian Justice Initiative, which helps Russians bring cases to the European Court of Human Rights.
Russian officials stressed that the suspensions, which came into effect at midnight Wednesday, are temporary — provided the groups meet the bureaucratic requirements.
“We are not speaking about closing organizations, that is out of the question,” said Natalia Vishnyakova, a senior official at the Ministry of Justice, in a telephone interview. Concerning the registration process, she said: “We are working properly and put all our efforts into making it even faster. It is not at all complicated, believe me, absolutely not. It’s really their own headache. On our part, we provided all necessary conditions.”
Activists complained, however, that the requirements of the law are so vague and cumbersome that meeting the deadline was extremely difficult. Russian officials, they said, nit-picked their way through the submitted documents.
Human Rights Watch, for instance, called itself the “Representative Office of the Non-Governmental Organization Human Rights Watch in the Russian Federation.” Officials at the registration office rejected that description and said the group should call itself the “Representative Office of the Corporation Human Rights Watch Inc. (USA) in the Russian Federation.”
That change, among others, required Human Rights Watch to send its submission back to its headquarters in New York to have the document revised and renotarized in the United States, then re-translated into Russian and re-notarized in Russia.
Officials at the Human Rights Watch office in Moscow said they could not speak to a reporter because they interpreted the strictures of the suspension to extend to talking to the news media. The law says that suspended groups can do nothing to realize the aims and goals of their offices in Russia.
“We are registering and we are complying with the law,” said Carroll Bogert, associate director of Human Rights Watch, in a telephone interview from New York. “But we have been really distracted from our work by the onerous burdens that this law imposes. But this is not particular to us. It’s a hassle for everyone.”
Other groups including the American Chamber of Commerce said they found the registration office helpful because people there pointed out errors before the group formally submitted its documents, allowing it to correct them and expedite the registration. Among major American organizations, the Ford Foundation and the Carnegie Moscow Center were successfully registered. In all, 99 foreign groups were registered, officials at the Justice Ministry said.
A spokeswoman from Amnesty International said the organization was exploring whether it could continue to do field research in Russia by flying in researchers from London, where the organization is based. “We are seeking clarification,” said Lydia Aroyo, a spokeswoman based in London. “But we are very unhappy. There were no clear guidelines as to what documents were required or how to fill them out. The process was very cumbersome and very time-consuming.”