Magnitsky Bill’s Passage Brings Russia Policy Out of Cold War Shadow

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First praises the Senate for passing the “Magnitsky Bill,” landmark human rights legislation to combat impunity for those who commit crimes against human rights defenders. The bill, which received strong bi-partisan support and passed by a vote of 92 to 4 in the Senate and 362 to 43 in the House is part of a three-year campaign led by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) to promote accountability from the Russian government in the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian whistleblower who exposed a case of fraud involving some $230 million and implicating members of the Russian police, judiciary, and tax officials, among others.  Magnitsky was arrested in November 2008, held for nearly a year without due process, denied medical care for a serious condition, and eventually died in custody. “The sanctions introduced in the bill add new arrows to our nation’s quiver of strategies to identify, isolate, and punish gross violators of human rights,” said Human Rights First’s Innokenty Grekov. “Senator Cardin and many others deserve recognition and praise for their leadership to adapt U.S. human rights policy toward Russia from the Cold War era to modern times. This bill should make clear to Russia that the United States is serious about the rampant problem of impunity for serious human rights violators.“ Human Rights First notes that the United States should continue to employ a variety of tools in its efforts to advance human rights in Russia, including full implementation of the Magnitsky legislation. Specifically, the Magnitsky bill passed today would establish visa bans and asset freezes on Russian authorities who are found to have participated in gross human rights violations, including, but not limited to those perpetrated against Magnitsky. Human Rights First notes that sanctions, such as those prescribed in the Magnitsky Act, are one important lever for the United States to press for accountability in cases of serious human rights violations. This tool should however be but one element of a broader strategy to promote respect for human rights by the Russian government. Other elements of such a human rights strategy to address domestic and international concerns include the following:

  • Support Russian civil society: Congress should act quickly to resolve the holds on the Administration’s longstanding request to re-program $50 million to establish a Civil Society Fund that would provide U.S. Government support for civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, in Russia. 
  • Continue to engage with the Russian authorities using existing mechanisms to support dialogue: The U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission and its Working Group on Civil Society has served as a forum to discuss issues such as migration, prison reform, corruption, and child protection. The U.S. government should also seek to advance efforts to combat hate crime and other forms of intolerance within the context of this working group. 
  • Challenge Russian government policies that undermine human rights globally: Russia’s military and diplomatic support enables President Bashar al-Assad’s crimes against humanity in Syria, and stopping these transfers should be a national security priority, pursuant to PDD-10 establishing the Atrocities Prevention Board.  There are at least three steps the U.S. should take, including: a) lead an international diplomatic effort to neutralize Russia’s opposition to an arms embargo against Syria, and engage them as a partner to end the violence;  b)  continue to work to interrupt supply chains between Russia and Syria; and 3) prohibit any further contracts with Russia’s arms export agency, Rosoboronexport, until it ceases arms shipments of all types to Syria.

“Today’s progress is promising. Now, given the recent closure of USAID’s presence in Russia, Congress should act quickly to approve the Administration’s $50 million request to establish a Civil Society Fund for Russian NGOs, while ensuring transparency in America’s extensive funding of economic, military, and nuclear projects in Russia done in cooperation with the Russian authorities,” Grekov concluded.


Published on December 6, 2012


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