23 November 2006, Thursday

(Utrecht) – Russia's Federal Registration Service (FRS) has refused to register the representative office of Stichting Russian Justice Initiative (SRJI) in Moscow.


In a 15 November 2006 letter, the FRS informed the organization that its application for registration of a representative office in Russia had been turned down. It stated that documents submitted by the organization had not been properly signed and contained inconsistencies, and that the organization’s executive director did not have proper authority to represent the organization.


“We are highly surprised at this decision,” said Jan ter Laak, the chairman of the board of SRJI. “We closely consulted with the officials of the Federal Registration Service over the past several months and prepared all the documents in accordance with their instructions.”


The organization believes that the grounds are spurious and is currently studying its options, including an appeal against the rejection and renewed application for registration of a representative office in the Russian Federation, ter Laak said.


SRJI is a non-governmental non-profit organization registered in the Netherlands that since 2001 has provided legal assistance to victims of grave human rights abuse in the North Caucasus. SRJI is currently representing clients in more than one hundred cases before the European Court of Human Rights. The Court has issued four rulings in favor of applicants represented by SRJI in the past six months (www.srji.org/en/news/).


As a result of the rejection, the Moscow office of SRJI will remain suspended and may have to close. The office had already suspended its activities on 18 October 2006, in accordance with requirements of the new Russian law on non-governmental organizations (NGOs).


The new Russian law on NGOs came into force in April 2006 and has been highly controversial. Under the law, representative offices of foreign NGOs were required to re-register through an onerous and expensive process. Most NGOs appear to have been registered.


The decision puts into jeopardy the proper representation before the European Court of Human Rights of hundreds of victims of serious human rights violations.


Grounds for Rejection


The FRS listed three grounds for its decision to reject SRJI’s application.


  1. The FRS stated that SRJI’s application was signed by only one of the board members while the charter of the organization requires two of the board members to sign documents for them to have legal effect. Yet, SRJI’s application included a protocol of a board meeting in which the board granted its chairman authority to sign the application on its behalf. In an October 2006 meeting, an FRS official had indicated that submission of this protocol would be sufficient.

  2. The FRS stated that it was not established that the applicant, the executive director of the organization, had the proper authority to submit an application for registration. Yet, the SRJI application was signed by both the chairman of the board and the executive director of the organization, clearly indicating that the executive director was authorized to submit the application. In an October 2006 meeting, an FRS official agreed that submitting an additional document specifically giving the executive director authority to represent the organization would be superfluous.

  1. The FRS stated that the initial 2003 decision by the board of SRJI to establish a representative office in Russia referred to a different name than the name in the current application. There is indeed a small inconsistency between the wording in the decision from 2003 and that in the application. In 2003, legislation regulating representative office of foreign organizations required language that specified the city in which the office would be based. Hence, the 2003 decision referred to a representative office “in the city of Moscow.” Current legislation, however, requires applications to specify only that the representative office will be “in the Russian Federation.” On 13 September 2006, the FRS specifically instructed SRJI to change the wording in its application to “in the Russian Federation” because the initial wording was no longer allowed. However, SRJI could not retroactively change a notarized board decision from 2003.


For more information:

In Utrecht: Jan ter Laak, Chairman of the board of SRJI, +31 622 975 179

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