Title

Combating Corruption in the OSCE Region: The Link between Security and Good Governance

Wednesday, November 19, 2014
U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Room SVC 203/202
Washington, DC 20515
United States
Official Transcript: 
Members: 
Name: 
Hon. Ben Cardin
Title Text: 
Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Hon. Chris Smith
Title Text: 
Co-Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Anders Åslund
Title: 
Senior Fellow
Body: 
Peterson Institute for International Economics
Name: 
Dr. Halil Yurdakul Yigitgüden
Title: 
Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities
Body: 
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Khadija Ismayilova
Title: 
Host of "Isden Sonra" ("After Work")
Body: 
RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service
Name: 
Shaazka Beyerle
Title: 
Senior Advisor
Body: 
International Center on Nonviolent Conflict

Combating corruption is increasingly recognized as the critical factor in ensuring long-term security, because corruption creates fertile ground for social upheaval and instability. The change in government in Ukraine in 2014 was a prime example of how corruption can fuel legitimate popular discontent.

Although the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has created new tools to address corruption, tackling the problem requires more than raising awareness and sharing best practices. In many OSCE participating States, systemic issues including lack of media freedom, lack of political will, and lack of an independent judiciary contribute substantially to persistent high-level and low-level corruption.

The hearing drew attention to the work of the OSCE in combating corruption in all 57 participating States, with a particular emphasis on the need to build effective institutions and the important role played by civil society in combatting corruption.

Relevant issues: 
Leadership: 
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  • Democracy at Risk in Hungary

    Mr. President, this week in Budapest there are two events of particular interest to Americans. First, Hungary has unveiled a statue of President Ronald Reagan in front of the U.S. Embassy in honor of his contribution to the goal of ending communist repression and commemorating the 100th anniversary of his birth. Second, Hungary dedicated the Lantos Institute, named after Tom Lantos, our former colleague from the House of Representatives who worked tirelessly to promote democracy and human rights in the country of his birth. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Clinton have represented the United States at these respective events. These gestures shine a light on Hungary's historic transformation as well as the close bonds between our two countries. Unfortunately, other developments in Hungary have cast a dark shadow over what should otherwise be happy occasions. Last year, Hungary held elections in which a right-of-center party, FIDESZ, won a landslide, sweeping out eight years of socialist government rejected by many voters as scandal ridden and inept. With FIDESZ winning 52 percent of the vote, Hungary has the distinction of being the only country in Central Europe since the 1989 transformations where a single party has won an outright majority--not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a region where many governments are periodically hobbled by factionalism. Those elections were also notable because more than 850,000 Hungarians--16 percent of the vote--cast their ballots for Jobbik, an anti-Semitic, anti-Roma, irredentist party. While Jobbik is an opposition party, it has clearly and negatively influenced public policy discourse. Under Hungary's electoral system, FIDESZ's 52 percent of the vote has translated into a two-thirds majority of the seats in parliament. The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has used that supermajority to push through one controversial initiative after another. One initiative that has generated particularly sharp criticism is Hungary's new media law. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media warned it could be used to silence critical media and public debate, it overly concentrates power in regulatory authorities, and it harms media freedom. In Ukraine, where democracy has put down only shallow roots, the Kyiv Post editorialized that "Hungary's media law should not come here.'' Another area of concern stems from the government's fixation on ethnic Hungarian identity and lost empire in ways that can only be seen as unfriendly by other countries in the region. One of the government's first acts was to amend Hungary's citizenship law to facilitate the acquisition of Hungarian citizenship by ethnic Hungarians in other countries--primarily Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. This expansion of citizenship was pushed through even though, in a 2001 statement submitted to the Council of Europe, the Hungarian Government firmly renounced all aspirations for dual citizenship for ethnic Hungarians. In a further escalation of provocative posturing, a few weeks ago Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament Laszlo Kovar said that military force to change the borders with Slovakia--a NATO ally--would have been justified and, in any case, he added, the ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia are "ours.'' If one side of the nationalism coin is an excessive fixation on Hungarian ethnic identity beyond the borders, the other side is intolerance toward minorities at home. For example, one increasingly hears the argument, including from government officials, that while the Holocaust was a 20th-century tragedy for Jews, the worst tragedy for Hungarians was the 1920 Treaty of Trianon--the treaty that established the borders for the countries emerging from the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire. This comparison is offensive and disturbing. Ethnic Hungarians were never targeted for extermination or subjected to mass murder by Trianon. Moreover, this line of argument presents Hungarians and Jews as mutually exclusive. But more than 400,000 Jews were sent from Hungary to Auschwitz, and more than 10,000 Jews were shot along the banks of the Danube--were they not also Hungarian? How could this not be a tragedy for Hungary? The government has also used its supermajority to adopt a completely new Constitution which has been reviewed by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission on Democracy through Law, a body of judicial experts. The Venice Commission expressed particular concern with the requirement that numerous issues can now only be addressed through supermajority or so-called cardinal laws. In other words, "The more policy issues are transferred beyond the powers of simple majority, the less significance will future elections have and the more possibilities does a two-thirds majority have of cementing its political preferences and the country's legal order.'' In short, the Commission concluded, "the principle of democracy itself is at risk.'' This combines, by the way, with a court-packing scheme--the expansion of the size of the Constitutional Court from 11 to 15--and a reduction of the retirement age for ordinary judges from 70 to 62, which will reportedly mean 10 percent of all judges will be replaced. To make exactly clear what he has intended with these reforms, Prime Minister Orban declared that he wants to tie the hands not only of the next government, but of the next 10 governments--that is, future Hungarian governments for the next 40 years. It is no wonder then that in Freedom House's latest "Nations in Transit'' survey, released this week, Hungary had declined in ratings for civil society, independent media, national democratic governance, and judicial framework and independence. Ironically, just as attention shifts to the tantalizing possibility of democratic reform in the Middle East, the red flags in Budapest keep multiplying: Transparency International has warned that transferring the power to appoint the Ombudsman from the parliament to the president means that he or she will not be independent of the executive. NGOs have warned that a new draft religion law may result in a number of religions losing their registration. Restrictions by Hungarian authorities on pro-Tibet demonstrations during last week's visit to Budapest of the Chinese Premier were seen as an unnecessary and heavy-handed limitation of a fundamental liberty. Plans to recall soldiers and police from retirement so that they may oversee Romani work battalions have predictably caused alarm. In 1989, Hungary stood as an inspiration for democracy and human rights advocates around the globe. Today, I am deeply troubled by the trends there. I understand that it sometimes takes new governments time to find their bearings, and I hope that we will see some adjustments in Budapest. But in the meantime, I hope that other countries looking for transformative examples will steer clear of this Hungarian model.

  • Ukraine’s Democratic Reversals

    Mr. Speaker, I rise to express my deep concern about the deterioration of democracy in Ukraine over the past 16 months, and the current Ukrainian leadership's use of politically motivated selective prosecution to harass high-ranking officials from the previous government. The country's once-promising democratic future is in jeopardy. While we face many serious challenges in every region of the world today, nonetheless it is imperative that Washington focus attention on what is happening in Ukraine--especially given that country's vital role in the region. As a long-time member and current Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I have followed and spoken out on developments in Ukraine since the early 1980's, when the rights of the Ukrainian people were completely denied and any brave soul who advocated for freedom was brutally persecuted. Mr. Speaker, for nearly two decades, independent Ukraine has been moving away from its communist past while establishing itself as an important partner to the United States. Both the executive branch and Congress, on a bipartisan basis, have provided strong political support and concrete assistance for Ukraine's independence and facilitated Ukraine's post-Communist transition. In the wake of the 2004 Orange Revolution, Ukraine even became a beacon of hope for other post-Soviet countries, earning the designation of "Free" from Freedom House--the only country among the 12 non-Baltic former Soviet republics to earn such a ranking. And while many of the promises of that revolution have sadly gone unfulfilled, one of its successes had been Ukraine's rise from "Partly Free" to "Free", reflecting genuine improvements in human rights and democratic practices. Under President Viktor Yanukovych, elected in February 2010, this promising legacy may vanish. Today we see backsliding on many fronts, which threatens to return Ukraine to authoritarianism and jeopardizes its independence from Russia. Among the most worrisome of these trends are: consolidation of power in the presidency which has weakened checks and balances; backpedaling with respect to freedom of expression and assembly; various forms of pressure on the media and civil society groups; attempts to curtail academic freedom and that of institutions and activists who peacefully promote the Ukrainian national identity; and seriously flawed local elections. Meanwhile, endemic corruption--arguably the greatest and most persistent threat to Ukrainian democracy and sovereignty--as well as the weak rule of law and the lack of an independent judiciary, which were not seriously addressed by the Orange governments, have only become more pronounced under the current regime. Moreover, in recent months, we have seen intensified pressure on opposition leaders, even selective prosecutions of high-ranking members of the previous government. The vast majority of observers both within and outside Ukraine see these cases, which have targeted former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko among others, as politically motivated acts of revenge which aim to remove possible contenders from the political scene, especially in the run-up to next year's parliamentary elections. Mr. Speaker, the Helsinki Commission has closely monitored these troubling trends as have the U.S., other Western governments, and the European Parliament and Council of Europe. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian authorities have largely downplayed concerns voiced by the European Union, which they aspire to join someday, and by the United States, with which Kyiv professes to seek better relations. The U.S. also desires enhanced bilateral ties. Yet, moving in the wrong direction on human rights, democracy and the rule of law decidedly works against strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian relations. More importantly, the erosion of hard-won democratic freedoms weakens Ukraine's independence and harms the people of Ukraine, who have endured a painful history as a captive nation over the course of the last century. Indeed, as Ukraine this week marks the 70th anniversary of the brutal Nazi invasion, we mourn the loss of life and untold human suffering of that horrific war. Against this backdrop of devastation wreaked by totalitarian regimes in the 20th century, Ukrainians deserve to have the promise of democracy made possible by their independence fully realized. A few days ago, President Yanukovych said that he would take into account the criticisms in Freedom House's recent "Sounding the Alarm: Protecting Democracy in Ukraine" report. His promise is encouraging, but words alone are not enough. All friends of Ukraine should measure his words by actual and meaningful changes that improve the state of democracy and human rights for the Ukrainian people.

