Rep. Jim McGovern sends a letter to Secretary Kerry regarding the implementation of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act
Today, Congressman Jim McGovern sent a letter to Secretary Kerry, urging him to encourage his European counterparts to adopt legislation and/or measures similar to the ones outlined in the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012. The letter comes in anticipation of a new report from the State Department and Treasury on the implementation of the Magnitsky Act.
The pessimistic attitude clouding the American capital has been aggravated by the fiasco the “Obamacare” health insurance reform has set in place. To date, barely 10,000 Americans could sign up on the site created specifically to compare insurances and register.
Yet, at the heart of this depressed and discouraging climate are “everyday” citizens showing that one person can change the course of history. On Saturday, Nov. 16, a reception took place at 7 pm, organized by Freedom House president David J. Kramer. French-Russian journalist Elena Servettaz presented her book, “Why Europe Needs a Magnitsky Law: Should the EU Follow the U.S.?”
Servettaz, also a contributor to American and Russian media, collected contributions from 54 people involved in the Magnitsky affair. A brief recall:
About four years ago, Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer, died in a Moscow prison, beaten to death by the guards. His crime? Denouncing the biggest fiscal fraud ever committed in Russia. Even more, this fraud had been the work of state officials associated with a mafia gang (even if the distinction between the two is difficult to discern). Magnitsky, according to human rights lawyer William Browden, had noted the disappearance of $230 million owed to the state of Russia. While he wanted to get justice, he was arrested by those responsible for said embezzlement. (more…)
In June 2014, the Russian Duma unanimously passed a bill—which President Vladimir Putin signed into law—prohibiting so-called “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors.” The following month, a law banning adoption by foreign same-sex couples, or even opposite-sex couples residing in countries where same-sex marriage is recognized, was enacted. Coming twenty years after the decriminalization of homosexuality in Russia, these measures marked the culmination of efforts by Russian municipal and regional authorities to target the country’s LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) minority. Russian citizens found to be in violation of the federal statute can be fined 5,000 rubles (equivalent to roughly $150), businesses can be levied up to 1 million rubles and forced to close for up to 90 days, and foreigners face deportation.
Though these measures are ostensibly aimed at “protecting” children from sexually explicit material, their effect is to stigmatize sexual minorities and prevent them from engaging in a necessary conversation about civil equality and their place within Russian society. The federal statute effectively makes it illegal to speak about homosexuality in neutral (never mind positive) terms, bans public demonstrations demanding respect for gay people, and could even be used to arrest same-sex couples for holding hands in public. As such, the law violates universally binding norms concerning free speech, assembly, and association. Such norms are enumerated in Russia’s own constitution and laws, as well as those of the United Nations, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and Council of Europe instruments, all to which Russia is party.
The legislative attack on Russia’s gay community must be seen in the context of the Putin regime’s broader assault on civil society. A year before the anti-gay legislation was enacted, the Duma passed a regressive law requiring non-profit organizations receiving funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents,” likening many pro-democracy and humanitarian groups to espionage fronts. Simultaneously, the Russian government expelled USAID and has continually harassed employees of European political foundations. Russian government officials, abetted by their political allies in the Orthodox Church, routinely speak of homosexuality as a decadent, Western import aimed at weakening Russia from within; Putin himself has justified official state homophobia by lamenting Europe’s declining birthrate, which he partially blames on gays. These efforts simultaneously divert attention from government corruption, and also strengthen Putin’s political ties to Russian social conservatives. (more…)
The case of a Russian environmental activist who fled the country but was later arrested, despite finding sanctuary in Finland, reveals how political motives can sometimes improperly influence international police work, a London-based group said this week.
The international police network in question is Interpol, which represents 190 member countries, including the United States, allowing them to issue international warrants or request information about suspects facing criminal charges at home.
Fair Trials International, an advocacy group for those arrested abroad, issued a report early Thursday asserting that the agency is used by some of its members — including Russia, Belarus, Turkey, Iran and Venezuela — to pursue political ends.
Pyotr Silaev, a 28-year-old Russian who took part in a protest in Moscow in July 2010 against the destruction of a forest in the suburb of Khimki, illustrates how Interpol can be wrongly used, according to Robert Jackman, a Fair Trials spokesman.
When police began arresting some of the demonstrators and accused Silaev of hooliganism, he fled to Finland, which accepted him as a political refugee.
Later, Silaev traveled to Spain and was arrested there on a Russian request issued through Interpol. He spent eight days in prison and six months stuck in Spain while fighting extradition to Russia. A Spanish court eventually refused to extradite him, ruling that his arrest was politically motivated. Fair Trials is trying to get his name stricken from the Interpol database.
When Moscow police wanted Interpol help to arrest William Browder, the investment banker who campaigned for the United States to punish Russia for human rights abuses, Browder quickly found a way to give the international agency his side of the story.
Interpol promptly declared the request to locate Browder — who fought for passage of the U.S. Magnitsky Act — politically motivated and deleted the entry from its database. Browder’s situation showed that individuals are shielded from abuse by Interpol, according to Ronald K. Noble, the agency’s head. (more…)
A former senior federal prosecutor has accused her one-time colleagues of illegally intervening in the probe into the 2009 death of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, as well as committing legal violations in connection with other high-profile cases.
