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Forcible dissolution of the Russian non-commercial organization Memorial International: the legislation of the Russian Federation on “Foreign Agents” is in breach of international standards

30/12/2021

On 28 December 2021, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation ordered the closure of Memorial International. Memorial International is an non-commercial organization which has operated in the Russian Federation since 1992 with a view to “studying political repressions in the USSR and in present-day Russia and promoting moral and legal rehabilitation of persons subjected to political repressions”. It is one of the most prominent civil society organisations active in the field of human rights protection in the Russian Federation. The closure of Memorial International appears to have been ordered, upon a request by the Prosecutor General’s Office, under the legislation on “foreign agents” and “undesirable activities of foreign and international NGOs”.

The Venice Commission has previously assessed the compatibility of the legislation concerning NGOs labelled as “Foreign Agents”, at the request of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It has expressed very strong criticism of the vague and overly broad terminology and failure to have a reasonable relation to the aims allegedly pursued.
It has criticized in particular the provisions on sanctions and on dissolution, recalling that any sanction should be proportional to the wrongdoing, and the penalty of liquidation of an NGO should only be reserved, as a last resort measure, for extreme cases of serious violations threatening democracy. Mere administrative violations, even if repeated, do not represent a proportionate ground for the dissolution of an NGO.

The Venice Commission has expressed deep concern that “this legislation enables the authorities to exercise significant control over the activities and existence of associations as well as over the participation of individuals in civic life”.

In its three opinions, the Venice Commission has formulated several recommendations with a view to aligning the legislation on “foreign agents” to the applicable international standards. These recommendations have not been followed up, and it becomes even more urgent that they should.
  CDL-AD(2021)027, Opinion on the Compatibility with international human rights standards of a series of Bills introduced to the Russian State Duma between 10 and 23 November 2020, to amend laws affecting "foreign agents"
  CDL-AD(2016)020, Opinion on federal law no. 129-fz on amending certain legislative acts (Federal law on undesirable activities of foreign and international non-governmental organisations)
  CDL-AD(2014)025, Opinion on Federal Law n. 121-fz on non-commercial organisations (“law on foreign agents”), on Federal Laws n. 18-fz and n. 147-fz and on Federal Law n. 190-fz on making amendments to the criminal code (“law on treason”) of the Russian Fed
  Secretary General of the Council of Europe: liquidation of International Memorial marks a dark day for civil society in the Russian Federation
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