  • Addressing Ethnic Tensions in Kyrgyzstan

    During four days in June, 2011, ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks clashed in the southern region of Osh, leaving some 470 dead and over 400,000 displaced.  Thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed. Although international assistance prevented a humanitarian disaster, rebuilding has barely started. Human rights abuses continue and ethnic nationalism is on the rise. An independent international investigative report made numerous recommendations to the Government of Kyrgyzstan about addressing the serious ethnic situation.  So far, the reaction by the Kyrgyz authorities has been mixed, and it is unclear which proposals Bishkek will accept. In this complicated atmosphere, Kyrgyzstan is also facing presidential elections this fall, the final step in putting in place a new governmental system following the revolution that overthrew former President Bakiyev in April 2010

  • 2050: Implications of Demographic Trends in the OSCE Region

    The hearing focused on the implications of current demographic trends in the expansive OSCE region through the prism of the security, economic and human dimensions.  Most of the OSCE’s 56 participating states are experiencing varying stages of demographic decline, marked by diminishing and rapidly aging populations. Such patterns were identifying as likely to have significant social, economic and security consequences for countries throughout the region, including the United States. Witnesses testifying at this hearing – including Jack A. Goldstone, Director of the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University; Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy of the American Enterprise Institute; Richard Jackson, Director and Senior Fellow of the Global Aging Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Steven W. Mosher, President of the Population Research Institute – addressed issues related to the demographic trends in the OSCE region, such as shrinking workforces in a growing number of participating States that are expected to become increasingly dependent upon foreign workers in the coming decades. A concern that these factors could contribute to mounting social tensions as demonstrated by clashes in some participating States in recent years was evident.

  • Prospects for Unfreezing Moldova’s Frozen Conflict in Transnistria

    This briefing, which Commissioner Phil Gingrey moderated, focused on the human cost of Moldova’s frozen conflict with Transnistria, its breakaway region, and the prospects for resolving this conflict that, at the time of the briefing, was two decades old. The term “frozen” entails settlement not by a peace agreement, but, rather, by an agreement to freeze each side’s positions. The conflict began immediately following the dissolution of the former U.S.S.R. in 1992, when armed conflict between Moldova and Russian-backed separatist forces was frozen by mutual consent. The Moldovan government had no reasonable alternative. The frozen conflict in Transnistria also has had grave human rights and humanitarian concerns. So, the questions the briefing examined were how to resolve these concerns whether or not the conflict can be unfrozen.

