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Levin Statement on Jackson-Vanik/Magnitsky Legislation


Location: Washington, DC

The Russia PNTR bill before us takes a long overdue action by ending the application of Jackson-Vanik sanctions to Russia. Jackson-Vanik is no longer relevant to Russia because Russia no longer restricts the free emigration of its people.

The Soviet Union began to relax its restrictions on Jewish emigration in 1987 during Gorbachev's "perestroika." Then, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, millions of Soviet Jews were permitted to leave. Since then Russia has allowed free emigration.

I've felt for a long time we should have graduated Russia from Jackson-Vanik when Jackson-Vanik's noble purpose was achieved, rather than waiting years, often in the effort to make other points relative to Russia on other issues.

First, some history. In 2007, I met with Rabbi Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia, regarding Jackson-Vanik. He urged passage of legislation ending the application of Jackson-Vanik to Russia.

Also in 2007 I received a letter from the Chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities which represents Presidents and Rabbis of over 200 Jewish communities in Russia, a letter which urged me to work to graduate Russia from the Jackson-Vanik amendment in view of the fact that its goals had already been met. Part of his letter reads as follows:

"[W]e are thankful for all your efforts toward gaining freedom for our country's Jews. We will always appreciate the role of Jackson-Vanik in bringing about change. We also remain grateful to those who forced the U.S.S.R.'s Communist regime to permit Jews to emigrate, and to end discrimination. For us this was a huge morale boost -- Jews behind the Iron Curtain were thrilled that Americans were willing to risk political and economic confrontation, in order to stand up for the freedom and rights of their fellow human beings."

He continued:

"Nevertheless, in the last 15 years the situation has changed, radically. The freedom for Soviet Jews to live wherever they desire was fully obtained; nearly a million Jews from the F.S.U. now live in Israel, while hundreds of thousands live in other countries throughout the world. We are positive that these developments were in part thanks to the American lawmakers who supported the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Yet we now see a backward migration, when Jews from abroad move back to Russia. This proves that Jews in Russia feel as confident as those inhabiting other countries of the Free World."

The rabbi added: "The provisions of the Jackson-Vanik amendment have already achieved the goals of its initiators." That was in 2007. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the letter from the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia be printed in the Record.

So I am glad, very glad, that finally, the Jackson-Vanik law is no longer going to apply to Russia.

Not only does the bill under consideration grant Russia PNTR, it also contains enforcement provisions that my brother, Congressman Sandy Levin, fought for to address concerns about Russia's compliance with its WTO obligations and other trade concerns such as Russia's persistent failure to stop intellectual property rights infringement, and to help promote the rule of law in Russia. These are important enforcement tools that will give us a chance to monitor Russia's progress in fulfilling its commitments. I have looked forward to getting these actions accomplished in PNTR legislation.

The bill before us also includes the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 which was inspired by the Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who was ruthlessly murdered. The legislation would require that human rights violators in Russia be identified and that we deny them U.S. visas as well as freeze their U.S. assets.

However, and here's the problem for me, the Magnitsky language before us is not the Magnitsky language adopted by our Finance and Foreign Relations committees. Their Magnitsky language applied the same sanctions to human rights violators wherever they might be -- whether in Russia, or Syria, or Sudan, or North Korea, or China, or in any other country.

In other words, the Senate committee-approved bill wisely adopted a global Magnitsky standard. The reasoning for this is sound, because while the mechanism of U.S. visa denial for human rights violators was inspired by a single case in a single nation, the principles that it seeks to advance are universal. This bipartisan Senate committee bill, unlike the House-passed version of the Magnitsky Act that we will soon vote on, does not single out Russian human-rights violators for visa denial, but would apply the visa denial mechanism to people from any country who violate important human rights standards. The United States should be clear and firm in its commitment to protecting human rights, wherever the violations occur, and to holding those who violate those rights accountable to the best of our ability, including denying them visas to come to our country. Human rights do not end at the borders of Russia, and anyone who violates those standards, as so many did so blatantly in the case of Sergei Magnitsky, should be held accountable.

Applying the Magnitsky provisions globally, as the Senate bill approved by our committees did, follows in the spirit of Jackson-Vanik, which, while inspired by events in the Soviet Union, was not limited to the Soviet Union.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee both voted unanimously to report a version of the Magnitsky bill that applies its sanctions globally. Senators Cardin and Kyl have worked, on a bipartisan basis, to build support for that global standard, and I strongly support their effort. I commend them on their effort.

So why is that Senate committee-reported bill not before the Senate? Why would we deny visas only to Russian human rights violators? Why diminish the universality of the values the Magnitsky bill seeks to uphold?

Applying the sanctions contained in this bill solely to Russians, as the House version does, not only diminishes a universal value. Because it adds a political twist, it will stoke a nationalistic response in Russia. If this bill does not apply the same rule to all human rights violators, if it singles out Russian human rights violators, President Putin will no doubt appeal to the nationalistic passions of many Russians by saying that our bill isn't aimed at protecting human rights, but is aimed at Russia. We should not hand President Putin that argument.

The Senate bill, as approved by our committees, very appropriately pays tribute to the man whose tragic death inspired the legislation, and applies its message universally. I deeply regret that the House bill before us does not take that approach.

I don't understand why we are not taking up the Senate version, the version approved by our two committees, and applying these standards universally. The only answer I get is that the House of Representatives might not accept the Senate version. Well, we should do what we believe in, as reflected in two unanimous votes in two committees, and not be derailed by a prediction that the House will not accept our version. There is time left in this session to test that prediction. The failure to do so is inexplicable to me. The House of Representatives did not have a vote focusing on the issue of applying these sanctions globally. We should give them a chance to do so.

In summary, it is important that we lift the Jackson-Vanik sanctions. It is important that we speak out on the tragic death of Sergei Magnitsky and hold those responsible to account. These are issues on which I believe so strongly and that I have worked long and hard, particularly on Jackson-Vanik, to achieve. Taking these steps should be a cause of celebration.

But the violations of human rights that the Magnitsky bill seeks to remedy are far too widespread for us to apply remedies only to Russians human rights violators. The United States has an opportunity here to make a strong, unmistakable statement about the sanctity of human rights. We should want that statement to ring out not just in Moscow, but around the world.

I know some of my colleagues have expressed hope that we can pass legislation to address this issue in the next Congress. I know of no reason to believe that we will have significantly greater chances of accomplishing this goal next year than we do today.

Mr. President, over the next few weeks, we have time to conference and pass a defense authorization bill. We have time to debate and avoid the fiscal cliff. We have time to address a farm bill and dozens of other important issues. And we have time to address the transcendent issue of the universal rights of mankind.

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