UCSJ Letter to the Co-Chairs of the Helsinki Commission

ucsj letterhead April 15, 2013


Honorable Senator Benjamin Cardin Honorable Congressman Christopher Smith Co-chairs of the Helsinki Commission of the American Congress (Committee on Foreign Affairs)

Dear co-chairs of the Helsinki Commission:

Alarming information about the escalation of wide attacks on the Russian NGOs comes every day from Moscow. Almost all powerful inspection departments on the federal and local levels (like Security Service, Prosecutors’ offices, divisions of the Interior Ministry, even Fire Departments, Taxes, Customs, Border Troops, etc.) have been thrown on central Russian and International NGOs (like "Memorial," Moscow Helsinki Group, Human Rights Movement, "Golos,” Committee Against Tortures, - about 700 according to President Putin) in spite of recent planned examinations. We know of 222 groups across Russia that have been raided. They include religious organizations as well as pro-democracy and human right groups. The religious groups include Catholics, Evangelical Christians, Jews and Muslims. It is a concerted effort by the Putin government to destroy all such groups by applying the iron hand of the state. Raiders even came to the private apartments of the chairs of important NGOs, like Committee Against Tortures. The explanation was delivered by President Putin, - how the new law about "foreign agents" was to be implemented. In an interview to the German mass-media on April 4, 2013, he said that Russian NGOs received about 1 billion dollars during the last 4 months for "their political activity inside the country." At the same time these NGOs "violated" the new law – they did not recognize themselves as "foreign agents."

Everybody knows this government is deathly afraid of free expression and the possibility of true democracy and accountability for violations of human rights. Anti-American rhetoric has become part of the official foreign policy. The economic situation is very poor in Russia but its finances are investing in military equipment. Russian diplomats reject almost all Western initiatives for settling peace and stability. Persecution of the honest NGOs will inhibit the development of public society in Russia and deprive the world of truthful information. The purpose of the raids is to spread fear again all over the society. We are witnesses to the micro-Stalinization of all spheres of freedom, culture, and science. We also see the first attempts to undermine the Helsinki Final Act. The key is to help Russian NGOs to survive and to continue to operate. We need to stop their suffocation by the Putin regime.

The UCSJ has been working in the former Soviet Union since 1970 and up until 1991 was the voice of the Refuseniks. UCSJ consistently advocated for freedom of emigration throughout this time. For the last 20 years, we have been the voice of democratic forces and have fought against anti-Semitism and other forms of xenophobia, working as the bridge between Russian and Western public societies.

We hope that your distinguished Commission can inspire the American public and authorities to help Russian (as well as other parts of the FSU) NGOs to continue their important work. In addition, we hope you will influence the American administration to support NGO protection. As the first organizational measures we propose:

  • to establish a Crisis Support Group (CSG) in Washington D.C. to coordinate efforts to support the integrity of Russian NGOs and their leadership. We are ready to open our offices in Washington DC to aid in this effort;
  • to run special hearings about the Russian fulfillment of the Helsinki Human Rights Documents
  • (American Congress, autumn, 2013) with the participation of several Russian NGOs leaders;
  • to ask the State Department to include in the Magnitsky List the names of officials who persecute
  • NGOs in the present crisis;
  • to inform the European Union members about American measures and invite them to join it.

Thank you for your understanding. Sincerely,

Larry Lerner