  • Senators Cardin and McCain Engage in a Colloquy on the Magnitsky Act

    Mr. McCAIN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. The Senator from Arizona is recognized. Mr. McCAIN. I thank the Chair. Mr. President, in a few minutes my colleague from Maryland, Senator Cardin, will be introducing a bill which I am a cosponsor of, along with a large bipartisan group of our colleagues. I wish to emphasize at the outset that some may characterize this legislation as anti-Russian. In fact, I believe it is pro-Russian. It is pro the people of Russia. It is pro the people who stand up for human rights and democracy in that country which, unfortunately, seems to be sadly deprived of. This legislation, as my colleague and friend Senator Cardin will describe, requires the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, to publish a list of each person whom our government has reason to believe was responsible for the detention, abuse, or death of Sergei Magnitsky ; participated in efforts to conceal the legal liability for these crimes; committed those acts of fraud that Magnitsky uncovered; is responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of human rights committed against individuals seeking to expose illegal activities in Russia or exercise other universally recognized human rights. Second, the individuals on that list would become the target of an array of penalties, among them, ineligibility to receive a visa to travel. They would have their current visas revoked, their assets would be frozen that are under U.S. jurisdiction, and U.S. financial institutions would be required to audit themselves to ensure that none of these individuals are able to bank excess funds and move money in the U.S. financial system. I guess the first question many people will be asking is who was Sergei Magnitsky ? Who was this individual who has aroused such outrage and anger throughout the world? He was a tax attorney. He was a tax attorney working for an international company called Hermitage Capital that had invested in Russia. He didn't spend his life as a human rights activist or an outspoken critic of the Russian Government. He was an ordinary man. But he became an extraordinary champion of justice, fairness, and the rule of law in Russia where those principles, frankly, have lost meaning. What Sergei Magnitsky did was he uncovered a collection of Russian Government officials and criminals who were associated with the Russian Government officials who colluded to defraud the Russian state of $230 million. The Russian Government in turn blamed the crime on Heritage Capital and threw Magnitsky in prison in 2008. Magnitsky was detained for 11 months without trial. Russian officials, especially from the Interior Ministry, pressured Magnitsky to deny what he had uncovered--to lie and to recant. He refused. He was sickened by what his government had done and he refused to surrender principle to brute power. As a result, he was transferred to increasingly more severe and more horrific prison conditions. He was forced to eat unclean food and water. He was denied basic medical care as his health worsened. In fact, he was placed in even worse conditions until, on November 16, 2009, having served 358 days in prison, Sergei Magnitsky died. He was 37 years old. Sergei Magnitsky's torture and murder--let's call it what it really was--is an extreme example of a problem that is unfortunately all too common and widespread in Russia today: the flagrant violations of the rule of law and basic human rights committed by the Russian Government itself, along with its allies. I note the presence of my colleague and lead sponsor of this important legislation. I hope in his remarks perhaps my friend from Maryland would mention the latest in the last few days which was the affirmation of the incredible sentence on Mr. Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his associate which is, in many ways, tantamount to a death sentence; again, one of these blatant abuses of justice and an example of the corruption that exists at the highest level of government. I wish to say again I appreciate the advocacy of my colleague from Maryland and his steadfast efforts on behalf of human rights in Russia, Belarus, and other countries. It has been a great honor to work with him and for him in bringing this important resolution to the floor of the Senate. I ask unanimous consent that at the appropriate time, the Senator from Maryland and I be allowed to engage in a colloquy. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. The Senator from Maryland. Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, let me thank Senator McCain, not just for taking time for this colloquy concerning Mr. Magnitsky but for his longstanding commitment to justice issues, human rights issues, and the values the United States represents internationally. We have had a long, proud, bipartisan, and, most importantly, successful record of promoting basic American values such as democratic governance and the rule of law around the world. Engaging the countries of the Eastern Bloc in matters such as respect for human rights was critical to winning the cold war. We will never know how many lives were improved and even saved due to instruments such as the Helsinki Final Act and the Jackson-Vanik amendment. These measures defined an era of human rights activism that ultimately pried open the Iron Curtain and brought down the Wall. Thankfully, the cold war is over and we have a stronger relationship, both at the governmental and societal levels, with countries in Eastern Europe. But, sadly, internationally recognized rights and freedoms continue to be trampled and, in many cases, with absolute impunity. With the possibility of Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization, and the Presidents of the United States and Russia meeting in France, ours is a timely discussion. Last week, I joined my distinguished colleague, the Senator from Arizona, and 14 other Senators from both parties to introduce the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act--a broad bill to address what the respected watchdog Transparency International dubbed a ``systematically corrupted country'' and to create consequences for those who are currently getting away with murder. Actions always speak louder than words. The diplomatic manner of dealing with human rights abuses has frequently been to condemn the abusers, often publicly, with the hope that these statements will be all they need to do. They say oh, yes, we are against these human rights violations. We are for the rule of law. We are for people being able to come forward and tell us about problems and be able to correct things. They condemn the abusers, but they take no action. They think their words will be enough. Well, we know differently. We know what is happening today in Russia. We know the tragedy of Sergei Magnitsky was not an isolated episode. This is not the only time this has happened. My colleague from Arizona mentioned the Mikhail Khodorkovsky case. Mr. Khodorkovsky is today in prison with even a longer sentence. Why? Because he had the courage to stand up and oppose the corrupt system in Russia and something should be done about it. That is why he is in prison, and that is wrong. So it is time we do something about this and that we make it clear that action is needed. For too long, the leaders in Russia have said we are going to investigate what happened to Sergei Magnitsky . We think it is terrible he died in prison without getting adequate medical care. As Senator McCain pointed out, here is a person whose only crime was to bring to the proper attention of officials public corruption within Russia. As a result of his whistleblowing, he was arrested and thrown in jail and died in jail. He was tortured. That cannot be allowed, to just say, Oh, that is terrible. We know the people who were responsible. In some cases they have been promoted in their public positions. Well, it is time for us to take action. That is why we have introduced this legislation. While this bill goes far beyond the tragic experiences of Sergei Magnitsky , it does bear his name, so let me refresh everyone's recollection with some of the circumstances concerning his death. I mention this because some might say, why are we talking about one person? But as the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin said, ``One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.'' I rarely agree with Dictator Stalin, but we have to put a human face on the issue. People have to understand that these are real people and real lives that have been ruined forever as a result of the abuses within Russia. Sergei was a skilled tax lawyer who was well known in Moscow among many Western companies, large and small. In fact, he even did some accounting for the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. Working at the American law firm of Firestone Duncan, Sergei uncovered the largest known tax fraud in modern Russian history and blew the whistle on the swindling of his fellow citizens by corrupt officials. For that he was promptly arrested by the subordinates of those he implicated in the crime. He was held under torturous conditions in detention for nearly a year without trial or visits from family. He developed severe medical complications which went deliberately untreated, and he died on November 16, 2009, alone in an isolation cell while prison doctors waited outside his door. Sergei was 37 years old. He left behind a wife, two sons, a dependent mother, and so many friends. Shortly after his death, Philip Pan of the Washington Post wrote: Magnitsky's complaints, made public by his attorneys as he composed them, went unanswered while he lived. But in a nation where millions perished in the Soviet gulag, the words of the 37-year-old tax lawyer struck a nerve after he died ..... his descriptions of the squalid conditions he endured have been splashed on the front pages of newspapers and discussed on radio and television across the country, part of an outcry even his supporters never expected. I think Senator McCain and I would agree, there is a thirst for democracy around the world. People in Russia want more. They want freedom. They want accountability. They want honest government officials. They are outraged by what happened to Sergei Magnitsky . I would point out just last week I met with a leader of the Russian business community who came here and traveled at some risk, I might say. Just visiting me was a risk. We have people from Russia who are being questioned because they come and talk to us. But he said to me that what happened here needs to be answered by the Russian authorities. He understands why we are introducing this legislation. A year after his death, and with no one held accountable, and some of those implicated even promoted and decorated, The Economist noted: At the time, few people outside the small world of Russian investors and a few human-rights activists had heard of Mr. Magnitsky . A year later, his death has become a symbol of the mind-boggling corruption and injustice perpetrated by the Russian system, and the inability of the Kremlin to change it. Regrettably, we know Sergei's case, egregious as it is, is not isolated. Human rights abuses continue unpunished and often unknown across Russia today. To make this point more clear, let's look at another example far outside the financial districts of Moscow and St. Petersburg in the North Caucasus in southern Russia where Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, condones and oversees massive violations of human rights, including violations of religious freedom and the rights of women. His militia also violates international humanitarian laws. As of this April, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Russia in 186 cases concerning Chechnya, most involving civilians. So Sergei Magnitsky's case is not an isolated case of abuse by the Russian authorities. There has been a systematic effort made to deny people their basic human rights, including one individual, Natalia Estemirova, who personally visited my office at the Helsinki Commission. She was a courageous human rights defender who was brutally assassinated. So it is time for Russia to take action. But we cannot wait; we need to take action. Mr. McCAIN. Will the Senator yield for a question? Mr. CARDIN. I yield back to my colleague. Mr. McCAIN. First, I thank my colleague from Maryland for a very eloquent and, I think, very strong statement, to which I can add very little. But isn't it true, I ask my friend, that this Magnitsky case and the Khodorkovsky case, which I would like for us to talk a little bit more about, are not isolated incidents? In other words, this is the face of the problem in Russia today. As the Senator mentioned, in its annual index of perceptions of corruption, Transparency International ranked Russia 154th out of 178 countries--perceived as more corrupt than Pakistan, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. The World Bank considers 122 countries to be better places to do business than Russia. One of those countries is Georgia, which the World Bank ranks as the 12th best country to do business. In other words, isn't it true in the Magnitsky case, it is what has been taking place all across Russia, including this incredible story of Khodorkovsky, who was one of the wealthiest men in Russia, one of the wealthiest oligarchs who rebelled against this corruption because he saw the long-term consequences of this kind of corruption and was brought to trial, convicted, and then, when his sentence was completed, they charged him again? Talk about a corrupt system, isn't it true that Vladimir Putin said he should ``sit in jail,'' and we now know that the whole trial was rigged, as revealed by people who were part of the whole trial? In other words, isn't it true, I would ask my friend from Maryland, that what we are talking about is one human tragedy, but it is a tragedy that is unfolding throughout Russia that we do not really have any knowledge of? And if we allow this kind of abuse to go on unresponded to, then, obviously, we are abrogating our responsibilities to the world; isn't that true? Mr. CARDIN. I say to Senator McCain, you are absolutely right. This is not isolated. Magnitsky is not an isolated case of a lawyer doing his job on behalf of a client and being abused by the authorities. We have a lot of examples of lawyers trying to do their jobs and being intimidated and their rights violated. But in Mr. Khodorkovsy's case, we have a business leader who was treated the same way just because he was a successful business leader. Even worse, he happened to be an opponent of the powers in the Kremlin. So we are now seeing, in Russia, where they want to quell opposition by arresting people who are just speaking their minds, doing their business legally, putting them in prison, trying them, and in the Khodorkovsky case actually increasing their sentences the more they speak out against the regime. That is how authoritarian they want to be and how oppressive they are to human rights. But I could go further. If one is a journalist in Russia, and they try to do any form of independent journalism, they are in danger of being beaten, being imprisoned, being murdered. It is very intimidating. The list goes on and on. Mr. McCAIN. Could I ask my colleague, what implications, if any, does the Senator from Maryland believe this should have on the Russian entry into the World Trade Organization? Mr. CARDIN. Well, it is very interesting, I say to Senator McCain. I just came from a Senate Finance Committee hearing, and we were talking about a free-trade agreement. I am for free-trade agreements. I think it makes sense. It is funny, when a country wants to do trade with the United States, they all of a sudden understand they have to look at their human rights issues. I think all of us would like to see Russia part of the international trade community. I would like to see Russia, which is already a member of a lot of international organizations, live up to the commitments they have made in joining these international organizations. But it is clear to me that Russia needs to reform. If we are going to have business leaders traveling to Russia in order to do business, I want to make sure they are safe in Russia. I want to make sure they are going to get the protection of the rule of law in Russia. I want to make sure there are basic rights that the businesspeople in Russia and the United States can depend upon. So, yes, I understand that Russia would like to get into the WTO. We have, of course, the Jackson-Vanik amendment that still applies. I understand the origin of that law, and I understand what needs to change in order for Russia to be able to join the World Trade Organization. But I will tell you this: The best thing that Russia can do in order to be able to enter the international trade regime is to clean up its abuses in its own country, to make clear it respects the rule of law; that businesspeople will be protected under the rule of law and certainly not imprisoned and tortured, as in the cases of Mr. Khodorkovsky and Mr. Magnitsky . We do not want to see that type of conduct. If Russia would do that, if they would reform their systems, then I think we would be a long way toward that type of integration and trade. Mr. McCAIN. I thank my colleague from Maryland for an eloquent statement about the situation as regards Russia. I thank him, and I can assure my colleague from Maryland that, as we speak, this will provide--and this legislation which he has introduced, will provide--some encouragement to people who in Russia now, in some cases, have lost almost all hope because of the corruption of the judicial system, as well as other aspects of the Russian nation. We all know that no democracy can function without the rule of law; and if there are ever two examples of the corruption of the rule of law, it is the tragedy of Sergei Magnitsky and, of course, Mr. Khodorkovsky, who still languishes in prison; who, in his words, believes he--by the extension of his prison sentence--may have been given a death sentence. So I thank my colleague from Maryland. Mr. CARDIN. Will my colleague yield for just one final comment? I think the Senator is right on target as to what he has said. I appreciate the Senator bringing this to the attention of our colleagues in the Senate. I will respond to one other point because I am sure my colleague heard this. Some Russian officials say: Why are we concerned with the internal affairs of another country? I just want to remind these Russian officials, I want to remind my colleagues here, that Russia has signed on to the Helsinki Final Act. They did that in 1975, and they have agreed to the consensus document that was issued in Moscow in 1991 and reaffirmed just last year with the heads of state meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, just this past December. I am going to quote from that document: The participating States-- Which Russia is a participating state-- emphasize that issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are of international concern, as respect for these rights and freedoms constitutes one of the foundations of international order. They categorically and irrevocably declared that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States-- The United States is a participating state-- and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned. Mr. McCAIN. That was a statement by the Government of Russia? Mr. CARDIN. That was a statement made by the 56 states of the OSCE at a meeting of the Heads of State, which happens about every 10 years. It just happened to have happened last year. Russia participated in drafting this statement. Russia was there, signed on to it, and said: We agree on this. It is a reaffirmation as to what they agreed to in 1991 in Moscow where we acknowledged that it is of international interest, and we have an obligation and right to question when a member state violates those basic human dimension commitments. Russia clearly has done that. We have not only the right but the obligation to raise that, and I just wanted to underscore that to my colleagues. I say to Senator McCain, your comments on the Senate floor are so much on point. I think people understand it. They understand the basic human aspect to this. But sometimes they ask: Well, why should America be concerned? Do we have a legitimate right to question this? Russia signed the document that acknowledges our right to challenge this and raise these issues. I thank my colleague for yielding. Mr. McCAIN. I thank my colleague from Maryland, and I hope we would get, very rapidly, another 98 cosponsors. I suggest the absence of a quorum. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll. The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.  

  • Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011

    Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011.  While this bill bears Sergei Magnitsky’s name in honor of his sacrifice, the language addresses the overall issue of the erosion of the rule of law and human rights in Russia. It offers hope to those who suffer in silence, whose cases may be less known or not known at all.  While there are many aspects of Sergei’s and other tragic cases which are difficult to pursue here in the United States, there are steps we can take and an obvious and easy one is to deny the privilege of visiting our country to individuals involved in gross violations of human rights. Visas are privileges not rights and we must be willing to see beyond the veil of sovereignty that kleptocrats often hide behind. They do this by using courts, prosecutors, and police as instruments of advanced corporate raiding and hope outsiders are given pause by their official trappings of office and lack of criminal records. Further, we must protect our strategic financial infrastructure from those who would use it to launder or shelter ill-gotten gains.  Despite occasional rhetoric from the Kremlin, the Russian leadership has failed to follow through with any meaningful action to stem rampant corruption or bring the perpetrators of numerous and high-profile human rights abuses to justice.  My legislation simply says if you commit gross violations of human rights don’t expect to visit Disneyland, Aspen, or South Beach and expect your accounts to be frozen if you bank with us. This may not seem like much, but in Russia the richer and more powerful you get the more danger you are exposed to from others harboring designs on your fortune and future.  Thus many are standing near the doors and we can certainly close at least one of those doors. And I know that others, especially in Europe and Canada are working on similar sanctions.  I first learned about Sergei Magnitsky while he was still alive when his client William Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital, testified at a hearing on Russia that I held as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe in June 2009.  At the Helsinki Commission we hear so many heartbreaking stories of the human cost of trampling fundamental freedoms and it’s a challenge not to give up hope and yield to the temptation of cynicism and become hardened to the suffering around us or to reduce a personal tragedy to yet another issue. While we use trends, numbers, and statistics to help us understand and deal with human rights issues, we must never forget the face of the individual person whose reality is the issue and the story of Sergei Magnitsky is as unforgettable as it is heartbreaking. Sergei Magnitsky was a young Russian tax lawyer employed by an American law firm in Moscow who blew the whistle on the largest known tax fraud in Russian history. After discovering this elaborate scheme, Sergei Magnitsky testified to the authorities detailing the conspiracy to defraud the Russian people of approximately $230 million dollars and naming the names of those officials involved. Shortly after his testimony, Sergei was arrested by subordinates of the very law enforcement officers he had implicated in this crime. He was held in detention for nearly a year without trial under torturous conditions. He developed severe medical complications, which went deliberately untreated and he died in an isolation cell while prison doctors waited outside his door on November 16, 2009.  Sadly, Sergei Magnitsky joins the ranks of a long list of Russian heroes who lost their lives because they stood up for principle and for truth. These ranks include Natalia Estemirova a brave human rights activist shot in the head and chest and stuffed into the trunk of a car, Anna Politkovskaya an intrepid reporter shot while coming home with an arm full of groceries, and too many others.  Often in these killings there is a veil of plausible deniability, gunmen show up in the dark and slip away into the shadows, but Sergei – in inhuman conditions – managed to document in 450 complaints exactly who bears responsibility for his false arrest and death. We must honor his sacrifice and do all we can to learn from this tragedy that others may not share his fate.  Few are made in the mold of Sergei Magnitsky – able to withstand barbaric deprivations and cruelty without breaking and certainly none of us would want to be put to the test. A man of such character is fascinating and in some ways disquieting because we suspect deep down that we might not have what it takes to stay loyal to the truth under such pressure. Magnitsky’s life and tragic death remind us all that some things are more valuable than success, comfort, or even life itself –truth is one of those things. May his example be a rebuke to those whose greed or cowardice has blinded them to their duties, an inspiration to still greater integrity for those laboring quietly in the mundane yet necessary tasks of life, and a comfort to those wrongly accused.  The Wall Street Journal described Sergei Magnitsky’s death as a “slow-motion assassination,” while the Moscow Prison Oversight Committee called it a “murder to conceal a fraud.” Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Ellen Barry writing in the New York Times stated that, “Magnitsky’s death in pretrial detention at the age of 37... sent shudders through Moscow’s elite. They saw him – a post-Soviet young urban professional – as someone uncomfortably like themselves.”  Outside the media, President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek noted that “Sergei Magnitsky was a brave man, who in his fight against corruption was unjustifiably imprisoned under ruthless conditions and then died in jail without receiving appropriate medical care.” While Transparency International observed that, “Sergei did what to most people seems impossible: he battled as a lone individual against the power of an entire state. He believed in the rule of law and integrity, and died for his belief.”  One might have thought that after the worldwide condemnation of Sergei Magnitsky’s arrest, torture, and death in the custody, the Russian government would have identified and prosecuted those responsible for this heinous crime. Instead, the government has not prosecuted a single person and many of the key perpetrators went on to receive promotions and the highest state honors from the Russian Interior Ministry. Moreover, the officers involved feel such a sense of impunity that they are now using all instruments of the Russian state to pursue and punish Magnitsky’s friends and colleagues who have been publicly fighting for justice in his case.  They have forced the American founding partner of Magnitsky’s firm, Jamison Firestone, to flee Russia in fear for his safety in the months following his colleague’s death after learning that the same people were attempting to take control of an American client’s Russian companies and commit a similar fraud. And they have used the same criminal case that was used to falsely arrest Magnitsky to indict Sergei's client Bill Browder. They have opened up retaliatory criminal cases against many of Hermitage’s employees and all of its lawyers, who were forced to leave Russia to save their own lives. These attacks have only intensified since my colleague and friend Congressman Jim McGovern introduced the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2011, a similar measure in the House of Representatives, last month.  In the struggle for human rights we must never be indifferent. On this point, I am reminded of Eli Wiesel’s hauntingly eloquent speech, The Perils of Indifference which he delivered at the White House in 1999. On this ever-present danger and demoralizer he cautions us, “Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning, it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor – never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten. The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees – not to respond to their plight, not to relive their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity we betray our own.”  Speaking of our humanity, I offer the following words as a contrast. They are from Russian playwright Mikhail Ugarov who created One Hour Eighteen, which is the exact amount of time it took for Sergei Magnitsky to die in his isolation cell at Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison. Ugarov asks, “When a person puts on the uniform of a public prosecutor, the white lab coat of a doctor, or the black robe of a judge, does he or she inevitably lose their humanity? Do they lose their ability to – even in a small way – empathize with a fellow human being? In the case of Sergei Magnitsky, each of the people who assumed these professional duties in the case left their humanity behind.”  The coming year will be a significant moment in the evolution of Russian politics. With Duma elections scheduled for the end of 2011 and presidential elections for early 2012, there is an opportunity for the Russian government to reverse what has been a steady trajectory away from the rule of law and respect for human rights and toward authoritarianism.  Mr. President, private and even public expressions of concern are not a substitute for a real policy nor are they enough, it’s time for consequences. The bill I introduce today sends a strong message to those who are currently acting with impunity in Russia that there will be consequences for corruption should you wish to travel to and invest in the United States. Such actions will provide needed moral support for those in Russia doing the really heavy-lifting in fighting corruption and promoting the rule of law, but they will also protect our own interests – values or business related.  We see before us a tale of two Russias, the double headed eagle if you will. To whom does the future of Russia belong? Does it belong to the Yevgenia Chirikovas, Alexey Navalnys, Oleg Orlovs and countless other courageous, hardworking, and patriotic Russians who expose corruption and fight for human rights or those who inhabit the shadows abusing and stealing from their fellow citizens?  Let’s not put aside our humanity out of exaggerated and excessively cautious diplomatic concerns for the broader relationship. Let’s take the long view and stand on the right side – and I believe the wise side – with the Russian people who’ve suffered so much for the cause of liberty and human dignity. They are the ones who daily risk their safety and freedom to promote those basic principles enshrined in Russian law and many international commitments including the Helsinki Final Act. They are the conscience of Russia. And let us tell them with one voice that they are not alone and that concepts like the rule of law and human rights are not empty words for this body and for our government. I urge my colleagues to support this bill.  I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.  Thank you, Mr. President.

  • Central Asia and the Arab Spring: Growing Pressure for Human Rights?

    Popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, along with ferment in Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and Syria, surprised even expert analysts and shook the very foundations not just of the states concerned but of the entire region. The long authoritarian rule of leaders in the region had been accepted by many as a factor of stability. In the end, however, public anger erupted over regimes that had been in power for decades, enriching themselves and their cronies, while most citizens barely scraped by. Many of these conditions apply to the states of Central Asia, with the partial exception of Kyrgyzstan – where street protests have toppled two presidents since 2005 and last year the country established a parliamentary government. Although the situation is unique in each Central Asian country, the region’s states have human rights records that are consistently poor, and some are listed among the most repressive countries in the world.  Rulers have contrived to remain in office indefinitely, controlled and rigged elections, restricted independent media and religious freedom, harassed opposition parties – where they exist at all—and stunted the development of civil society. Torture and mistreatment in detention are common in the region.

