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Letter to Max Baucus, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance and Orrin Hatch, Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Finance


Location: Washington, DC

Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), John McCain (R-AZ) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) today sent a letter -- the text of which is attached below -- to Senators Max Baucus and Orrin Hatch, the Chairman and Ranking Member respectively of the Senate Finance Committee, concerning the lifting of the Jackson-Vanik amendment for Russia and the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act (S. 1039).

March 16, 2012

Chairman Max Baucus
Senate Committee on Finance
219 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Ranking Member Orrin Hatch
Senate Committee on Finance
219 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Baucus and Ranking Member Hatch:

As you prepare to take up the question of Russia's pending membership in the World Trade Organization and its implications for the United States, we write to express our strong conviction that any legislation that would lift the Jackson-Vanik amendment must be accompanied by passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act (S. 1039). In the absence of the passage of the Magnitsky legislation, we will strongly oppose the lifting of Jackson-Vanik.

As you know, the Jackson-Vanik amendment was a landmark achievement of American foreign policy during the Cold War, effectively targeting one of the great human rights abuses of the Soviet Union: its restriction on the right of emigration. Today, the Russian Federation fortunately no longer prevents its citizens from leaving its territory. However, human rights abuses in Russia are widespread and severe, and a legitimate area of focus for American foreign policy.

For this reason, what is urgently needed is not merely the elimination of Jackson-Vanik, but its replacement with legislation that is appropriately tailored to the contemporary human rights problems facing the people of Russia. That is precisely the role that the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act would serve.

As the most recent annual report on human rights by the U.S. Department of State documents at length, the Russian people today continue to suffer from a broad range of human rights abuses. These include "reports the government or its agents committed politically motivated killings and other arbitrary killings"; "attacks on and killings of journalists… for reasons apparently related to their activities"; "arbitrary detention and politically motivated imprisonments"; and "harsh and often life-threatening prison conditions."

The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act would impose targeted sanctions on individuals who perpetrate gross violations of human rights in Russia, such as the murder of human rights activists and whistleblowers, denying them the privileges of traveling to the United States and using our banking system. This simple approach--narrowly tailored to hold accountable specific persons for the most heinous crimes--would honor and promote the core U.S. values that inspired the Jackson-Vanik amendment, while allowing our country and its business community to take full advantage of trade with Russia. It is also consistent with the targeted sanctions that the United States has imposed with respect to other countries where human rights abuses are a major concern. The legislation is named after a young Russian lawyer who exposed large-scale tax fraud and was then held in detention without trial by subordinates of the very officials he had implicated; during his detention, he developed severe health problems which were deliberately left untreated, causing his death.

While some in the Russian government may be upset if the United States adopts the Magnitsky bill, we believe most Russians will be happy to see us deny the most abusive and corrupt individuals in their country the ability to travel and move their ill-gotten wealth overseas.

The sanctions envisioned in the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability have been strongly endorsed by a beleaguered Russian civil society struggling for a voice in the future of their own country--including those leaders of the democratic opposition who have asked the Congress to lift Jackson-Vanik. While Russia's fate is for Russians to decide, we can and should take the simple steps envisioned by this legislation to ensure that America and our financial system do not welcome Russian human rights abusers.

While we are prepared to support the lifting of Jackson-Vanik, we believe this must coincide with passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. We hope to be able to work with you on this matter, for the benefit of both the United States and Russia.


Senator Benjamin L. Cardin
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman
Senator John S. McCain
Senator Roger Wicker

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