25 January 2007, Thursday

(Utrecht) Russia's Federal Registration Service (FRS) has refused to register the representative office of Russian Justice Initiative (RJI) in Moscow for a second time, Russian Justice Initiative said today. The refusal comes just one day after the European Court of Human Rights found Russia guilty of torturing two Chechens in custody. RJI represented the applicants in the case, the first torture case from Chechnya to be heard by the European Court.

In a 19 January 2007 letter, the FRS informed the organization that its application for registration of a representative office in Russia had been rejected. It stated that the organization should have applied for registration as a branch office instead of a representative office, because its goals and objectives were not compatible with the latter. The letter also stated that there were a number of errors in application.

“We cannot understand why this problem was not brought to our attention earlier,” said Jan ter Laak, the chairman of the board of RJI. “The FRS has twice previously reviewed all these documents, but never gave any indication that this would be a problem.”

According to Russian law a representative office’s activities are limited to representing and protecting the interests of the home organization. A branch office can also conduct its own activities.

RJI is a non-governmental non-profit organization registered in the Netherlands that has provided legal assistance to victims of grave human rights abuse in the North Caucasus since 2001. RJI currently represents clients in more than one hundred cases before the European Court of Human Rights concerning torture, disappearances, summary executions and arbitrary detention. RJI registered its representative office in Russia for the first time in 2003.

The April 2006 law on non-governmental organizations required all foreign organization to re-register their offices. Most other human rights organizations in Russia are registered as representative offices. RJI was rejected for the first time on 15 November 2006 on a number of technical grounds despite the fact that the organization had held extensive consultations with the registration authorities and outside consultants. The organization re-submitted its application on 11 January 2007.

One day before the rejection letter was written, on 18 January 2007, the European Court issued a ruling on the first torture case from Chechnya. The two applicants, whom RJI represented, alleged that Russian police had tortured them in two detention centers, including the infamous Chernokozovo detention center, that they had been illegally detained, and that the Russian authorities had not conducted an effective investigation into the allegations. In its judgment, the Court unanimously ruled in favor of the applicants, who are brothers, and awarded each of them 35.000 euros in damages. For more information see www.srji.org/en.

The decision to reject RJI’s application for registration puts into jeopardy the proper representation before the European Court of Human Rights of hundreds of victims of serious human rights violations.

For more information:

In Utrecht, the Netherlands: Jan ter Laak, chairman of the board of RJI, +31 622 975 179

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