Skip to main content

Project on Legal and Organizational Capacity Building for Russian NGOs

In Putin’s Russia, repressive mechanisms restrict Russian citizens, civil society organizations, and independent media from defending their rights. One of the few remaining ways to strengthen civil society and the rule of law in Russia is through international pressure from sanctions and legal proceedings.

However, many Russian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) lack the knowledge necessary to employ these tools and struggle amid a restrictive funding environment.

The McCain Institute equipped Russian NGOs with tools necessary to succeed and defend their constitutional rights. Standing true to its commitment to protect the vulnerable and advance democracy, the McCain Institute partnered with Latvia-based Russian NGO Astraea, founded in 2015 by Anton Gromov, to launch four interlinked training programs for Russian NGOs in Europe, Russia, and North America last year.

These four interlinked training programs were led by Pedro Pizano, Esq., J.D. & LL.M. IHR, manager for the human rights & democracy program at the McCain Institute at Arizona State University (ASU). The McCain Institute’s former nonresident Senior Advisor Andrea Matačić Cayley, and now the D.C. director of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU, focused on how to file cases with courts in the U.S. and the European Court of Human Rights, and on universal jurisdiction. Fron Nahzi, the prior global development director for the McCain Institute, focused on management and fundraising. Astraea’s Victor Oleynik expertly managed the subaward. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February renewed the urgency in strengthening the rule of law and holding Russia accountable for its human rights violations on the international stage and we continued training NGOs and individuals. In total we had 292 (non-unique) anonymized check-ins from ten different NGOs to our twelve training courses delivered over 10 two-hour sessions—watch the full sessions below.

A post-retrospective survey was deployed in Russian among the 25 most active participants. The results were the following:

  • 182% average change in understanding of how to file a case with the U.S. court system
  • 53% average change in understanding of how to file a case with the ECtHR
  • 67% average improvement in organizational management skills
  • 109% average improvement in developing fundraising strategies and skills
Watch the ten public videos of our training sessions here:

The training provided the procedural steps that must be completed in national courts as well as the specific documentation and application that must be submitted to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to have a case considered for review. The training reviewed the structure of the Court and how cases are selected and reviewed. The group examined the types of decisions the Court issues and how enforceable they are.

This program was made possible in part with support from The U.S. Russia Foundation (USRF).

About the U.S. Russia Foundation

Founded in 2008, the U.S. Russia Foundation (USRF) makes grants to support a healthy private sector, rule of law, and civil society in Russia, in the conviction that these are necessary for an accountable, democratic government that will mean a better future for Russians and the U.S.-Russia relations.
Learn more at