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Public Statements

Russia Trade Relations

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. WICKER. Mr. President, in a few moments the distinguished chair of the Finance Committee and the Senator from Utah will commence debate on H.R. 6156, the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012. Because of scheduling concerns, I am speaking on this in morning business, and that will allow time for other Members to speak.

I come to the floor today to support this bill. It has a very important twofold purpose: It approves normal trade relations with Russia, and at the same time the legislation insists that the Russian Government adhere to the rule of law. It does so by putting consequences in place for those in Russia who abuse basic human rights.

Granting PNTR to Russia is a big win for Americans. If Congress does not act, American workers, including millions employed by small businesses, stand to lose out to foreign competitors as Russia opens its market as a new member of the WTO.

Many in my home State of Mississippi and around the country deserve to benefit from increased trade that this new relationship would bring. More jobs and greater economic growth are our potential rewards here in the United States. Last year Mississippi's $55 million in exports to Russia helped support an estimated 170 jobs. Certainly this number needs to grow, and I believe it will under this legislation.

Yet in realizing the immense trade potential at hand, we cannot ignore the urgent need to address serious concerns about Russia's appalling human rights record. Most agree that the Jackson-Vanik amendment currently in place is an outdated restriction on trade which could hurt American competitiveness. But repeal alone will not suffice when dealing with a country that continues to protect corrupt officials, and that is what the Russian Government continues to do.

The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act is a necessary replacement for Jackson-Vanik. The legislation targets human rights violators by imposing restrictions on their financial activities and travel. It recognizes that the privilege of using America's banking system and acquiring a U.S. visa should be denied to those who disgrace human dignity and justice.

Facts need to be retold today about the case of Sergei Magnitsky after whom this legislation is named. Sergei Magnitsky was a lawyer and partner with an American-owned law firm based in Moscow. He was married and had two children. In his investigative work on behalf of the Hermitage Fund, the largest foreign portfolio investor in Russia, Mr. Magnitsky uncovered the largest tax rebate fraud in Russian history. He found that Russian Interior Ministry officers, tax officials, and organized criminals had worked together to steal $230 million in public funds.

In 2008 Mr. Magnitsky voluntarily gave sworn testimony against officials from the Interior Ministry, Russian tax departments, and the private criminals whom he discovered were complicit in the fraud. A month later, instead of being commended for doing the right thing, Mr. Magnitsky was arrested in front of his wife and children and placed in pretrial detention. He was held without a trial for 1 year. The Russian Federal Security Service deemed Mr. Magnitsky was a flight risk to prolong his detention, based on false claims that he had a U.K. visa application.

While in custody, Mr. Magnitsky was tortured by officials, hoping he would withdraw his testimony, and falsely incriminate himself and his client. Refusing to do so, his conditions and his health worsened. He stayed in an overcrowded cell with no heat, no sunlight, and no toilet. The lights were kept on throughout the night to deprive him of sleep. Mr. Magnitsky lost 40 pounds and suffered from severe pancreatitis and gallstones.

Months went by without any access to medical care. Despite hundreds of petitions, requests for medical examination and surgery were denied by Russian Government officials. So were family visits. After his arrest Mr. Magnitsky saw his wife once and never again saw his children.

On November 13, 2009, Sergei Magnitsky's condition deteriorated dramatically. Doctors saw him on November 16. He was transferred to a Moscow detention center that had medical facilities and, instead of being treated there immediately, he was placed in an isolation cell, handcuffed, beaten, and subsequently Sergei Magnitsky died.

After his death, Russian officials repeatedly denied the facts surrounding his health condition. Requests by his family for an independent autopsy were rejected. Detention center officials said Mr. Magnitsky's abdominal membrane had ruptured and that he died from toxic shock. The official cause of death would blame heart failure.

According to the Russian State Investigative Committee, Mr. Magnitsky was not pressured and tortured but died naturally of heart disease. The committee said his death was ``nobody's fault.''

For 3 years not a single person has been prosecuted for Mr. Magnitsky's false arrest, torture, murder, or for the massive fraud that he had the courage to expose. Like many of my colleagues, I continue to have real concerns about the current state of human rights and rule of law in Russia. I have come to the floor on numerous occasions demanding accountability for Russia's rampant extrajudicial offenses.

Tragically, Mr. Magnitsky is not the only victim of the country's criminal regime. The cases of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Planton Lebedev, who remain in prison, are also poignant examples of the corruption that pervades the Russian Government. My friend, the junior Senator from Maryland, has shown tremendous leadership on this issue and I commend him for his steadfast dedication to the highest standard of democracy and justice. I have long supported Senator Cardin's efforts to use the Magnitsky Act as a way to protect human rights globally.

The Magnitsky Act is a simple straightforward call for justice. It signals to the world that America will uphold its commitment to the protection of human rights and the rule of law. It is a tool that could be extremely powerful in penalizing human rights violators everywhere. Many of us had hoped to achieve a bicameral consensus in applying the Magnitsky Act globally. Although global language is not included in the House bill being considered today, sanctions against human rights violations in Russia and within the Russian Government are still an important victory. It moves us in the right direction.

I hope we can work in the next Congress to consider broadening the reach of the Magnitsky Act. Russia is not alone in its human rights abuses and the United States' unwavering stance against corruption should not stop there.

PNTR with Russia is an important vehicle for American trade and it should serve as a reminder of our country's role in promoting the advancement of human rights. At the same time, I remain committed to supporting this role as we move forward.

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