(Alexandria, VA) - George W. Bush was recently in the spotlight for expressing concern to Vladimir Putin over Russia's rough-handed treatment of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), but a joint statement from dozens of high-profile groups shows there's a growing response from the international community as well. Leaders from 86 think tanks and citizen-based organizations in 23 countries have signed a "Statement of Concern for Freedom in Russia" in hopes of highlighting this human rights issue.
"[U]nited by common principles and values, [we] declare our steadfast support for the rights of the people of Russia to associate freely, without harassment by the authorities, and to exercise the rights of freedom of expression to which all human beings are by nature entitled," the statement begins. "In particular, we declare our solidarity with the NGOs of Russia, which are struggling under the burden of bureaucratic harassment and efforts by the authorities to suppress the independent forces of civil society."
The project was begun earlier this month at a meeting of the World Taxpayers Associations (WTA) in Vienna, Austria. WTA is a consortium of organizations on six continents that share a belief in limited government. Signatories to the Russia document (some of whom are WTA members) hail from countries around the globe, including the US, Japan, Uganda, the UK, Pakistan, Colombia, Korea, Romania, and elsewhere. Several other leading political and intellectual figures signed as individuals in addition to the 86 groups. The US-based National Taxpayers Union has coordinated the release of the document.
Critics of the Russian government's actions contend that arbitrary registration and reporting laws on NGOs constitute much more than a nuisance. They are, instead, dangerous steps that are giving the government of Russia the power to intimidate, prosecute, and ultimately silence voices of dissent.
The statement concludes with an urgent appeal: "We call on the Russian government to cease its efforts to isolate the people of Russia from the wider international civil society and its efforts to subject them to authoritarian rule."
National Taxpayers Union President John Berthoud observed, "International pressure is never an easy way to persuade a government to reconsider its policies. In this case, however, groups on all points of the political spectrum must act before the torch of freedom is once again extinguished in Russia."
Note: The Statement of Concern for Freedom in Russia, along with a list of signatories, is available on the National Taxpayers Union website at www.ntu.org.