  • Remembering Katyn

    Mr. President, I rise today to commemorate the lives lost in last year's plane crash near Smolensk that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria, and 94 others who represented the political, cultural, and religious leadership of Poland. Words alone offer little solace before such awesome tragedy, which is one of the reasons people must gather together before monuments and flowers to add a tangible dimension to our shapeless grief. While eloquent remarks can move the heart, we all know a smile, a gaze, or an embrace can often do more to bring comfort to the sorrowful.  Katyn has become a tragedy in three acts--the crime, the cover-up, and now the crash. Surely it is fitting for us to meet, comfort each other, and remember those who died. But what lies beyond our tears? Can good come from this evil?  For the loved ones of those 96 souls who perished nearly a year ago, they must take comfort in knowing that the final act of their beloved was a noble one--that of remembering those martyrs whom Stalin and his henchmen sought to erase from Poland and, indeed, from history.  As Stanislaw Kot, Poland's wartime Ambassador to Moscow, said, "People are not like steam; they cannot evaporate.'' He was right and it is written, ``Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground!'' In a haunting twist of fate, a hungry wolf in the Russian winter would scratch at the snow and uncover the hastily buried bones of Poland's best and brightest. And the truth about this unspeakable crime would one day be known.  We have come a long way--a very long way--from the time when this atrocity was falsely presented as a Nazi crime and from the time when the names of the dead could only be circulated in communist Poland in the form of samizdat publications and whispered around kitchen tables.  Nevertheless, there is still more that must be done to set the record straight. This involves insuring that all the evidence relating to the execution sites, the executioners' identities, the motives for the crime, and the fate of so many Polish families who vanished on the Siberian steppe are publicly available. We must ensure that the fullness of the truth is uncovered and shared for its own sake and for closure. To that end, I welcome recent news of the Kremlin's release of still more documents relating to the massacre.  Further, I believe that finally coming to terms with Katyn is a necessary precondition for a durable Polish-Russian rapprochement, which is itself good insurance for maintaining a Europe, whole, free, and at peace.  Next week Presidents Komorowski and Medvedev will meet before the mass graves at Katyn and, I trust, will continue a dialogue of healing between two great nations that have suffered so much from the elevation of an ideology over a people. I wish them well in their talks and ongoing mission of reconciliation and believe that the only lasting balm for this wound lies in the heart and not in a courtroom or even a legislature.  This is not to say that charges or claims should not be pursued, but to recognize that, in many cases, such actions will fall short and offer little by way of consolation.  It would be most unfortunate for the memory of Katyn to be debased by ideologues of any ilk who would usurp this sacred memory for partisan projects. For too long the truth about Katyn was denied by those on the left who turned a blind eye to the reality of communism and many on the right seemed to view Katyn as just another issue to be exploited in the struggle of ideologies. People and their memory are an end, in and of themselves, and must never be used as a means to advance even a just cause. The only decent relationship to them is that of love and remembrance--our dignity and theirs demands nothing less.  My sincere hope is that Poland and Russia can do better than some countries that have fought bitter diplomatic battles and enacted laws to force or deny recognition of historic crimes. By honestly evaluating a shared past of suffering, Poles and Russians have a real opportunity to build a shared future of friendship and prosperity.  Poland is now free and her traditions support the forgiveness that offers a path out of the valley of this shadow of death. In so many ways, Poland is, and must remain, a light to those nearby who still live in the darkness of oppression and lies.  As we continue to ponder the devastation of last year's catastrophe, I would like to close by putting a couple faces on our sadness; those of Mariusz Handzlik and Andrzej Przewoznik, who both died in last year's crash.  Mariusz was a diplomat and father of three. He was well known and well liked in Washington from the years he spent assigned to the Embassy of Poland. In 2000, he played a fateful game of chess with Polish war hero and Righteous Gentile Jan Karski who narrowly escaped "liquidation'' at Katyn. Karski would die in a Washington hospital and Handzlik in a gloomy Russian forest.  Andrzej was a historian, a husband, and father of two. He was the principal organizer behind the conference I cohosted as Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission last year at the Library of Congress to mark the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Forest Massacre. Andrzej hoped to spend time at our National Archives sifting through the papers of the Madden Committee and other relevant U.S. Government documents on Katyn.  The memories of Mariusz, Andrzej, and so many other truly exceptional people on that doomed flight offer much by way of virtue and accomplishment that will inspire Poles for generations to come. Let us take comfort in the truth that is, at last, known and bask in the warmth of heroic memories and do this together with our Polish friends who are second to no one in their love of freedom.

  • Lithuania’s Leadership of the OSCE

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and other legislators welcomed Lithuania’s as a member of NATO, the EU, and OSCE Chair-in-Office. The commissioners commended Lithuania on its remarkable work in democratically reforms in its own country. However, the attendees of the hearing expressed their concerns over Lithuania’s neighbor, Belarus, Europe’s “last dictatorship.” Legislators also reflected on the trajectories of other Newly Independent States.

  • Attacks in Hungary and the Czech Republic

    Mr. President, as co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I wanted to bring to the Senate's attention that next week, February 23, will mark a tragic anniversary. Two years ago on that date, assassins gathered outside the home of Robert Csorba. They threw a Molotov cocktail into the house. Although some family members escaped the blaze, five-year-old Robert Csorba and his father did not: as they tried to flee the flames, their attackers riddled them with bullets. The murderers were prepared: if the bomb did not finish them off, their guns would. They were prepared to kill men, women, and children. The Csorbas were just two of the victims in a wave of racially motivated attacks against Roma that has roiled Hungary. According to the European Roma Rights Center, between January 2008 and July 2010 there were at least two dozen cases where Molotov cocktails, hand grenades or sniper fire were used. The victims included nine fatalities, including two children, and others who were seriously injured. Among them was the 13-year-old daughter of Maria Balogh. Ms. Balogh was murdered when snipers shot into her home in the middle of the night on August 3, 2009, killing her and leaving her daughter an orphan. Her daughter was also grievously wounded: she was shot in the face, blinded in one eye, and maimed for life. It is no wonder that these attacks led one Romani activist to declare that Roma would need to arm themselves or flee, and another asserted that if these attacks continued, Hungary would be headed toward civil war. There are some positive developments. The fatal attacks have stopped. Hungary's new government has reached out to the victims to provide support for rebuilding homes that were damaged or destroyed in arson attacks. Hungary's new Minister for Social Inclusion, Zolton Balog, has demonstrated a rare and welcome compassion for his Romani fellow citizens. But the wounded and the dead still wait for justice in Hungary. Although four men have been arrested on suspicion of carrying out the serial killings of Roma that occurred in 2008 and 2009, there have been no trials and no convictions. The Czech Republic has also seen a dramatic rise in anti-Roma rhetoric and violent actions in the past few years. Last October, I joined Helsinki Commission cochairman, Alcee Hastings in welcoming the lengthy sentences handed down in the Czech Republic to four neo-Nazis who firebombed a Romani home in 2009, an act which left an infant, widely known simply as ``Baby Natalka,'' with second and third degree burns over 80 percent of her body and a lifetime of painful rehabilitation ahead of her. When that judgment was handed down against the four men who firebombed Baby Natalka, I was heartened. I also said I was watching another Czech case--one that is largely unknown. On November 8, 2008, a roving mob attacked several Roma in the town of Havirov. One teenager was so savagely beaten, he was effectively left for dead. For a prolonged period of time afterwards, he was in a coma, and when he regained consciousness, he was unable to talk. Although he has learned to speak again, he has suffered permanent brain damage. He is paralyzed, was forced to end his studies, and may never be able to work. A decision in the case is expected to be announced in the Ostrava regional court at 8:30 a.m. on February 24. Behind the high profile murder cases of Roma that make their way into the news, there is an even larger number of cases involving Roma who have been attacked, but not fatally; they do not die but are maimed, disabled, and traumatized for life by the racially motivated violence they have encountered. Their stories are often never told, but each of them stands as a living monument to everyone in their families and everyone in their communities, testifying to the government's failure to protect them. Each of them deserves justice, including Jaroslav Horvath, the teenager attacked in Havirov.  