Galina Tarasova, who says she was fired from the Prosecutor General’s Office in April, said Sergei Bochkaryov, a department head at the agency, phoned Investigative Committee officials “giving them oral orders” and “sending some kind of documents” in connection with the committee’s probe into Magnitsky’s death.
Two other senior officials at the Prosecutor General’s Office — David Kutaliya and Timur Borisov — “obstructed oversight of the probe into Magnitsky’s death” by “creating red tape,” Tarasova said in an interview published on pro-nationalist news website Russkaya Planeta on Wednesday.
The Prosecutor General’s Office is charged with overseeing the work of the Investigative Committee to ensure that investigators do not violate the law while carrying out criminal probes, Tarasova explained. Prosecutors also approve charges before sending a case to court.
Tarasova linked her dismissal to her complaints to superiors about the legal violations committed by her colleagues. (more…)
Seldom does the death of a single person create shockwaves across the entire planet. However, when an ordinary Russian, a lowly accountant, was imprisoned and eventually died in a Russian prison, his name became a symbol for the struggle for human rights, and the reasons for a significant rift in the international community.
The Sergei Magnitsky Act, a law passed by the United states congress, sanctioned some of Russia’s business and political elite. The Russian government responded by stopping any citizens of the United States from adopting Russian children. The death of Magnitsky has stressed the world’s relations with Russia, continues to eat away at what little trust many have left for the corrupt Russian government, and has put the struggle for universal human rights back into the international spotlight.
But the story of the Magnitsky Act starts with humble beginnings, with a businessman, William Browder, setting up a meeting with a human rights advocate to speak about the plight of his tax lawyer. The story is told by Kyle Parker, the senior policy advisor for Russia at the U.S. Helsinki Commission, who spoke at Bowdoin College on Monday at an event called “From Chechnya to Pussy Riot: Human Rights and the Russian Reset.” The text below the audio is taken directly from the flyer for the event. – Ed. (more…)
The United States may publish the extended version of the “Magnitsky list” as early as next month, while Europe is expected to pass a similar measure, Hermitage Capital investment fund president and bill supporter William Browder said.
The Magnitsky Act, enacted by the U.S. Congress in December 2012 and named after late Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, imposed personal sanctions on Russian officials responsible for human rights violations and obstructing the rule of law.
“The law is only one year old now,” an assistant to U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, who helped draft the bill, said in an interview for the Voice of America. “We are at the very beginning of its implementation process and anticipate its expansion both here in the U.S. and Europe.”
Executive Director of U.S.-based human rights NGO Freedom House David Kramer said his organization is currently working with lawmakers in several countries to “try to advance the adoption of a similar law as early as next year.”
Meanwhile, Russian lawmakers say they are unaware of U.S. plans to expand the “Magnitsky list” or European intentions to pass similar legislation, Interfax reported. (more…)
As the US administration readies its first annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Magnitsky Act, the law imposing visa and financial sanctions on Russian human rights abusers, European legislators are preparing a strategy to move forward with their own sanctions package. Last week, the European Parliament hosted the first meeting of the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Inter-Parliamentary Group, which brings together lawmakers from 13 countries (11 of them from the European Union) and an advisory board that includes representatives from Russia (among them, the author of this blog). The aim of the new coalition is to coordinate between the national parliaments and the European Parliament on the best way to move forward with barring Russian officials implicated in corruption and human rights violations from visiting and stowing their assets in EU member states and Canada.
The Magnitsky Act, passed by the US Congress last year with vast bipartisan majorities (365 to 43 in the House; 92 to 4 in the Senate), was, despite Kremlin assertions to the country, the most pro-Russian law ever adopted in a foreign country. With corruption and political repression being the founding pillars of Russia’s current regime, and with no independent judiciary to protect Russian citizens from abuse, external individual sanctions on those who commit these offenses are the only way to end the impunity. According to a Levada Center poll, 44 percent of Russians support US and EU visa bans on officials who engage in human rights violations, with only 21 percent opposing, and this despite constant attempts by the Putin regime to present individual sanctions against crooks and abusers as “sanctions against Russia”—an insulting equivalence for the country. Leading Russian opposition figures and human rights activists are publicly supporting the Magnitsky sanctions; many of their testimonies have been included in a new book edited by Elena Servettaz, Why Europe Needs a Magnitsky Law, which was presented in European capitals and Washington DC. (more…)
November 15, 2013
We honor the memory of Russian lawyer Sergey Magnitskiy, who died November 16, 2009 in a Moscow prison after making corruption allegations against Russian officials.
Despite widely publicized, credible evidence of criminal conduct resulting in Magnitskiy’s death, Russian authorities have failed to bring to justice those responsible. Instead, in a posthumous trial earlier this year, a Russian court found Magnitskiy guilty in a criminal case.
We continue to call for full accountability for those responsible for Magnitskiy’s unjust imprisonment and wrongful death and we will continue to fully support the efforts of those in Russia who seek to bring these individuals to justice, including through implementation of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012.