Title

Politically-Motivated (In)Justice

Thursday, September 27, 2018
2:00pm
Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2261
Washington, DC
United States
The Extradition Case of Judge Venckiene
Members: 
Name: 
Rep. Randy Hultgren
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
U.S. Helsinki Commission
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Karolis Venckus
Title: 
Son of Judge Neringa Venckiene
Name: 
Dr. Vytautas Matulevicius
Title: 
Member of Lithuanian Parliament, Way of Courage Party (2012-2016)
Statement: 
Name: 
Abbe Jolles, Esq.
Title: 
International Human Rights Litigator, AJ Global Legal
Name: 
Professor Mary G. Leary
Title: 
Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law

Since 2008, Lithuanian judge and parliamentarian Neringa Venckiene has been seeking justice for her young niece, who was allegedly sexually molested by two Lithuanian government officials. Despite a court ruling that there was enough evidence to indict the child’s mother for facilitating the molestation, the niece was taken from Judge Venckiene and returned to the mother’s care, preventing the girl from testifying further in an ongoing trial against her alleged abusers. 

In 2013, Judge Venckiene fled Lithuania to seek political asylum in the United States, fearing retribution not only for her efforts to protect her niece but also for her leadership in a new anti-corruption political party.  Lithuanian prosecutors have charged Judge Venckiene with at least 35 crimes, ranging from petitioning the court on her niece’s behalf, to speaking to journalists about the case, to bruising an officer during her struggle to keep her niece from being returned to the accused mother.

Five years after arriving in the United States, Judge Venckiene’s political asylum case has still not been heard, but U.S. authorities are moving to extradite her under the U.S.-Lithuania extradition treaty for bruising the officer who was returning the girl to the accused mother during the trial.  The hearing explored the limits of extradition among allies, especially when charges appear politically motivated.

Witnesses discussed the evidence of political motivation, including statements made publicly by the recent Chairman of the Lithuanian Supreme Court calling Judge Venckiene “an abscess in the judicial and the political system,” and “the trouble of the whole state.” Several witnesses argued forcefully that these and other actions by Lithuanian authorities demonstrate blatant political motivation.  Dr. Vytautas Matulevicius, a member of the Seimas from 2012 to 2016 for the anti-corruption political party led by Judge Venckiene said, “...[T]he case of N. Venckienė itself can be regarded as a typical recurrence of the Soviet legal system—a person who talks too much about the crimes of influential people can be turned into a criminal herself.”  Human rights litigator Abbe Jolles calling Judge Venckiene’s extradition to a system with “no chance of a fair trial” a “likely death sentence.”

The hearing examined other lenses through which to view the legal case for extradition. Law Professor Mary Leary explored the definitions of human trafficking established by Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-386) and by the Palermo Protocol. She advised that [as has been alleged], “if evidence exists that the abusers provided financial and other benefits to the mother of the child victim, this child sexual abuse could also implicate child sex trafficking.”   

Concerns were also raised about the humanitarian standards of the Lithuanian prison system. As Ms. Jolles noted, several countries have previously refused Lithuanian extradition requests over concerns of unacceptable conditions and the possibility of torture.  In addition, the United States cited Lithuania in a 2017 report for prison conditions below international standards.

The litany of charges against Judge Venckiene that have been added and subtracted was also considered. In particular, the legitimacy of the charge of assaulting a police officer during the seizure of her niece was questioned.  It remains unclear why Lithuanian prosecutors did not arrest Judge Venckiene while she was living in Lithuania for a year after the alleged assault, or why they would have allowed an alleged felon to immigrate to the United States and reside there for over two years before eventually filing for her extradition.  This, again, suggested the possibility of political motivation behind the charges.

The Government of Lithuania was invited to participate in the hearing, or to suggest a witness to represent its perspective, but declined. Instead, the Embassy of Lithuania provided a written statement.

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    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has issued the following statement in response to the Trump Administration’s approval of lethal arms sales to Ukraine: “The President’s decision is a good first step to give the Ukrainian people the means to defend themselves. ‎The best way to stop Russian aggression is to deter it. I am hopeful that approval will also be given to future sales of anti-tank weapons and other heavy arms.” The decision by the Department of State was reported as the fighting in eastern Ukraine has sharply escalated to levels not seen in months, following Russian unilateral withdrawal from a coordination mechanism critical to prior de-escalations and local ceasefires. The conditions of civilians in Eastern Ukraine was the focus of a November 30 Helsinki Commission briefing featuring a senior OSCE monitor.

