Obama Signs Bill Punishing Russia for Death of Whistleblower
Congress got a two-for-one with the adoption of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act: it simultaneously rebuked Russia, and knocked President Barack Obama for being soft on the Kremlin’s human rights record.
However, on Friday, Obama signed the legislation.
Magnitsky was a tax accountant working for an American law firm in Moscow, when he discovered a $230 million tax fraud that Russian police and tax officials pulled off using stolen documents from William F. Browder’s Hermitage Capital, the largest investment company in Russia.
When Magnitsky went public with his accusations of tax fraud, Russian officials had him arrested. He subsequently died in jail while awaiting trial, allegedly beaten and tortured.
Browder was outraged by Russia’s treatment of Magnitsky, and began lobbying Washington to do something about it.
Democrats and Republicans did something all right. They used Magnitsky’s tragedy as an opportunity to finally repeal a Cold War-era law—the Jackson-Vanik Amendment that restricted trade with the old Soviet Union because of its treatment of Russian Jews.
In place of Jackson-Vanik, Congress adopted the new law named after Magnitsky, which granted Russia and Moldova permanent normal trade relations, while blacklisting any Russian connected to Magnitsky’s death and to other serious human rights violations from entering the United States and using its banking system.
Lawmakers said they were proud to support the new law and stand up to Russia for its mistreatment of Magnitsky and others. The Senate vote in favor of the bill was 92-4 and in the House of Representatives it was 365-43.
Some members of Congress, such as Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), said the bill was needed to send a message to the Obama White House for taking a weak stance towards the Kremlin.
Russian officials objected to the remarks, as well as to the passage of the bill. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reportedly told Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that Americans guilty of human rights violations would now be barred from Russia.
Lavrov’s office also released a statement blasting Congress. “It is strange and savage to hear human rights claims from politicians of the state that officially legalized torture and kidnappings all over the world in the 21st century,” the statement said, referring to the U.S. practice of sending terrorism suspects to third countries for interrogation and to the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay.
Obama now has 120 days to submit a list of Russian officials his administration deems guilty of human rights violations. However, a clause in the new law allows the president to keep the names secret by invoking “the national security interests of the United States.”
To Learn More:
Obama Signs Russia, Moldova Trade Bill and Magnitsky Sanctions Into Law (by Richard Solash, Radio Free Europe)
Magnitsky Law Sets Off Human Rights Fight Between Russia And U.S. Politicians (by Kathy Lally, Washington Post)
Russia Fumes As U.S. Senate Passes Magnitsky Law Aimed At Human Rights (by Kathy Lally and Will Englund, Washington Post)
Russia Chafes As House Passes Magnitsky Act (by Will Englund, Washington Post)
Sergei Magnitsky (Wikipedia)
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