  • Year in Review: 2010 Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings

    By Janice Helwig and Mischa Thompson, Policy Advisors Since 1999, the OSCE participating States have convened three “supplementary human dimension meetings” (SHDMs) each year – that is, meetings intended to augment the annual review of the implementation of all OSCE human dimension commitments. The SHDMs focus on specific issues and the topics are chosen by the Chair-in-Office. Although they are generally held in Vienna – with a view to increasing the participation from the permanent missions to the OSCE – they can be held in other locations to facilitate participation from civil society. The three 2010 SHDMs focused on gender issues, national minorities and education, and religious liberties. But 2010 had an exceptionally full calendar – some would say too full. In addition to the regularly scheduled meetings, ad hoc meetings included: A February 9-10 expert workshop in Mongolia on trafficking; A March 19 hate crimes and the Internet meeting in Warsaw; A June 10-11th meeting in Copenhagen to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Copenhagen Document; A (now annual) trafficking meeting on June 17-18; and A high-level conference on tolerance June 29-30 in Astana. The extraordinary number of meetings also included an Informal Ministerial in July, a Review Conference (held in Warsaw, Vienna and Astana over the course of September, October, and November) and the OSCE Summit on December 1-2 (both in Astana). Promotion of Gender Balance and Participation of Women in Political and Public Life The first SHDM of 2010 was held on May 6-7 in Vienna, Austria, focused on the “Promotion of Gender Balance and Participation of Women in Political and Public Life.” It was opened by speeches from Kazakhstan's Minister of Labour and Social Protection, Gulshara Abdykalikova, and Portuguese Secretary of State for Equality, Elza Pais. The discussions focused mainly on “best practices” to increase women’s participation at the national level, especially in parliaments, political parties, and government jobs. Most participants agreed that laws protecting equality of opportunity are sufficient in most OSCE countries, but implementation is still lacking. Therefore, political will at the highest level is crucial to fostering real change. Several speakers recommended establishing quotas, particularly for candidates on political party lists. A number of other forms of affirmative action remedies were also discussed. Others stressed the importance of access to education for women to ensure that they can compete for positions. Several participants said that stereotypes of women in the media and in education systems need to be countered. Others seemed to voice stereotypes themselves, arguing that women aren’t comfortable in the competitive world of politics. Turning to the OSCE, some participants proposed that the organization update its (2004) Gender Action Plan. (The Gender Action Plan is focused on the work of the OSCE. In particular, it is designed to foster gender equality projects within priority areas; to incorporate a gender perspective into all OSCE activities, and to ensure responsibility for achieving gender balance in the representation among OSCE staff and a professional working environment where women and men are treated equally.) A few participants raised more specific concerns. For example, an NGO representative from Turkey spoke about the ban on headscarves imposed by several countries, particularly in government buildings and schools. She said that banning headscarves actually isolates Muslim women and makes it even harder for them to participate in politics and public life. NGOs from Tajikistan voiced their strong support for the network of Women’s Resource Centers, which has been organized under OSCE auspices. The centers provide services such as legal assistance, education, literacy classes, and protection from domestic violence. Unfortunately, however, they are short of funding. NGO representatives also described many obstacles that women face in Tajikistan’s traditionally male-oriented society. For example, few women voted in the February 2010 parliamentary elections because their husbands or fathers voted for them. Women were included on party candidate lists, but only at the bottom of the list. They urged that civil servants, teachers, health workers, and police be trained on legislation relating to equality of opportunity for women as means of improving implementation of existing laws. An NGO representative from Kyrgyzstan spoke about increasing problems related to polygamy and bride kidnappings. Only a first wife has any legal standing, leaving additional wives – and their children - without social or legal protection, including in the case of divorce. The meeting was well-attended by NGOs and by government representatives from capitals. However, with the exception of the United States, there were few participants from participating States’ delegations in Vienna. This is an unfortunate trend at recent SHDMs. Delegation participation is important to ensure follow-up through the Vienna decision-making process, and the SHDMs were located in Vienna as a way to strengthen this connection. Education of Persons belonging to National Minorities: Integration and Equality The OSCE held its second SHDM of 2010 on July 22-23 in Vienna, Austria, focused on the "Education of Persons belonging to National Minorities: Integration and Equality." Charles P. Rose, General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Education, participated as an expert member of the U.S. delegation. The meeting was opened by speeches from the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek and Dr. Alan Phillips, former President of the Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Three sessions discussed facilitating integrated education in schools, access to higher education, and adult education. Most participants stressed the importance of minority access to strong primary and secondary education as the best means to improve access to higher education. The lightly attended meeting focused largely on Roma education. OSCE Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues Andrzej Mirga stressed the importance of early education in order to lower the dropout rate and raise the number of Roma children continuing on to higher education. Unfortunately, Roma children in several OSCE States are still segregated into separate classes or schools - often those meant instead for special needs children - and so are denied a quality education. Governments need to prioritize early education as a strong foundation. Too often, programs are donor-funded and NGO run, rather than being a systematic part of government policy. While states may think such programs are expensive in the short term, in the long run they save money and provide for greater economic opportunities for Roma. The meeting heard presentations from several participating States of what they consider their "best practices" concerning minority education. Among others, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Greece, and Armenia gave glowing reports of their minority language education programs. Most participating States who spoke strongly supported the work of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities on minority education, and called for more regional seminars on the subject. Unfortunately, some of the presentations illustrated misunderstandings and prejudices rather than best practices. For example, Italy referred to its "Roma problem" and sweepingly declared that Roma "must be convinced to enroll in school." Moreover, the government was working on guidelines to deal with "this type of foreign student," implying that all Roma are not Italian citizens. Several Roma NGO representatives complained bitterly after the session about the Italian statement. Romani NGOs also discussed the need to remove systemic obstacles in the school systems which impede Romani access to education and to incorporate more Romani language programs. The Council of Europe representative raised concern over the high rate of illiteracy among Romani women, and advocated a study to determine adult education needs. Other NGOs talked about problems with minority education in several participating States. For example, Russia was criticized for doing little to provide Romani children or immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus support in schools; what little has been provided has been funded by foreign donors. Charles Rose discussed the U.S. Administration's work to increase the number of minority college graduates. Outreach programs, restructured student loans, and enforcement of civil rights law have been raising the number of graduates. As was the case of the first SHDM, with the exception of the United States, there were few participants from participating States’ permanent OSCE missions in Vienna. This is an unfortunate trend at recent SHDMs. Delegation participation is important to ensure follow-up through the Vienna decision-making process, and the SHDMs were located in Vienna as a way to strengthen this connection. OSCE Maintains Religious Freedom Focus Building on the July 9-10, 2009, SHDM on Freedom of Religion or Belief, on December 9-10, 2010, the OSCE held a SHDM on Freedom of Religion or Belief at the OSCE Headquarters in Vienna, Austria. Despite concerns about participation following the December 1-2 OSCE Summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, the meeting was well attended. Representatives of more than forty-two participating States and Mediterranean Partners and one hundred civil society members participated. The 2010 meeting was divided into three sessions focused on 1) Emerging Issues and Challenges, 2) Religious Education, and 3) Religious Symbols and Expressions. Speakers included ODIHR Director Janez Lenarcic, Ambassador-at-large from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Madina Jarbussynova, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, and Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Silvano Tomasi of the Holy See. Issues raised throughout the meeting echoed concerns raised during at the OSCE Review Conference in September-October 2010 regarding the participating States’ failure to implement OSCE religious freedom commitments. Topics included the: treatment of “nontraditional religions,” introduction of laws restricting the practice of Islam, protection of religious instruction in schools, failure to balance religious freedom protections with other human rights, and attempts to substitute a focus on “tolerance” for the protection of religious freedoms. Notable responses to some of these issues included remarks from Archbishop Silvano Tomasi that parents had the right to choose an education for their children in line with their beliefs. His remarks addressed specific concerns raised by the Church of Scientology, Raelian Movement, Jehovah Witnesses, Catholic organizations, and others, that participating States were preventing religious education and in some cases, even attempting to remove children from parents attempting to raise their children according to a specific belief system. Additionally, some speakers argued that religious groups should be consulted in the development of any teaching materials about specific religions in public school systems. In response to concerns raised by participants that free speech protections and other human rights often seemed to outweigh the right to religious freedom especially amidst criticisms of specific religions, UN Special Rapporteur Bielefeldt warned against playing equality, free speech, religious freedom, and other human rights against one another given that all rights were integral to and could not exist without the other. Addressing ongoing discussion within the OSCE as to whether religious freedom should best be addressed as a human rights or tolerance issue, OSCE Director Lenarcic stated that, “though promoting tolerance is a worthwhile undertaking, it cannot substitute for ensuring freedom of religion of belief. An environment in which religious or belief communities are encouraged to respect each other but in which, for example, all religions are prevented from engaging in teaching, or establishing places of worship, would amount to a violation of freedom of religion or belief.” Statements by the United States made during the meeting also addressed many of these issues, including the use of religion laws in some participating States to restrict religious practice through onerous registrations requirements, censorship of religious literature, placing limitations on places of worship, and designating peaceful religious groups as ‘terrorist’ organizations. Additionally, the United States spoke out against the introduction of laws and other attempts to dictate Muslim women’s dress and other policies targeting the practice of Islam in the OSCE region. Notably, the United States was one of few participating States to call for increased action against anti-Semitic acts such as recent attacks on Synagogues and Jewish gravesites in the OSCE region. (The U.S. statements from the 2010 Review Conference and High-Level Conference can be found on the website of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE.) In addition to the formal meeting, four side events and a pre-SHDM Seminar for civil society were held. The side events were: “Pluralism, Relativism and the Rule of Law,” “Broken Promises – Freedom of religion or belief in Kazakhstan,” “First Release and Presentation of a Five-Year Report on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe” and “The Spanish school subject ‘Education for Citizenship:’ an assault on freedom of education, conscience and religion.” The side event on Kazakhstan convened by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee featured speakers from Forum 18 and Kazakhstan, including a representative from the CiO. Kazakh speakers acknowledged that more needed to be done to fulfill OSCE religious freedom commitments and that it had been a missed opportunity for Kazakhstan not to do more during its OSCE Chairmanship. In particular, speakers noted that religious freedom rights went beyond simply ‘tolerance,’ and raised ongoing concerns with registration, censorship, and visa requirements for ‘nontraditional’ religious groups. (The full report can be found on the website of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.) A Seminar on Freedom of Religion and Belief for civil society members also took place on December 7-8 prior to the SHDM. The purpose of the Seminar was to assist in developing the capacity of civil society to recognize and address violations of the right to freedom of religion and belief and included an overview of international norms and standards on freedom of religion or belief and non-discrimination.

