On February 8, 2006, ICNL testified before the US Helsinki Commission to address the current issues with the NGO law in Russia. The Helsinki Commission was created in 1976 and Commissioners include Senators and Congressional representatives. Over the past decades, the Commission has monitored compliance with the Helsinki Final Act and other commitments of the fifty-five countries participating in the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
ICNL was granted the opportunity to be the first speaker on the panel of nongovernmental experts testifying after State Department officials. Mrs. Bourjaily addressed the Commission on four key concerns:
- Extensive reporting requirements for all NGOs: NGOs will have to report not only on how they use money but also on their beneficiaries. In addition, the government can prohibit funding of any activity based on vague reasons.
- Unwarranted government control: The NGO law grants the government broad authority to control NGOs. The government has the right to participate in any event or internal meeting of an NGO.
- Registration/notification issues: The law provides for a broad list of reasons to deny the registration of NGOs giving the government the ability under the law to reject the legal existence of an organization. The NGO law mirrors similar provisions that have been misused and abused by other countries to constrain civil society.
- Implementation/monitoring issues: Monitoring the implementation of the law will be important to assess the impact of newly enacted legislation.
Addition information about the Helsinki Commission and its work is available on their website.