  • Chairman Wicker Welcomes First-Ever Global Magnitsky Sanctions List

    WASHINGTON—Following today’s announcement of the first 52 individuals and entities sanctioned under the “Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act,” Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following statement: “I welcome the Administration’s announcement of the first-ever sanctions list under the ‘Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.’  This groundbreaking tool for combating human rights abuses and corruption around the world is especially relevant in parts of the OSCE region, where in many countries, corruption is met only with impunity. The United States can now hold individuals like Artem Chayka, Albert Deboutte, and Gulnara Karimova accountable for their roles in sustaining kleptocratic regimes. I am hopeful that the Administration will continue to review and build upon this new list to make it as tough and meaningful as possible.” The “Global Magnitsky Act,” which was passed in 2016, extends the authorities established by the original Magnitsky Act to include the worst human rights violators and those who commit significant acts of corruption around the globe. Both pieces of legislation have served as a model to hold individual perpetrators accountable for human rights violations and combat kleptocracy and corruption worldwide.

  • The Magnitsky Act at Five

    In 2009, Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was brutally murdered in prison after uncovering the theft of $230 million by corrupt Russian officials. On December 14, 2012, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act was signed into law in the United States, establishing punitive sanctions – including financial freezes and visa restrictions – for those complicit in Magnitsky’s murder and other human rights abuses in the Russian Federation.  For the past five years, the Magnitsky Act has served as a basis for fighting corruption in Russia and the Putin regime’s systematic violations of the human rights of Russian citizens. On the fifth anniversary of the Magnitsky Act, the Helsinki Commission examined the implementation of the legislation, the resistance of the Russian government to it, and the impact of sanctions on senior members of Putin’s inner circle. The Commissioners heard testimony from William Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, Garry Kasparov, Chair of the Human Rights Foundation, and the Hon. Irwin Cotler, PC, OC, Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, began by recognizing the retirement of Amb. David Killion, Chief of Staff of the Commission since 2014, and thanking Amb. Killion for his service. Before introducing the witnesses, Sen. Wicker condemned the corruption plaguing the Russian government, and quoted the murdered Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who called the Magnitsky Act “the most pro-Russian law passed in the United States.” Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman of the Commission, criticized the Russian government’s response to the Magnitsky Act. He described the harm done to vulnerable Russian orphans by their government’s decision to ban American parents from adopting children from Russia. Mr. Smith also noted that he and many other Americans involved in the passage of the Magnitsky Act have since been denied visas to enter Russia. This response, he said, shows that the Magnitsky Act “struck right to the heart of the Kremlin’s elite.” Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), the Helsinki Commission’s ranking senator, praised the witnesses for their commitment to promoting human rights in Russia, and thanked the members of the Helsinki Commission and other members of Congress who played a role in the passage of the Magnitsky Act. Mr. Cardin also recognized the passage of Magnitsky legislation in Canada, Estonia, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom, and recalled the power of American leadership on human rights, noting that, “when we lead, we find that other countries follow.” William Browder, the first witness to testify, recalled the historic nature of the Magnitsky Act. “On the day it passed, I could never have predicted how far the Magnitsky Act would spread around the world,” he said. “Without exaggeration, it has become the most important piece of human rights legislation passed in this century.” He also called attention to the future of the Magnitsky movement, noting that the parliaments of Ukraine, South Africa, and Gibraltar are considering introducing similar legislation. In closing, Mr. Browder presented several suggestions to the Commission, including adding additional names to the list of sanctioned individuals, and encouraging other G7 countries to adopt Magnitsky legislation. Garry Kasparov reiterated that the targeted sanctions imposed by the Magnitsky Act only apply to corrupt officials, and not the Russian people. “Russian national interest and Putin’s interests are diametrically opposed in nearly every way,” he said. “This is why legislation that targets Putin and his mafia is pro-Russian, not anti-Russia.” Mr. Kasparov observed that the Kremlin’s reaction proved the worth of the Magnitsky Act, and that, “it is essential to increase the pressure, to continue with what works now that the right path has been confirmed.”  At the conclusion of his testimony, Kasparov observed that “Putin and his gang . . . aren’t jihadists or ideologues, they are billionaires. . . .  Follow the money, the real estate, the stock and reveal it, freeze it, so that one day it can be returned to the Russian people from whom it was looted.”  More succinctly in a follow-up question, he quipped, “Banks, not tanks.” Irwin Cotler gave an overview of the passage of the Canadian Magnitsky Act, and described the goals of the global Magnitsky movement. The aim of Magnitsky legislation is “to combat the persistent and pervasive culture of corruption, criminality, and impunity and the externalized aggression abroad, of which Putin’s Russia is a case study” and “to deter thereby other prospective violators,” he said. Passing such legislation also “tells human rights defenders, the Magnitskys of today, that they are not alone, that we stand in solidarity with them, that we will not relent in our pursuit of justice for them, and that we will undertake our international responsibilities in the pursuit of justice.”

