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Russian govt says inspections at NGOs are part of ‘routine reviewing’

March 29, 2013, 17:44 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Inspections at Russian nongovernmental organizations, which the Office of Russia’s Prosecutor General is organizing at the moment, are part of a ‘routine reviewing process’ and they should not give rise to any excesses, the country’s state leaders said in reaction to the apprehensions voiced by human rights activists in Russia and in the West.

President Vladimir Putin said Thursday inspections at the NGOs aim to find out if their activity conforms to Russian legislation.

“The Prosecutor General’s Office is obliged to assess the legitimacy of activities of all the federal, regional and municipal agencies of state power, as well as public organizations,” Putin said Thursday at a meeting with the presidential ombudsman for human rights, Vladimir Lukin.

“I think the objective in this case, too, is to verify the degree to which the operations of one or another organization comply with the goals it declares officially and with Russian laws,” he said.

Putin said he did not know all the details of inspections but he would receive and verify them anyway.

“I’ll certainly ask you to keep everything under control, too, so that I could have an additional source of information,” he said. “I’d like to rule out any excesses in that area.”

Amassed inspections at the NGOs including their local branch-outs and the Russian offices of international organizations started out March 21. Over the week that has elapsed since then, they have embraced more than ninety organizations in twenty-four regions.

The list of the organizations involved in the action features Memorial, Agora, Amnesty International, Obshchestvenny Verdikt /Public Verdict/, Grazhdanskoye Sodeistviye /Public Co-Action/ and the Moscow offices of Human Rights Watch and Transparency International.

Taking part in the inspections are experts from the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Justice Ministry, the Ministry for Emergency Situations and Civil Defense /EMERCOM/, and taxation agencies. Justice Ministry official said earlier this auditing is necessary to find out, which of the organizations should be registered as foreign agents.

In line with the law on NGOs that was adopted last year, the organizations receiving funds from abroad should obtain registration in the appropriate registers.

A number of Russian NGOs have already filed lawsuits against the Prosecutor General’s Office in connection with the unexpected and unauthorized auditing of their operations. In addition to this, Memorial, the Public Verdict Fund, and some other organizations have filed queries with the Prosecutor’s Office, as they believe the inspections to be illegitimate.

The West has offered a sharp reaction to the events, with Foreign Ministries in France and Germany summoning Russian diplomats for explanations. Victoria Nuland, an official spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State said Thursday the auditing of the NGOs aimed to undermine important activities of civic society in the country.

On the face of it, Marina Gridneva, a spokesperson for the Prosecutor General’s Office said the one of the goals pursued by the current inspections is to expose the organizations with an extremist coloring.

“The Prosecutor General’s Office is inspecting the compliance of public, religious and other nonprofit associations with legislation in line with a plan for operations of the Office in January-June 2013,” Marina Gridneva, the spokesperson, said.

She indicated that the plan was endorsed in December 2012 and appropriate instructions were issued the prosecutors of Russia’s constituent regions.

“It envisions random inspections of the NGOs on the basis of analysis of law enforcement and supervisory practices, as well as summarization of the data on the status of law observance in the regions,” Gridneva said.

“Following the data on continued activity of outlawed /but remained/ and newly founded organizations of ultra-nationalist or radical religious coloring, the current inspections focus on the NGOs’ compliance with the laws prohibiting extremist activities and/or legalization of illicitly obtained revenues,” she said.

Proceeding from the scope of their occupational powers, the prosecutors can invite experts of other supervisory agencies to join the inspections.

In the meantime, the Russian Fund for Development of Civic Society that is chaired by the former chief of the Presidential Administration’s department for domestic policies, Konstantin Kostin, has drafted a report on the status and possible models of financing of the NGOs in Russia.

The report was drafted in the aftermath of a discussion on the importance of improvements in the system of financing the NGOs in this country. Debates on the issue are afoot in the human rights community for a long time already.

The publication of the document fell on a period when the 2013 program for presidential grants was due to appear.

Internet news portals quoted the rapporteurs as saying the state budgeting of the nonprofit sector will almost double this year and the government plans to expend more than 8 billion rubles (about $ 270 million) for assistance to the NGOs. Presidential grants will make up more than one-third of that amount.

Federal budget allocations for supporting the NGOs stood at 4.7 billion rubles in 2012 and the presidential grants constituted a billion rubles.

“The goal of these changes is to assure a steady development of the Third Sector /the operations of nonprofit organizations, public associations, charities, etc. – Itar-Tass/ in Russia that will help raise it to the same level as in the developed countries,” the research says.

Experts believe the NGO’s should be reoriented to the provisions of social services to the population. They state that Russia’s Third Sector is currently dominated by those seeking to take the functions of public control and expert assessing upon themselves.

While the share of socially oriented NGOs in other countries reaches 70%, Russia stands in a marked contrast to them with only 13.5%.

The research offers a detailed analysis of the systems of financing the NGOs in other countries and the authors particularly highlight the restrictions imposed on overseas financing of the non-governmental and non-profit sector in different countries.

Researchers make it clear that the authorities in European countries and the U.S. likewise try to complicate the operations of the NGOs, which get financing from abroad, as much as they can in spite of the absence of legislative prohibitions.

In part, the rapporteurs claim that the placement of NGOs in the U.S. registers of ‘foreign agents’ comes forward as a result of special political decision-making and the life of an NGO of this kind turns into a real nightmare, since it is compelled to provide data on its activity every six months at the first notice from a supervisory agency. More than that, an NGO classified as a ‘foreign agent’ is obliged to furnish all of its publications with the notifications that is it acting in the interests of a foreign customer.