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Deteriorating democratic environment and space for civil society in the Russian Federation

Following the consideration of an information note prepared by the co-rapporteurs for Russia, Theodora Bakoyannis (Greece, EPP/CD) and Liliane Maury Pasquier (Switzerland, SOC), the Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) expressed its “serious concern at the deteriorating democratic environment and narrowing space for civil society organisations in the Russian Federation”.

With regard to civil society, the committee “deplores the adoption of an increasingly restrictive legal framework that is placing undue limitations on the rights to freedom of association, expression and assembly, and the stigmatisation of independent human rights organisations and NGOs, especially those holding divergent views from those of the authorities”. In this context, the committee “singles out the law on ‘foreign agents’ and the law on ‘undesirable foreign organisations’, which have been widely criticised by domestic and international experts, including the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission”. The committee “urges the Russian authorities to repeal these laws which threaten the existence of a vibrant civil society, which in itself is an essential component of a democratic culture”.

The committee regrets that, “similarly to what has happened to civil society, the space for political opposition parties to operate and freely express dissenting opinions has further narrowed recently, especially for those that oppose the Kremlin’s policies with regard to Ukraine”. The committee expresses its “concern at the systematic harassment of opposition leaders and activists by the authorities, as well as by civil groups that are seen as connected to the authorities, which is unacceptable”. The committee regrets this “deterioration of the political environment which has diminished some of the positive developments with regard to the electoral environment, such as the appointment of former ombudsperson Ella Pamfilova as chairperson of the Federal Election Commission, and changes to the legal framework for elections in Russia that addressed some of the recommendations by the Venice Commission and the Assembly.”

While the information note focused on the domestic developments in the Russian Federation, the committee “wishes to reiterate the findings and conclusions of the Assembly, as expressed, inter alia, in Resolutions 1990 (2014) and 2034 (2015), with regard to its relations with its neighbouring states in what it considers to be its special zone of interest and its actions with regard to Ukraine.”

In the context of these concerns, the committee regrets that “the co-rapporteurs have not been able to carry out any monitoring visits to the Russian Federation since December 2014, due to the refusal of the Russian authorities to co-operate with the Assembly”. According to the committee, “the monitoring procedure should not only promptly continue, but indeed be intensified”. It wishes to underscore that “the unconditional participation in the monitoring procedure, including the visits of Assembly members and officials, is an explicit accession commitment by the Russian Federation and therefore not dependent on, or a bargaining chip for, the participation of the Russian delegation in the work of the Assembly”. The committee therefore expresses its hope that “the Monitoring Committee rapporteurs will be able to visit the Russian Federation in the immediate future”.