Protecting Women Is Not a Crime

Statement by the President of the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe regarding the criminal charges brought against Valentina Cherevatenko, Chair of the Coordination Council of Women of the Don Union, Chair of the Board of the Women of the Don Foundation for Civil Society Development, women rights’ defender in the Russian Federation
Strasbourg 8 July 2016
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Since when, in member states of the Council of Europe covered by the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, is obtaining foreign and international funds by an NGO to pursue its statutory projects a crime? Since when is promoting peace, dialogue and tolerance between different groups of civil society and individuals a crime? Since when is supporting women - victims of violence and trauma in conflict and post-conflict zones a crime? Since when is visiting women political prisoners a crime?

I am deeply concerned by the criminal case being brought against Ms Valentina Cherevatenko by the Russian authorities under Article 330.1 of the Criminal Code for alleged “malicious evasion of duties imposed by the law on non-profit organisations performing the functions of a foreign agent”. The Expert Council on NGO Law of the Conference of INGOs has already pointed out that Russia’s Federal Law of 23 May 2015 #129-FZ contains a number of ambiguities. They can lead to arbitrary and politicised decisions for including NGOs on the register of “foreign agents”. In addition, the Venice Commission in its Opinion No. 814 / 2015, states that this Law “interferes with several human rights protected under the European Convention, especially freedom of association (Article 11), freedom of assembly (Article 11), freedom of expression (Article 10), the right to an effective remedy (Article 13) and the principle of nulla poena sine lege (Article 7)”.

We cannot allow that member states of the Council of Europe criminalise activists and NGOs who contribute to peace and social development and protect the rights of women, victims of violence. The Russian Federation, as a member state of the Council of Europe, is engaged to “create an environment conducive to the work of human rights defenders, enabling individuals, groups and associations to freely carry out activities, on a legal basis, consistent with international standards, to promote and strive for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms without any restrictions other than those authorised by the European Convention on Human Rights”[1].

I therefore call on the Russian authorities to withdraw the charges against Ms Valentina Cherevatenko and not to interfere in the legitimate functioning of Women of the Don Foundation and Women of the Don Union. In addition, I call upon the Russian authorities to sign and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence and to protect all women human rights defenders who work on its implementation.

Anna Rurka, President of the Conference of INGOs

[1] Declaration on Council of Europe action to improve the protection of human rights defenders and promote their activities of 6 February 2008