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Providing for Consideration of HR 6156, Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentleman from California, the honorable chairman of the Rules Committee, for yielding me the customary 30 minutes.

I want to thank him for his eloquent statement, and I want to thank him for bringing this to the floor. As he mentioned, he and I both coauthored a Dear Colleague and supported the underlying legislation. And it was a pleasure to work with him on this important bill.

And I know that there will be other opportunities to say this before he departs. But I want to thank him for his service to this House of Representatives, which I know he loves very deeply. And I want to thank him for his service to our country.

Mr. Speaker, H.R. 6156 joins together two pieces of legislation that deal with trade and human rights in the Russian Federation. The distinguished chairman has provided a clear description of the provisions in this bill that grant permanent normal trade relations, or PNTR, to the nations of Moldova and the Russian Federation. It is fairly straightforward.

Simply put, after 18 years of negotiations, Russia joined the World Trade Organization in August. That membership will require Russia--for the first time--to play by the same rules of trade as the United States and virtually every other nation in the world.

But under WTO rules, the United States cannot take advantage of Russia's WTO membership unless and until Congress grants Russia permanent normal trade relations, replacing the 1974 special bilateral agreement with Russia known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment.

The United States is not required to change any U.S. law as a result of Russia's WTO membership other than this change to the 1974 trade law. This is in contrast to bilateral free trade agreements where the United States is required to provide duty-free treatment.

If that were all there was to H.R. 6156, it would pass or fail along familiar lines of trade-related legislation. But, Mr. Speaker, H.R. 6156 will become known as a landmark piece of trade legislation not because it grants PNTR for Russia and Moldova but because it includes title IV, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012.

Let me share with my colleagues just a little bit about the life and death of Sergei Magnitsky, in whose honor this section of the bill is named.

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. He was denied medical attention despite 20 formal requests. On the night of November 16, 2009--3 years ago tomorrow--his condition became critical. Instead of being treated in a hospital, he was taken to an isolation cell, chained to a bed, and beaten by eight prison guards for 1 hour and 18 minutes, which resulted in his death.

Sergei Magnitsky was 37 years old. He left behind a wife and two children. Those responsible for his abuse and murder have yet to be punished. And sadly, he is not alone. His story is emblematic of corruption, human rights abuses, and impunity in Russia.

Since the death of Sergei Magnitsky, the human rights situation inside the Russian Federation has continued to deteriorate.

Russia's parliamentary elections last December were marked by mass protests over alleged electoral fraud. Since Vladimir Putin was reelected president in May of 2012, his government has taken a harsh and confrontational approach to ongoing protests, cracking down on the Russian people's growing discontent with corruption and creeping authoritarianism. Russian authorities have used excessive force to break up peaceful demonstrations and detained and raided the homes of opposition leaders.

Russian civil society has also been a target of increasing repression. Beginning in June and with astonishing speed, the Russian Duma passed a series of draconian laws that restrict freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of assembly. Many observers fear that these laws will be used as a political weapon to stifle criticism of the government. They make it harder for Russian civil society to operate effectively and create a climate of fear and self-censorship. Civil society's sense of isolation is only compounded by the Russian Government's recent decision to expel organizations like USAID from the country.

In addition, journalists and human rights activists continue to face grave dangers in pursuing their work. Just last month, Tanya Lokshina with the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch received a series of threats to herself and her unborn child, most likely in connection to her efforts to expose impunity for human rights abuses. Her experience is not unique. While Russian authorities have tried to silence critics, NGOs, and independent media, the world is still awaiting justice for many violent attacks on dissidents and journalists.

I would like to note for my colleagues that today at 2 p.m. the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission will be holding a hearing on human rights in the Russian Federation, and Ms. Lokshina will be one of the witnesses.

In this context, the story of Sergei Magnitsky remains especially important. At a time when the human rights situation in the country is going from bad to worse, it is all the more important to hold Russian human rights violators accountable.

Mr. Speaker, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which is title IV of H.R. 6156 as reported by the Rules Committee, places an asset freeze and visa ban on those individuals responsible for Sergei Magnitsky's torture and death, as well as on Russian officials engaged in corruption and gross violations of human rights. This is beyond just Sergei Magnitsky. These measures provide a degree of accountability and reinforce the administration's toolkit to respond to crimes by individual government officials.

Passage of the Magnitsky act sends a clear message to the Russian people that we support their fundamental human rights. Importantly, it also sends a strong message to those Russian officials who support the rule of law and who reject corruption and human rights abuses. It lets them know that their efforts and their achievements are valued by the United States and the international community. Only individuals within the Russian Government who abuse their office and engage in corruption and human rights crimes will find their assets and visas under scrutiny and subject to U.S. sanction.

So let me be clear, Mr. Speaker. I would not be supporting PNTR for the Russian Federation if it did not include title IV, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act.

And, Mr. Speaker, let me just close by again thanking not only the gentleman from California, the distinguished chairman of the Rules Committee, but I want to thank the Republican leadership, the Speaker of the House; the Democratic leadership, the minority leader and our minority whip; as well as the chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee for working together to come up with an agreement here that I think deserves bipartisan support.

So I urge all my colleagues to support the Magnitsky act by voting for the underlying legislation, H.R. 6156, and I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume first of all to thank the gentleman from Texas for his statement, but also to take this opportunity to publicly congratulate him on his new appointment. I look forward to working with him. So congratulations.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to again point out that trade bills oftentimes are very controversial. There's often a resistance to attach any additional language, whether it be human rights language or labor rights language, to trade bills. But in this case, again, working in a bipartisan way, I think the attachment of the Sergei Magnitsky bill to this trade bill is probably the most significant piece of human rights legislation attached to any trade bill since I've been here in Congress.

This is a big deal. This sends a message to human rights violators in Russia, those who are guilty of corruption, that there's a consequence. And even if that consequence is not bringing you to justice within Russia, the United States--and we will be joined, hopefully, by our allies--will make sure that there are visa bans that are put in place and that assets are frozen, that there is a consequence. Again, our hope is that this language will prop up those in Russia who want to push for reform, who believe in accountability and believe in tackling issues like impunity.

Mr. Speaker, at this time I'd like to yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Levin), who is the ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, who was incredibly helpful to me in making sure that these two pieces of legislation were brought together and I think in a way that makes it possible for me to be able to support this bill.


Mr. McGOVERN. I yield myself the balance of the time.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to insert two articles into the Congressional Record--one of The New York Times, entitled, ``Russia plans to retry dead lawyer in tax case,'' and the other from The Washington Post, entitled, ``The Kremlin's blacklist.''

Mr. Speaker, from the beginning, the Magnitsky Act has been a bipartisan and bicameral effort. The final Magnitsky language in title IV of H.R. 6156 is the result of genuine collaboration and compromise. I want to again thank the chairman of the Rules Committee, Mr. Dreier. I would like to thank Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, Majority Whip McCarthy, Democratic Leader Pelosi, Democratic Whip Hoyer, House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and our ranking member, Mr. Berman of California, as well as Mr. Levin, who has been so very helpful on the Ways and Means Committee, for all of their support in drafting the bill under consideration by the House this week. It has been a pleasure to work with all of these individuals.

Mr. Speaker, I believe the Magnitsky provisions are strong, flexible enough to be well implemented and will allow us to have a cooperative relationship with Russia on trade and other issues while holding human rights violators accountable, including those responsible for the brutal treatment and death of Sergei Magnitsky. As I stated earlier, I would not be supporting PNTR for the Russian Federation if this bill did not include a Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act.

I agree with what has been said about the importance of increased trade in terms of promoting more positive reforms in countries like Russia, but there is always a problem when you have a country that doesn't abide by the rule of law, where impunity rules the day. In cases like that, I think it is important to have a tool like the Magnitsky legislation to make it clear to those in Russia--not just those involved with the Sergei Magnitsky tragedy, but with other terrible human rights crimes, those who are involved in corruption--to make it clear to them that there is a consequence and that, even if within their own countries they are not brought to justice, the world will know who they are and take appropriate action. There will be visa bans, and we will go after their assets. To me, this is a very, very powerful tool that complements the benefits of PNTR for Russia.

I would say to my colleagues that this does represent a genuine compromise--the Sergei Magnitsky Act, which I am the author of in the House and Senator Cardin is the author of in the Senate. In the House, we originally wanted this to be global in its approach, but in the spirit of compromise, it has been narrowed down to Russia. I think, if this proves to be a good tool and if it is implemented properly, hopefully, we can broaden it, because I do think that it is important for the United States to make it clear to the world that, if we stand for anything, we stand out loud and foursquare for human rights.

With regard to the rule, I just want to say that I'm a little bit disappointed that this rule on a bipartisan bill includes lockdown provisions that restrict the rights of the minority in this body. I would have preferred that this rule have only included procedures for the bipartisan PNTR-Magnitsky bill, but in the spirit of bipartisanship, I'm not going to dwell on that. I'm just going to point it out for the record.

In conclusion, let me just make this one observation. This is an example of bipartisanship, of people coming together and of our supporting an important piece of legislation. I hope that some of this rubs off on some of the bills that we're going to be considering in the days and weeks to come, but this really is how this House of Representatives should be run.

Again, my compliments to the leadership of the Republican Party and to the leadership of my own party. It was not just gratuitous. I meant it. This was a process by which those of us who care about the issue of human rights felt that we were included. As a result, I think we've come up with a bill that deserves support. I think it will make a positive difference in the lives of a lot of people in Russia. In terms of trade, I think it will result in a situation where there is a more level playing field, where we have an agreement that just doesn't benefit the few at the expense of the many; we may have an agreement here that will help benefit the many.


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