Civil Society Freedoms in Russia Under Threat

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The following is a statement on civil society freedoms in Russia delivered by Pax Christi International at the Conference of International Non-governmental Organisations of the Council of Europe webinar on World Non-governmental Organisation Day

26 February 2021

Pax Christi International represents a Catholic peace network of more than 100 national movements and associations acting for peace, dialogue, and reconciliation around the world. In Europe, our member organisations, such as in France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Ireland, England and Wales, Scotland and Portugal, work for justice, human rights, nonviolence and nuclear disarmamament.

We value our presence in the Council of Europe as the organisation stands for democracy, human rights and rule of law, which are the only solid foundations of societies where all human beings can live a dignified existence. As a peace movement we can therefore not remain silent when fundamental freedoms and rights are violated irrespective of where it happens and who the victims are, because human rights are universal that apply to everyone.

Today we are apalled at the intensification of actions by the Russian Federation to silence dissenting voices and to dangerously narrow civic space for non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Many organisations such as the 2013 Pax Christi International Peace Award winner Memorial, Public Verdict Foundation, Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Civic Assistance Committee and Moscow Helsinki Group have asked the Council of Europe to issue a strong warning with regard to these very worrying developments to the Russian authorities. We fully support this call.

With the adoption of  different laws regulating NGOs activities and the overall situation in Russia it has become impossible for NGOs, especially not pro-governmental ones, to cooperate with schools. They are totally inaccessible for them. This work is crucial for peacebuilding as we know from our member in the Russian Federation, The House of Peace and Nonviolence, which has been working for more than 10 years, especially but not exclusively in Chechnya, in training school children, teachers and young people in nonviolence and conflict resolution. Sadly, because of the dificult context, which includes intimidation and fear, they have decided to stop their activities.

On World NGO day, Pax Christi International would like to underline that it is not acceptable that federal law after federal law the freedom of assembly, of speech and of petition is restricted to such an extent that even closing down an existing Russian association – as The House of Peace is driven to do – becomes too difficult. Authorities seem to prefer stifling associations rather that letting them withdraw from public space.

We call upon NGOs who are part of the Conference of INGOs to stand up for fellow civil society members who are so unjustly silenced and obstructed to do their coureagous work: Let us together support civil society in Russia!

Photo: Tom Mesic via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0