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Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I first learned of the case of Sergei Magnitsky two years ago at a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. At that hearing, a witness described the brutal torture and vicious mistreatment by Russian authorities of Mr. Magnitsky, a courageous man of integrity who paid the ultimate price for speaking out publicly about massive corruption in Russia. Today, the Russian government has still held no one accountable for this outrageous crime.

The facts of the Magnitsky case are simply shocking. Mr. Magnitsky, a bright young tax lawyer, uncovered evidence of a criminal conspiracy involving public officials who stole $230 million from the Russian treasury. In August 2008, Mr. Magnitsky testified about this tax fraud scheme before Russian authorities and implicated high-level officials in the conspiracy.

This honesty and courage led Mr. Magnitsky to be arrested and, perversely, charged with the crimes he had helped to expose. He was kept in pretrial detention in inhuman conditions for almost a year, and was tortured by officials who pressured him to retract his damning testimony. He refused to do so, but his health badly broke down as a result of his abuse. As he developed serious medical problems, including pancreatitis and gallstones, Russian authorities refused to provide him with medical care. Eventually, he fell into critical condition, and when that happened, rather than treating him, prison guards chained him to a bed and beat him for one hour and eighteen minutes, resulting in his death.

The response of Russian authorities to these crimes has been as outrageous as the crimes themselves. After Mr. Magnitsky died, the Russian government said he had never complained about his health in prison, even though he had made more than 20 official requests for medical attention. Russian authorities have still not held anyone accountable for his arrest, abuse, and death. As if to spit on his grave, they even absurdly opened a new, groundless criminal case against him this year, marking the first posthumous prosecution in Russian history.
Since Russian authorities have not provided justice to Mr. Magnitsky and his family, the United States should do what it can to hold individuals accountable for these heinous crimes. The bill I am introducing today, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, would provide a measure of justice for this courageous man by imposing a visa ban and asset freeze on the people who participated in or covered up his detention, abuse, and death, as well as on those individuals who benefited financially from his mistreatment or participated in the criminal conspiracy that he uncovered.

Mr. Speaker, this legislation is about much more than the Magnitsky case. In recognition of the many other severe human rights abuses that take place each year, the bill also imposes a visa ban and asset freeze on other individuals who have committed internationally recognized gross violations of human rights against people seeking to expose illegal activity by Russian officials or to exercise fundamental rights and freedoms.

In this way, the bill would hold accountable those individuals who have perpetrated grave abuses against other whistleblowers or government critics, such as Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova, and others whose names are less well-known in the United States.

I am deeply grateful to the bipartisan group of members of Congress that supports this legislation and has helped to shape it. These members include Representatives FRANK WOLF, SANDER LEVIN, ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, ALCEE HASTINGS, ED ROYCE, JIM MCDERMOTT, DAN BURTON, GERRY CONNOLLY, CHRIS SMITH, EDOLPHUS TOWNS, PETER ROSKAM, MICHAEL MICHAUD, JOSEPH PITTS and CHARLES RANGEL.

I am also deeply grateful to my colleagues in the Senate for their leadership on this issue. Senator BEN CARDIN has introduced similar legislation that has attracted over 30 bipartisan cosponsors, and he has spoken out eloquently about the legislation's vital importance.

I would also like to underscore that this effort is far from just a U.S. initiative. Similar legislation is being considered in nearly a dozen other legislatures around the world. My hope is that the United States Congress will be the first, but not the last, legislature to enact a Magnitsky human rights law.

Importantly, these legislative efforts have strong support from the Russian human rights community, including opposition leaders such as Garry Kasparov, Boris Nemtsov, and Alexei Navalny. As Mr. Navalny commented recently, ``Such legislation is not anti-Russian. In fact I believe it is pro-Russian. It helps defend us from the criminals who kill our citizens, steal our money, and hide it abroad.''

Enactment of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act will provide the Administration with the tools it needs to hold accountable human rights violators and provide an important boost to human rights activists and defenders. It will also demonstrate that the protection of human rights is a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. Our country has always been at its best when we stood firmly on the side of people seeking to exercise fundamental rights and against the actions of governments seeking to repress basic freedoms. This legislation is in keeping with that great tradition.

Fact Sheet on Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012

THE STORY OF SERGEI MAGNITSKY

After exposing the largest tax fraud in Russian history, tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was wrongly arrested and tortured in a Russian prison. Six months later he became seriously ill and was denied medical attention despite 20 formal requests. On the night of November 16, 2009, he went into critical condition, but instead of being treated in a hospital he was put in an isolation cell, chained to a bed, and beaten by eight prison guards for one hour and eighteen minutes, resulting in his death. Sergei Magnitsky was 37 years old and left behind a wife and two children. Those responsible for this crime have yet to be punished, and the Magnitsky story is emblematic of corruption, human rights abuses, and impunity in Russia.

THE MAGNITSKY BILL

The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 would hold accountable Magnitsky's killers and other human rights violators by placing targeted sanctions on them. In particular, the draft bill imposes a visa ban and asset freeze on: 1) individuals responsible for participating in or covering up Magnitsky's detention, abuse, and death, and 2) individuals responsible for other gross violations of human rights against people seeking to expose illegal activity by Russian officials or to exercise fundamental rights and freedoms.

The bill requires the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, to publish a list of the people who should be subject to sanctions under its provisions, and requires the Secretary of State to respond within 120 days to requests from the chairperson and ranking member of key congressional committees to add an individual to that list. The bill provides the executive branch with the authority to waive the sanctions on national security grounds, and requires the executive to submit an annual report to Congress on actions taken to implement it.

The bill includes findings on the mistreatment of Magnitsky and other individuals, and on the extent of corruption and impunity in Russia.
The bill updates H.R. 1575, a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. MCGOVERN in 2011. The new bill improves on H.R. 1575 by placing sanctions on a broader range of human rights violators (rather than only on people involved in Magnitsky-related abuses), by requiring the executive to publish the list of sanctioned individuals, and by giving key members of Congress the ability to request that people be added to the list. A similar bill, introduced as S. 1039 by Sen. CARDIN, has attracted over 30 bipartisan cosponsors in the Senate.


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