  • Parliamentary Elections in Kyrgyzstan Set the Stage for a New Political System; Ethnic Tensions Remain a Key Obstacle to Stability

    By Janice Helwig and Shelly Han The OSCE concluded that although the October 10, 2010 elections in Kyrgyzstan were conducted peacefully – no small feat following the April 2010 revolution – and demonstrated a significant increase in pluralism as compared to previous elections, there remains an “urgent need for profound electoral legal reform.” Two Helsinki Commission staff members traveled to Kyrgyzstan to observe the election as part of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation and were deployed in the Osh and Kara-suu region. Although the staff experience was not inconsistent with the overall OSCE conclusion, Osh and the surrounding region appear to have had more problems during the election than other areas of the country. In June, the constitution had been changed through a referendum to give the parliament a stronger role than the President. The improvement in the conduct of the election may have been partly a result of that change in that, because of the new parliamentary system and the relatively large number of parties competing, no one party or group could manipulate the election nationwide (which appeared to have been the case in the 2009 presidential elections). In fact, the close result which divided parliamentary seats among several main parties was a good indicator of an open competition. Nevertheless, there were some problems at the local level, where there may have been attempts to influence the outcome. In the Osh and Kara-suu region, there appeared to be problems particularly with the voters list, the inking process, and the counting process. For example, in almost all the polling visited by Commission staff, about a third of those who had voted had added themselves to the additional list with just their ID. Other international observers reported similar findings. This would indicate that either the main voters list was extremely inaccurate, or something more problematic may have been going on. In one polling station, a man tried to add himself to the additional list but was turned down while the staff was present; he clearly was not satisfied and went back in to try again as they left. Another international observer in the neighboring Uzgen area reported the same pattern, but, suspiciously, only in polling stations easily accessible from the main road. According to the election law, the registration of any voter on the additional list should have been counterchecked and signed by an adviser or observer in the polling station, but that did not happen during the day. At the closing in one polling station, the Chairwoman had a colleague counter sign all 225 additions to the list. The inking procedure also appeared to be a problem. In theory, anyone adding themselves to the additional list should not have been able to vote anywhere else because of the use of invisible ink sprayed on each voter’s thumb. However, spraying and checking for ink in the polling stations appeared to be haphazardly conducted. Domestic observers had to stay in their chairs across the room and could not see whether the ink checker was effective. Moreover, when Commission staff asked people who had been inked earlier it the day to put their thumb under the light, little or no ink was visible. The ink seemed not to work all of the time, or perhaps to have washed off easily. There also were significant problems in processing protocols during the counting process in the Kara-suu district. At the district counting station, the halls and stairways were lined with polling station chairpersons busily erasing and refilling in their protocols. Protocols and stamps were strewn around everywhere. It may have been that the chairpersons were simply trying to get their numbers to add up properly so they would be accepted by Shailoo, the computerized vote-counting system. On the other hand, the numbers also could have been in the process of being changed to influence the outcome. Regardless of intent, last minute changes to protocols made unilaterally by chairpersons should not have been allowed as no observers were present and there were no controls in place to prevent fraud. Official turnout figures said that Osh had the highest voter turnout in the country, at about sixty-six percent. However, Commission staff did not see polling stations with a turnout higher than forty-five percent, nor did other international observers in the area. Interestingly, the turnout in ethnic Uzbek areas appeared to be about the same as in ethnic Kyrgyz areas. Many ethnic Uzbeks said they were “voting for peace,” although it was not clear whether that meant that moving forward with any new parliament would be positive, or if it meant that voting for a certain party would benefit ethnic Uzbeks. Some ethnic Uzbek community leaders had said prior to election day that most political parties had offered their communities money and/or infrastructure improvements in exchange for their votes. Ethnic tensions remain a concern Prior to election day, Commission staff were able to visit several of the Osh neighborhoods destroyed in the June violence, as well as one tent camp. The scale and scope of the destruction in ethnic Uzbek areas was enormous. And in mixed neighborhoods – for example near Shark – the house-by-house, business-by-business singling out of Uzbek-owned structures for destruction was clear. All of the victims staff spoke with appeared to be still afraid and did not see any future in Kyrgyzstan. All wanted to leave but did not have the means to do so. None wanted to go to Uzbekistan; rather they wanted to go to Russia or anywhere else where they might find economic opportunities. While rebuilding of homes was clearly progressing, the question of earning a living in the long term was an overwhelming concern. The divide between ethnic Uzbeks and ethnic Kyrgyz is wide and seems to be growing. Many ethnic Kyrgyz seem to genuinely believe that ethnic Uzbeks were responsible for the violence, and even burned down their own houses in an effort to get international attention. Kyrgyz media and the government seem to be reinforcing this message. If the region is to move forward and avoid future violence, there needs to be some mechanism for accountability and reconciliation. However, so far only ethnic Uzbeks have been arrested and put on trial, and the trials appear to have been unfairly conducted. Ethnic Uzbek defendants have been routinely attacked by ethnic Kyrgyz mobs during the trials, as have media representatives trying to report on the proceedings. In general, journalists and human rights defenders fear retaliation if they report on abuses against ethnic Uzbeks; as a result, there have been few voices speaking out. Standing in the ruins of his home, a man shows Commission staff the photo of his sister, who was killed during the violence in June. This ethnic divide is likely to fester unless something is done to build confidence between the main ethnic groups and provide economic opportunities for all. Moreover, disenfranchised youth could be vulnerable to recruitment by extremist organizations. The new government will face many challenges, not least addressing continuing ethnic tension in the south. 

  • World Premiere of Justice for Sergei

    This film screening presented by the U.S. Helsinki Commission commemorated the one-year anniversary of the death of Russian anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. “Justice for Sergei” is a film about the anti-corruption lawyer who blew the whistle on a $230 million tax fraud involving senior Russian officials. This film marks the first time since Sergei’s death that his family and friends have spoken publicly about the false arrest and torture of the man who died trying to expose the corruption gripping his country.    Panelists – including Boris Nemtsov, Former Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation; Dr. Michael McFaul, Senior Director of Russia and Eurasian Affairs for the National Security Council; and David Kramer, Executive Director of Freedom House – presented statements related to corruption in Russia and spoke to the lack of rule of law in the country.

  • Beyond Corporate Raiding: A Discussion of Advanced Fraud Schemes in the Russian Market

    This briefing was part of a number of Helsinki Commission events focusing on corruption and fraud in modern Russia’s businesses and law enforcement. Kyle Parker led a fascinating and provocative discussion with Russia's leading anti-corruption crusader, shareholder activist, and blogger extraordinaire Alexei Navalny who Time Magazine dubbed "Russia's Erin Brockovich." Alexei shared his experiences with Russian corruption and shed light on the measures one must take to be successful. Parker and Navalny addressed the death of Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 and the fraud against Hermitage Capital. They looked at the possibility of similar situations in the future and whether or not there is hope for change. They also discussed the sharp contrast of this corruption against the strident anti-corruption rhetoric of President Dmitriy Medvedev, who has called for an end to "legal nihilism" and the corrosive practice of law enforcement "nightmaring" legitimate businesses.

  • OSCE 2010 Informal Ministerial: Kazakhstan Persistence Earns a Summit in Astana

    By Winsome Packer Policy Advisor Kazakhstan hosted its long-sought OSCE Informal Ministerial in Almaty July 16-17, 2010, the realization of a key aim of its Chairmanship. A second important objective of the Kazakh Chairmanship: a summit on Kazakh soil during 2010, came closer to realization during the meeting. An Astana Summit would be the OSCE’s first since the 1999 Istanbul Summit, which yielded the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces Treaty. Early and persistent calls for “substance before summit” by the U.S. Delegation and other participating States had put in doubt both the informal ministerial and the summit for months. However, a number of the participating States argued for the high level attention to wide-spread security challenges in the OSCE region and the erosion of OSCE values in some quarters. Ten years after the last OSCE summit, they argued, necessitated a meeting of heads of states and governments to reaffirm the participating States’ commitment to the organization’s values and agree on a way forward to tackle the challenges confronting the region today. Thus, six months of, at times, heated informal Corfu dialogue on security challenges in the OSCE region, which was mandated by the Athens Ministerial Declaration, yielded more than 50 “food for thought” papers from the participating States, the Parliamentary Assembly, the OSCE Secretariat, the Partners for Cooperation, think tanks and non-governmental organizations. The thematic papers evolved into an Interim Report during June, which incorporated the proposals submitted within the Corfu Process. It formed the basis for the agenda at the Almaty Informal Ministerial and for the Summit which will be held in Astana December 1-2, 2010. The Almaty Informal Ministerial saw the participation of more than forty foreign ministers, including from the Russian Federation, France, Germany, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Georgia, Turkey, Austria, and Ukraine. The Parliamentary Assembly’s delegation included President Petros Efthymiou, and Secretary General Spencer Oliver. The U.S. delegation was headed by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg who, in a bilateral meeting with the Kazakhstanis on July 16, affirmed U.S. support for an OSCE summit this year. The joining of consensus on the summit decision by the United States elicited private expressions of relief from many delegates, and heightened expectations for the summit which would reflect the outcome of the Corfu Process: a declaration and an action plan. The Chair-in-Office requested that the OSCE delegations work toward these aims throughout the summer. During the meeting, delegates voiced support for the summit, to be held in Astana. A majority of the participating States urged OSCE support for Kyrgyzstan, in particular, through the deployment of a police mission. The United States and many delegates stated that the substance of the summit should be based upon the four proposals put forward by the European Union to: (1) bolster the OSCE’s capabilities in all three dimensions to promote early warning, conflict prevention and resolution, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation, including in relation to the protracted conflicts; (2) strengthen implementation and follow-up of OSCE norms, principles and commitments in particular, human dimension commitments covering human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the media; (3) enhance the conventional arms control framework, including confidence and security building measures, through updating the 1999 Vienna Document and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty); and (4) increase attention to transnational threats in all three OSCE dimensions. Some delegates also called for a summit to: focus on instability in Afghanistan; intensify efforts to resolve protracted conflicts in the region, and address nuclear terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear and weapons of mass destruction. The United States called for greater military transparency, implementation of human dimension commitments and addressing inter-ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan. The U.S. delegation also expressed support for the expeditous deployment of a police force to Kyrgyzstan and for an action plan for the future work of the participating States. In addition to supporting the European Union’s four summit process proposals, the United States also expressed support for a focus on Afghanistan. A Chair’s Perception Paper, resulting from the informal ministerial, incorporated these concerns. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Russia’s support for the summit “this year.” He urged the involvement of other regional and sub-regional leaders in addressing the Kyrgyzstan situation. He expressed hope that action would be taken on Russia’s proposal for a European Security Treaty (EST) and that it would not merely remain a “subject for discussion.” Lavrov said that the summit document should reflect the post Cold War situation and the security system that emerges should be “free of dividing lines.” He said that Russia was studying NATO’s response to the EST proposal and underlined that the summit should give strong, political impetus for supporting Kyrgyzstan. Concurrent with the Informal Ministerial, draft decisions on the holding of an OSCE summit during 2010 and draft decisions on the agenda and modalities of the summit and agenda and modalities for a review conference were circulated. The review conference would be held in Vienna, Warsaw, and Astana. Negotiations on the draft decisions began on July 19.

