Russia Human Rights Legislation Passes Foreign Affairs Committee

By the U. S. Committee on Foreign Affairs (June 7, 2012)

Earlier today, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed H.R. 4405, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, which imposes sanctions on those responsible for the harassment, abuse, and death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was murdered during his investigation of corruption in the Russian government. Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) issued the following statement in support of the measure:

Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

“The entire world knows that the state of democracy and human rights in Russia, already bad, is getting worse.

“Moscow devotes enormous resources and attention to persecuting political opponents and human rights activists, including forcibly breaking up rallies and jailing and beating those who dare to defy it. Instead of the rule of law, Russia is ruled by the lawless. That can be clearly seen in the high-level corruption that pervades the government from top to the bottom, from the Kremlin to the lowly bureaucrat.

“The negative impact reaches far into the economy and society, where corruption is widely accepted as normal and a way of life. It has even extended into foreign policy, as Russian officials threaten retaliation regarding countries such as the U.S. which dare to point to the rampant corruption that is aided and abetted by Moscow.

“However, there are a few brave souls in Russia who understand that true change cannot occur in their country until this problem has been fully addressed. Tragically, those who challenge the authorities and take on this forbidden subject are dealt with harshly, and several of those who have investigated it have been assaulted, jailed, and even killed.

“That is what happened to Sergei Magnitsky, whose discovery of massive corruption reaching into the Kremlin ended in his torture and death. The Russian authorities have had years to investigate this terrible crime and punish those responsible, but they have instead devoted their efforts to protecting the guilty and taking reprisals against those who insist on pursuing the case.

“This bill, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, does what the Russian government should have done years ago, namely hold accountable those government officials and others who participated in the arrest, murder, or cover-up of Magnitsky or who benefited from his death. But it goes further than this single crime. It also requires that those responsible for the death, torture, or repression of individuals investigating crimes by Russian government officials, or who were simply trying to exercise their basic human rights, be publicly named and sanctioned. By denying them visas and threatening their financial assets in the U.S., this bill strikes directly at the corrupt officials and others in power who have benefited from their crimes and those who have sent their stolen wealth abroad.

“The Findings also make clear the central role of corruption in poisoning the Russian government, economy, and society and undermining that country’s progress in democracy and human rights. But despite repeated promises by Putin and Russian officials to combat this enormous problem, it continues to grow because their continued rule rests upon a system in which the major actors public and private use their power to enrich themselves and to ensure that their crimes are ignored, and even covered up, by the authorities. Instead of combating corruption, and instead of providing justice for its own citizens, the Russian government has instead focused its anger on persecuting its critics and on those honest enough to tell the truth. The Kremlin has threatened that if Congress dares to pass this simple piece of legislation, if Congress dares to defy its commands, it will retaliate.

“So let our Committee send a clear and unmistakable message to the Kremlin by passing this bill unanimously and demonstrate to the corrupt rulers of Russia that they cannot threaten us into silence, they cannot forever suppress the evidence of their crimes, they cannot make the world abandon those brave individuals who are risking their lives to exercise their basic human rights. Nothing can bring back Sergei Magnitsky and nothing can lessen the pain and loss suffered by his friends and family.

“But by adopting this legislation, we can ensure that he is not forgotten, that his life had meaning, and that his belief that his country could become a true democracy where its citizens are governed by the rule of law was not an impossible dream.”