Moscow Bans Oldest Russian Human Rights NGO Related to OSCE

OrganizationsOther ♦ Published: January 26, 2023; 00:15 ♦ (Vindobona)

A court in the Russian capital has ordered the closure of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a human rights organization founded in Soviet times. The Russian Justice Ministry's request for liquidation was granted, Judge Mikhail Kazakov ruled in the Moscow City Court. The OSCE strongly condemns this, especially since the Helsinki Group is linked with the establishment of the OSCE itself.

Soviet dissidents and founding members of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Yulia Vishnevskaya, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Dina Kaminskaya, Kronid Lyubarsky in Munich, 1978. / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons/ Yulia Vishnevskaya / Юлия Вишневская/ CC BY-SA 2.0 (

The Russian courts are directly controlled by the Kremlin, which is why the decision was expected. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) complain of political persecution by the Russian judiciary.

Ad hoc inspections of Moscow Helsinki Group by the Justice Ministry led to the liquidation lawsuit. In the liquidation petition, several supposed violations of Russia's stifling laws on nongovernmental organizations are cited, including the group being registered in Moscow but operating elsewhere in the country, as well as the lack of information in the group's charter regarding its executive body's location. Such drastic measures cannot be justified by bureaucratic pretexts.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Moscow courts have liquidated four other major human rights groups in addition to Memorial this year, so there is little optimism for a fair trial for the Moscow Helsinki Group.

The Helsinki Group, founded in 1976, is the country's oldest civil rights organization; it announced it would appeal the court's decision.

Moscow Helsinki Group

The Moscow Helsinki Group was founded in 1976 shortly after the Conference on Security and Cooperation (CSCE) when the Soviet delegation signed the Helsinki Final Act.

The Moscow Helsinki Group was established to monitor the implementation of the OSCE Helsinki Final Act and its human rights and democratic principles. During Soviet times, however, the group was persecuted. Only later did official pressure ease.

Prominent human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva was chair of the NGO until she died in 2018. In recent years, however, pressure on this oldest human rights organization in Russia has increased again, as in the case of other civil rights associations.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also emerged from the CSCE and is an enshrined conference of states for peacekeeping.

OSCE Condemns Ban on Moscow Helsinki Group

The OSCE condemned the decision by the Moscow City Court to liquidate Russia’s oldest human rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) described this decision as contrary to the commitments made by all OSCE countries to respect the freedom to form and join associations.

This move further undermines freedom of association in the Russian Federation, according to ODIHR. In its press release concerning that matter, the OSCE points out that all OSCE states have recognized the importance of freedom of association for democracies and the critical role that civil society plays in advancing human rights, fundamental freedoms, and democracy.

ODIHR calls on the Russian authorities to reconsider and reverse this decision and reaffirms its offer to assist them in ensuring a safe and enabling space for civil society in the Russian Federation.


Human Rights Watch