News

    Human Rights Bill Roils US-Russia Relations

    Nataliya Magnitskaya (L), mother of Sergei Magnitsky, grieves over her son's body during his funeral at a cemetery in Moscow November 20, 2009.
    Nataliya Magnitskaya (L), mother of Sergei Magnitsky, grieves over her son's body during his funeral at a cemetery in Moscow November 20, 2009.
    James Brooke

    First, Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, accused Washington of backing protests against him. Then, on Monday, Mitt Romney, the leading U.S. Republican candidate, told CNN that Russia is Washington’s “number one geopolitical foe.” The incidents stand as another roadblock to better U.S.-Russia relations.

    Russia is finally set to join the World Trade Organization in August, after 20 years of talks. When it does, American companies could lose out because of a law passed almost four decades ago that restricted trade with the Soviet Union over its refusal to allow Jews to emigrate.

    The Soviet Union no longer exists. There is visa-free tourism between Israel and Russia. But a Cold War relic - the 1974 Jackson-Vanick Amendment - would result in higher tariffs for American exports to Russia.

    U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul speaks of the impact.

    "Now that Russia is joining the World Trade Organization, if we still have Jackson-Vanick on the books, then our companies will be at a disadvantage vis-à-vis other European, Chinese, Brazilian companies doing business here in Russia," said McFaul.

    But before repealing this old law, the U.S. Congress is considering a new human rights law for Russia - one that is already roiling relations between the United States and Russia.

    The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act would freeze American bank accounts and deny U.S. visas to corrupt officials and human rights violators around the world.

    The Kremlin sees the law as aimed at Russia, and in many ways it is. Sergei Magnitsky was a Moscow lawyer who uncovered a $230-million tax fraud, allegedly by government officials.

    His employer, American-born investor Bill Browder, charges that these very same officials engineered Magnitsky's arrest and death in a Moscow jail in 2009. He says Magnitsky was denied medical treatment for 11 months, and in November 2009, was handcuffed to a prison bed and beaten to death by eight riot policemen.

    Sergei Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies, a pro-government think tank, complains that the case only gets attention because of the American connection:

    "Hundreds of people are dead in Russian prisons because of violation of law from prison authorities, but nobody investigates against, except Mr. Magnitsky. Why? Because he's only one whose death has been connected with Mr. Browder," said Markov.

    In Russia’s season of middle-class discontent, however, the Magnitsky murder has struck a chord. One Internet survey found 19,000 stories on the case in the Russian press.

    Michael Weiss, spokesman for the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank, explains why he thinks the case has had such an impact.

    "What has really resonated is that this guy was not a political opponent of the regime. If anything, he just was a lawyer doing his job and assumed, possibly naively, that the state would thank him for exposing corruption, and instead they blamed him for it. So Sergei Magnitsky is the everyman of Russia, which is why I think his story is so powerful," said Weiss.

    In Moscow, leaders of the recent mass opposition street protests are saying the U.S. Congress should repeal Jackson-Vanick - and then pass the Magnitsky bill.

    Last year, the U.S. State Department quietly placed an American travel ban on several Russian officials connected to the case. Now, the European Parliament, Canada, Sweden and the Netherlands are joining the U.S. Congress in considering visa bans for 60 Russians involved in the case.

    "It basically hits Russians where it hurts the most. It says, 'Look, you can’t come to the U.S. You can’t spend your ill-gotten gains on Madison Avenue. You can't open bank accounts in HSBC, or whatever.' That’s where you really get them," said Weiss.

    Russia's government is fighting back, arguing that there are no court convictions in the case.

    Markov, who held a seat in Russia's parliament as a member of the ruling United Russia party, said the intensity of the U.S. reaction to the Magnitsky case is unjustified.

    "Russia, of course, is much more liberal and democratic compared with Soviet Union, but criticisms of Russia in U.S. Congress and Senate are much bigger than during the Soviet Union. It's [a] clear violation of the common sense. And the reason [for] this violation of common sense [is] pretty clear: it's Russophobia."

    Natalia Pelevine, coordinator of the Committee for Democratic Russia, tried to organized a Magnitsky protest rally last Saturday in front of Russia’s Interior Ministry. She was denied a protest permit. A small protest took place anyway, and police arrested two demonstrators.

    "The Russian media is once again lying, when it says the Russian people see the Magnitsky Act as an attack on Russian people in general, because Russian people don’t feel that way. Russian people are smart enough to understand that this Magnitsky Act is very specifically directed at very corrupted Russian officials," said Pelevine.

    Determined to fight back, Russian prosecutors now are pursuing a novel strategy - they are charging Sergei Magnitsky with tax evasion.

    Since he is dead, his mother is required to sit in his place. The next court session will be April 3.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Alexander v.Pinoci
    April 05, 2012 3:27 AM
    A "Human Rights Bill" is a wonderful idea, but it should be universal and not only directed against Russia. However the Bill should also include a "search" of our conscience ... have we not, and are we not, committing human rights abuses? "What is good for the Gander is good for the Goose"! Our "laundry" is quite dirty ... so before we preach to others, lets clean up our own act!

    by: Lee
    March 27, 2012 11:06 PM
    In fact every prision has undiscovered scandals except russian......

    by: Gennady
    March 27, 2012 5:38 PM
    It’s blasphemy & a precedent when Magnitsky, the dead man, is charged & when his abandoned old mother forced to represent her murdered son in the show-off court. By whom? By collaborators defending the abuse of the Constitution. I agree with Natalie Pelevine. Director Markov plays into hands of the anticonstitutional regime as he calls Russophobia the justified reaction of the USA on violations of basic human rights under the dictator.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora