18.8 A Warning to the Committee for Human Rights [February 1971]

<< No 18 : 5 March 1971 >>

On 15 February 1971 V. Chalidze and A. Tverdokhlebov, members of the Committee for Human Rights, were summoned separately (at 11 am and 2 pm respectively) by the head of the Department of General Oversight of the Moscow Procuracy. The content of both conversations was the same.

In an Open Note (of 19 February) on the legal status of the Committee for Human Rights addressed to the Moscow Procurator, V. Chalidze writes:

“… I was informed that the existence of the Committee … was an infringement of the law, since it is not registered in accordance with the 1932 ‘Regulations relating to voluntary societies and unions’ [1] … I was also warned of my liability under Article 200 of the Russian Criminal Code (taking the law into one’s own hands)“. [2]

The Note presents a detailed argument that the 1932 Regulations are inapplicable to the Committee, which is a creative association akin to a collective of co-authors which “does not require registration of any sort but permits agreements to be reached between the authors” (see Article 482 of the Russian Civil Code).

The 1932 Regulations, on the other hand, relate to a very precise class of association. Organisations covered by the Regulations must, among other things, have at least ten founder-members, and they must carry out their research work on the basis of the Marxist-Leninist method.

On the subject of the possible institution of proceedings against the Committee under Article 200 of the Russian Criminal Code the Note says:

“However strange it might appear to the public, for me the prospect of criminal proceedings being taken is distinctly alluring, as this would make it possible to examine, in open judicial debate, the state of the law and of current practice regarding the right of association . . .

“… there is much in Soviet law which admits the possibility of various types of associations being created, which, though they may be unusual, are completely loyal. If such associations have not hitherto been established, this is due not to a lack of independent activity among our citizens, nor to an indifference to the right of association, but rather to the fact that it is not always possible to find a man sufficiently knowledgeable to advise on the legal ways of establishing independent organisations.”