Jeremy McBride drafts opinions for the Expert Council on NGO Law

05 Dec 2014 | by Caroline Sweeney

Two opinions on existing and proposed legislation in Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation have been prepared by Jeremy McBride for the Expert Council on NGO Law of the Council of Europe’s Conference on International Non-governmental Organisations.

The opinion on the Azeri legislation is concerned with changes made in 2009 and 2013 to the Law on Non-Governmental Organisations and several related laws. The opinion found that these had reversed in a number of significant respects previous efforts to develop a legal framework for the establishment and operation of NGOs that meets the requirements of European and international standards. This was especially so as regards the restrictions on ‘political’ and ‘governmental’ activities, the choice of names, the ability to be founders and office-holders, the capital requirements for foundations and the basis on which foreign NGOs will be allowed to operate, as well as the requirements governing the receipt and use of funding, the excessive formalisation of the role of volunteers, the threat of disclosure of details relating to members, the considerable enhancement of regulatory requirements and supervisory powers and the introduction of new and extended penalties. The generally retrograde nature of the changes has been exacerbated by factors such as the continuing problem of delay in registration of NGO and of grants received by them, the freezing of their bank accounts and the criminal proceedings brought against leaders of NGOs promoting human rights and peace on seemingly improbable charges.

The opinion concerning the Russian Federation relates to a draft law which would, amongst other changes to existing legislation, authorise the activities of a foreign or international organisation to be recognised as ‘undesirable’ on the basis solely of information provided by internal affairs, security and other federal executive agencies that alleges they present a threat to defence capacity, national security, public order, public health, public morals and the rights and legitimate interests of other persons. The effect of such recognition would mean that the organisation  concerned could not establish or continue to operate any structural subdivisions in Russia, would be entered into the roster regarding involvement in extremist activities or terrorism and could not disseminate, produce or store their informational materials.  Any participation in the activities of a designated entity would be an offence that could lead to imprisonment and disqualification from engaging in certain activities. The opinion indicates that such a power of designation for reasons that lack real specificity and on the basis solely of information that is untested by a court fails to satisfy the quality of law requirement for a restriction on the right to freedom of association. Furthermore, the consequential restrictions are likely to result in violations of the rights to respect for private life and to freedom of expression

Please click to view Opinion on introducing amendments to legislative acts in Russian Federation

Please click to view Revised Opinion on Azerbaijan NGO Law 2013