US Quits Civil Society Panel, Citing Russia Rights Record

US Quits Civil Society Panel, Citing Russia Rights Record
# 25 January 2013 22:26 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. The United States announced Friday that it is withdrawing from a bilateral working group on civil society issues with Russia, a move that comes amid deteriorating ties between the two countries over human rights, APA reports quoting RIA Novosti.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing Friday that the move was prompted by what Washington sees as a crackdown by the Russian government on civil society groups, which have been subject to increasingly onerous registration requirements over the past year and are now banned from accepting financing from the United States if they engage in politics.

“The working group was not working,” Nuland said of the panel, which was part of the US-Russian Bilateral Presidential Commission established in 2009 by US President Barack Obama and his then Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, as part of the so-called “reset” effort in US-Russia ties.

“These new restrictions the Russian government is placing on civil society were increasingly calling into question whether maintaining this government-to-government mechanism was useful or appropriate,” she added.

Nuland said the United States would continue cooperating with Russia on the numerous other working groups under the auspices of the commission, including panels focusing on defense, counterterrorism and nuclear security.

The civil society working group had been removed from the commission’s official organizational chart on the State Department’s website as of Friday afternoon.

Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s point man on human rights issues, said earlier Friday that the State Department had not informed its counterparts in Moscow of the US withdrawal from the working group.

Nuland on Friday also criticized draft legislation passed in a first reading by Russia’s lower house of parliament Friday that would introduce fines for individuals or groups disseminating homosexual “propaganda.”

The bill’s backers say it would protect children from harmful influences, while critics call the move part of a broader crackdown on Russia’s gay community.

The United States is “deeply concerned” about the legislation, Nuland said.

“Nobody should be discriminated against for who they love,” she said.

Relations between the two countries have eroded precipitously in recent months over the issue of human rights and US support for Russian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), many of which are vocal critics of the Kremlin and Russia’s political system.

Last year, Washington angered the Russian government by implementing the Magnitsky Act, a law introducing sanctions against Russian officials suspected of human rights abuses that was named after Sergei Magnitsky, a whistleblowing lawyer who died in a Moscow jail in 2009.

Russia responded by banning US citizens from adopting Russian children and prohibiting politically active Russian NGOs from accepting financing from the United States.

The diplomatic dust-up has come in the wake of Russia’s expulsion of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from the country. Officials in Moscow accuse USAID of undermining Russia’s sovereignty by funding NGOs engaged in political activities.

In an interview published Thursday on the website of the The National Interest, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would not take into account US concerns over what the US foreign affairs journal called “the domestic climate inside Russia.”

“Those are our domestic affairs, our domestic politics,” Peskov said. “We are a democratic country sharing the same values with the whole world, but we are a country that will solve all the problems, domestic and the like, without any interference from abroad.”