  • Russia: U.S. Congressmen Propose Sanctions in Lawyer’s Death

    Members of the United States Congress introduced legislation on Wednesday that would impose financial sanctions and visa bans on Russian officials implicated in the case of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in prison in Moscow in November after being ensnared in tax inquiry. The measure’s sponsors — including Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, and Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat — said it was intended to spur the Russian government to properly investigate Mr. Magnitsky’s death. His defenders contend that he was jailed in an effort to force him to falsify testimony against Hermitage Capital Management, a major foreign investment fund that once had large holdings in Russia. His death caused widespread outrage and focused renewed attention on police tactics and corruption in Russia.

  • Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2010

    Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2010. As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I first learned about Sergei Magnitsky at a hearing I held on Russia in June 2009.  Sergei Magnitsky was a young Russian anti-corruption lawyer employed by a prominent American law firm in Moscow who blew the whistle on the largest known tax rebate fraud in Russian history perpetrated by high level Russian officials. After discovering this complex and brazen corruption scheme, Sergei Magnitsky dutifully testified to the authorities detailing the conspiracy to defraud the Russian people of approximately $230 million dollars and naming the names of those officials. Shortly after his testimony, Sergei was arrested by subordinates of the very law enforcement officers he had implicated in this crime. He was held in detention for nearly a year without trial under torturous conditions and died in an isolation cell while prison doctors waited outside his door on November 16, 2009.  In April of this year I sent a letter to our Secretary of State urging a visa ban for Russian officials connected to the death of Sergei Magnitsky. I also released a list of 60 senior officials from the Russian Interior Ministry, Federal Security Service, Federal Tax Service, Regional Courts, General Prosecutor’s Office, and Federal Prison Service, along with detailed descriptions of their involvement in this matter. My bill reminds the Department of State that I have not forgotten and will not forget this issue. In fact, this bill goes a bit further adding an asset freeze provision to be applied against those implicated in this tragic affair. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that my letter to Secretary of State Clinton and my list be entered into the record.  Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer with what should have been a promising career ahead of him died at age 37 leaving behind a mother, a wife, and two boys who never saw him or even heard his voice after his arrest. Since his death, no one has been held accountable and some of those involved even have been promoted. Also, there is strong evidence that the criminal enterprise that stole the money from the Russian treasury and falsely imprisoned and tortured Magnitsky, continues to operate. In fact, the American founding partner of Magnitsky’s firm fled Russia for his safety in the months following his colleague’s death after learning that a similar fraud scheme was attempted by the same criminals.  This is a heartbreaking story, and let me be clear, my bill does not even attempt to deliver justice as that would be impossible since nothing can bring Sergei back. There are obvious limits to what we can do as Americans, but we can deny the privilege of visiting our country and accessing our financial system. This bill sends a strong message to those who are currently acting with impunity in Russia that there will be consequences for corruption should you wish to travel and invest abroad. I hope others, especially in the EU, UK, and Canada will adopt similar sanctions. This measure is also about the future and protecting our business interests abroad by making it clear that, even if your home country allows you to trample the rule of law, we will not stand by and become an unwitting accomplice in your crimes.  Sadly, Sergei Magnitsky joins the ranks of a long list of Russian heroes who lost their lives because they stood up for principle and for truth. These ranks include Natalia Estemirova a brave human rights activist shot in the head and chest and stuffed into the trunk of a car, Anna Politkovskaya an intrepid reporter shot while coming home with an arm full of groceries, and too many others. Often in these killings there is a veil of plausible deniability, gunmen show up in the dark and slip away into the shadows, but Sergei, in inhuman conditions managed to document in 450 complaints exactly who bears responsibility for his false arrest and death. We must honor his heroic sacrifice and do all we can to learn from this tragedy that others may not share his fate. Few are made in the mold of Sergei Magnitsky – able to withstand barbaric depravations and cruelty without breaking and certainly none of us would want to be put to such a test. For those corrupt officials who abuse their office, Sergei’s life stands as a rebuke to what is left of their consciences. To those who suffer unjustly, Sergei’s experience can be a reminder to draw strength from and to know that they are not completely alone in their struggle. In closing, I wish to address those prominent Russian human rights defenders who just a couple weeks ago appealed to our government and to European leaders to adopt the sanctions I called for in my April letter to Secretary Clinton. You are the conscience of Russia and we have heard your plea. You are not alone, and while you and your fellow citizens must do the heavy-lifting at home, I assure you that “human rights” are not empty words for this body and for my government. I urge my colleagues to support this bill. Thank you, Mr. President.

  • U.S. Lawmakers Push Visa Sanctions in Russian Case

    More than 60 Russians linked to the death of an anti-corruption lawyer would be barred from the United States and its financial markets under a bill introduced in the Congress on Wednesday. The measure says that sanctions would be lifted only after Russia brings to justice those responsible for the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for what was once Russia's top equity fund, Hermitage. But the bill, introduced by Senator Benjamin Cardin and Representative James McGovern, both Democrats, faces a steep climb to get passed before Congress completes its work for the year. Human rights activists charge that Russian authorities subjected Magnitsky to conditions amounting to torture in a failed bid to force him to testify in their favor in a battle with Hermitage over a $234 million tax fraud scheme. Magnitsky died after being repeatedly denied medical treatment in pre-trial detention. He had accused Russian officials of stealing the millions of tax dollars paid by his client. A Democratic aide said the bill has drawn bipartisan interest and lawmakers might get to it when they return to Washington after the November 2 congressional election for what is expected to be a final few weeks of work. "Nearly a year after Sergei's death, the leading figures in this scheme remain in power in Russia," said Cardin, who also chairs the human rights monitoring U.S. Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency. "If we expect any measure of justice in this case, we must act in the United States," said Cardin. "At the least, we can and should block these corrupt individuals from traveling and investing their ill-gotten money in our country."

  • Opening a Second Front

    The death in prison of Sergei Magnitsky, a young Russian lawyer, remains one of the darkest scandals in the blotchy history of Russia's criminal justice system, exemplifying a culture of impunity in which power and wealth are fungible, and those who get in the way get squashed. Mr Magnitsky died of untreated pancreatis in pre-trial detention. He hadaccused Russian officials of stealing millions of tax dollars paid by his client, Hermitage Capital Management. Energetic lobbying by the head of Hermitage, the American-born financier Bill Browder, now seems to be getting somewhere. Two senior American lawmakers, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (a Democrat from Maryland), who is Chairman of the congressional Helsinki Commission and James P. McGovern (a Democratic congressman from Massachussetts), who chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, have introduced laws that would prohibit some 60-odd Russian officials linked to his death from visiting the United States, and freeze any assets they hold under American jurisdiction. (The Russian officials concerned have either made no public comment, or deny all wrongdoing). Mr Cardin said: “Nearly a year after Sergei’s death, the leading figures in this scheme remain in power in Russia. It has become clear that if we expect any measure of justice in this case, we must act in the United States...At the least we can and should block these corrupt individuals from traveling and investing their ill-gotten money in our country.” Mr McGovern said: “I have introduced the ‘Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2010’ in the House of Representatives as a direct consequence of the compelling testimony at a hearing on human rights in the Russian Federation in the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. The death of this courageous whistleblower in a Russian prison is the consequence of an abysmal prison system and corruption aimed at defrauding the Russian Treasury of billions. We know about Sergei Magnitsky, and we know about Mikhail Khodorkovsky, but how many more Magnitskys and Khodorkovskys are currently suffering in Russian prisons? My bill addresses the root causes of these severe human rights violations -- the Russian prison system and official corruption. We should not rest until justice is achieved in Sergei’s case, and the money is returned to its rightful owners -- the people of the Russian Federation."

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