Recommendations of Russian NGOs to the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Assembly, Association and Expression
On March 29-30, 2007 in Vienna, the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Assembly, Association and Expression took place. Russian NGOs the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, the Center for Development of Democracy and Human Rights, and Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (JURIX) came out with recommendations to the OSCE participating states. We are publishing these recommendations.
We call on the OSCE participating states with the following recommendations:
Impact of the Fight against Terrorism and "Extremism" on the Three Vital Freedoms
Internationally recognized legitimate restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly that are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security and public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others should not be extended to include politically motivated restrictions such as "countering extremism" because the notion of "extremism" is easily abused and manipulated and does not add any new legal content to existing legal definitions such as incitement to racial hatred, calls for ideologically motivated violence, violent overthrow of government, etc. In general, special legislation on countering "extremism" seems unnecessary and excessive.
Fight against terrorism should not be used as justification for excessive and selectively applied restrictions of the freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of expression and a pretext to persecute non-violent political opposition and free thought.
Freedom of Expression and the Role of the Media in a Pluralist Society
Libel in mass media should be decriminalized. At the very minimum, criminal sanctions related to the deprivation of liberty should be abolished. Pre-trial detention of journalists charged with libel should not be applied. Civil proceedings which provide for compensations or rectification should be used instead of criminal prosecution.
In the media coverage of electoral campaigns journalists and media outlets should not be held liable for publishing materials submitted by candidates running in the elections. Such liability should be rested only with the candidates.
The "liability without fault" standard in cases when journalists acting in good faith caused the harm by the distribution of information damaging to honor and dignity must be eliminated from the legislation.
Freedom of Associations
NGOs should be permitted to carry out their peaceful work in an enabling and hospitable environment, free from fear of harassment, reprisal, intimidation and discrimination. Relevant laws and administrative measures should protect - not impede - the development of civil society and the peaceful operation of NGOs, and be enforced in an apolitical, fair, transparent and consistent manner.
NGOs should be free to pursue its objectives, provided that both the objectives and the means employed are lawful. These can, for instance, include research, education and advocacy on issues of public policy and legislation, regardless of whether the position taken by an NGO is in accord with stated government policy.
Governments should refrain from using the notion of "impermissible political activity" of NGOs as grounds for impeding their work and restricting freedom of associations.
NGOs should be free to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, including advocating their opinions to governments and the public within and outside the countries in which they are based.
Governments should not interfere with NGOs' access to domestic- and foreign-based media. NGOs should be free to maintain contact and cooperate with their own members and other civil society organizations within and outside the countries in which they are based, as well as with governments and international bodies.
NGOs should be free to seek, receive, manage and administer support - financial or in-kind donations - from domestic, foreign, international and multilateral donors, be it an institutional entity or an individual. The mere fact of receiving financial support from abroad should not be used to accuse NGOs in working against national interests.
NGOs with legal personality should have the same capacities as are generally enjoyed by other legal persons and be subject to the same administrative, civil and criminal law obligations and sanctions generally applicable to them. No discrimination of NGOs as compared to the for-profit entities should be provided for in the law or exercised in practice.
National law should not unjustifiably restrict the ability of any person, natural or legal, national or non-national, to establish an NGO or join membership-based NGOs. The ability of someone to join a particular NGO should be determined primarily by its statutes, and should not be influenced by any unjustified discrimination.
The process of acquiring legal personality by NGOs should generally be based on notification of public authorities rather than seeking permission from them. This process should be easy to understand, inexpensive and expeditious. In particular, an NGO should only be required to file its charters and to identify its founders, directors, officers and legal representative and the location of its headquarters.
Legal personality should only be refused where there has been a failure to submit all the clearly prescribed documents required, if a name has been used that is patently misleading or is not adequately distinguishable from that of an existing natural or legal person in the country concerned, or if there is an objective in the charters which is clearly incompatible with the law. NGOs should not be required to renew its legal personality on a periodic basis.
The closure of an NGO should only happen normally due to a voluntary decision of its members. Liquidation of an NGO by government authorities should be used only as an absolutely last resort after every other possible measure of correction of its misconduct has already been used and failed to bring about change.
Suspension of an activity of an NGO should be ordered only by a court decision rather than by an order of an administrative body.
Reporting by NGOs to regulating authorities should be not burdensome and duplicative of other reports, for example, to tax authorities, should not include ambiguous requirements easy to interpret with discretion, and should not require disclosure of personal data of NGO clients or participants of their events as well as names of those donors that wish to stay anonymous.
Interference of the public authorities in the work of NGOs and their decisions should not be allowed. In particular, regulating authorities should have the power to investigate whether activities of an NGO and its expenditures correspond to the goals stated in organization's charter only in case when the organization enjoys tax exemptions. If the activities and expenditures of an NGO are found not in correspondence with the goals stated in organization's charter, only tax penalties should be applied rather than a liquidation of an NGO.
Inspections and audits of NGOs by regulating authorities should be non-burdensome, non-intrusive, and not lead to paralyzing of the work of an NGO. They should be limited in time, regularity and scope in clearly defined laws or implementing regulations.
Attendance by government representatives of the events conducted by NGOs without an invitation by the organization should not be permitted, with the exception of public events.
Governments should provide special protection to NGOs and their members from violent attacks and death threats from ultra-nationalist, paramilitary and similar radical groups - in the same way as the special protection is provided by the governments to public officials and members of the journalist profession. Such crimes should be promptly investigated and their perpetrators brought to justice.
Freedom of Assembly
We express our strong support to the OSCE Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly released at this conference and believe they should be promptly translated in all languages of OSCE participating states and distributed as widely as possible.
Effective implementation of the Guidelines should be assured by organization of special educational programs for government officials and training seminars for public servants and the police, as well as by provision of technical assistance by OSCE to participating states in drafting legislation on freedom of assembly based on the above guidelines.
Provisions regulating pickets should not require notification of the authorities for pickets conducted by up to three persons.