Yesterday, Foreign Policy reported that Senator Richard Lugar had given his backing to the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011. Today, the magazine reports that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry also endorses the bill. The proposal Kerry backs would see Washington offer Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations status and revoke the 1974 Jackson Vanik amendment. This could then be replaced with a set of sanctions named after the Hermitage Capital lawyer who died in pretrial detention in 2009, as a result, it is widely believed, of torture. The sanctions, the brainchild of Senator Benjamin Cardin, would deny visas to those implicated in his death, the tragic conclusion to his investigations into a mammoth fraud scheme involving interior ministry employees.
Since Obama’s microphone gaffe on Monday, when he offered ‘flexibility’ on missile defense with ‘Vladimir’, some observers felt, with a pang of anxiety, that it was a sign of things to come. Will the Obama administration continue to offer the hand of friendship to Russia even when Putin, the architect of modern Russian authoritarianism, returns? Ellen Bork in the New Republic gives an impassioned argument for ensuring that the Obama administration continues to exhort Russia to curb human rights abuses and argues that the continual linking of trade and human rights is the most effective mechanism for doing so – hence the necessity of the Magnitsky law. She concludes:
None of this is to say that the Obama administration has uniformly failed to pressure Moscow: Indeed, the State Department has reportedly put officials connected to Sergei Magnitsky’s case on a travel ban. The problem, argues William Browder, Magnitsky’s former employer, is that such steps were only taken after sustained pressure: “The Administration didn’t want to do it, it was only through a few brave souls and good people who made it happen. Why should others have to go through that same ordeal that we went through?” There have been plenty of “others” in Russia who have suffered Magnitsky’s fate, including Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist, murdered in the vestibule of her apartment house, and Nataliya Estemirova, of the human rights organization Memorial, who was kidnapped and murdered in the North Caucasus. There should be little doubt that there soon could be many more.
So long as Russia’s justice system is not independent enough to hold abusive and corrupt officials accountable, the U.S. and other countries should place their territory—and their financial institutions—off limits to Russian officials and their ill-gotten gains. The Jackson-Vanik amendment may need to be phased out, but it is the government’s responsibility to replace it with something that allows it to retain its leverage on behalf of human rights.
Read the whole piece here.