  • OSCE Adopts Child Trafficking Ministerial Decision Modeled on Initiative of Co-Chairman Smith

    WASHINGTON—On December 8, the OSCE concluded its annual meeting of the Foreign Ministers of 57 OSCE participating States by adopting a ministerial decision on combatting child trafficking—modeled on OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) resolutions adopted in 2016 and 2017, authored by Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04).  Rep. Smith is the Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues in the OSCE PA. Entitled “Strengthening Efforts to Combat All Forms of Child Trafficking, Including for Sexual Exploitation, as well as Other Forms of Sexual Exploitation of Children,” the decision provides practical steps for participating States to protect children from traveling sex offenders, and from misuse of the internet for child trafficking and other sexual exploitation.  “Traveling sex offenders rely on secrecy and anonymity to commit crimes against children; the new decision will deter the sexual exploitation of children at home and abroad, and aid in the prosecution of child sex traffickers,” said Smith. The decision calls on each of the OSCE participating States to keep a register of individuals who have committed sex offenses against a child, and to share that information with the law enforcement in destination countries—which would give the United States warning of foreign sex offenders entering U.S. borders.  The decision also calls on OSCE participating States to enact extra-territorial jurisdiction in order to “prosecute their citizens for serious sexual crimes against children, even if these crimes are committed in another country.”   “Some believe the laws of a destination country allow sexual exploitation of a child, or rely on the fact that the judicial system in the destination country is weak,” Smith continued.  “The Ministerial decision underscores the universal human rights of the child to be protected from sexual exploitation and calls for participating States to put all abusers on notice—they will be prosecuted when they return home.”  In addition, the Ministerial decision echoes the Parliamentary Assembly resolutions by calling for accountability of those who misuse the Internet to knowingly or recklessly facilitate access to children for sexual exploitation or child trafficking—such as by advertising children on websites—highlighting that such individuals should be prosecuted as traffickers. “With this binding decision, the foreign ministries of the 57 OSCE participating States stand united with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to protect children from trafficking and other sexual exploitation across the OSCE region,” said Smith. Smith first raised the issue of human trafficking at the 1999 OSCE PA Annual Session in St. Petersburg, the first time it appeared on the OSCE agenda. Since then, he has introduced or cosponsored a supplementary item and/or amendments on trafficking at each annual session of the OSCE PA, including on issues such as sex tourism prevention, training of the transportation sector in victim identification and reporting, corporate responsibility for trafficking in supply chains, and special protections for vulnerable populations. In addition to authoring the 2016 International Megan’s Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders, he authored the landmark U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its 2003 and 2005 reauthorizations. Chairman Smith co-chairs the United States Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus.

  • Combating Kleptocracy with the Global Magnitsky Act

    In 2016, Congress passed the Global Magnitsky Act, which seeks to prohibit the worst foreign human rights offenders and most corrupt officials operating anywhere in the world from entering into the United States and to block their U.S. assets. This law requires that each year on December 10 (Human Rights Day), or the first day Congress is in session thereafter, the President submit a report to Congress that includes a list of each foreign person sanctioned under the law during the preceding year. The anti-corruption provisions are of particular interest given how wide-ranging and unprecedented they are as a tool to combat kleptocracy. While combating corruption has traditionally focused on internal reforms and best practices, the Global Magnitsky Act enables the United States to target those individuals who steal from their populations and abuse the global financial system as well as those who facilitate their grand corruption. This briefing provided an overview of the scourge of corruption in the OSCE region and how the Global Magnitsky Act can be employed to combat it. It included a discussion of the types of individuals and groups that should come under consideration for placement on the sanctions list and the ramifications of any such placement.

  • The International Tribunal and Beyond: Pursuing Justice for Atrocities in the Western Balkans

    Between 1991 and 2001 the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, made up of six republics, was broken apart by a series of brutal armed conflicts. The conflicts were characterized by widespread and flagrant violations of international humanitarian law, among them mass killings of civilians, the massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women, torture, and practices of ethnic cleansing, including forced displacement. In 1992 the U.N. established a Commission of Experts that documented the horrific crimes on the ground and led to the 1993 creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). This month, after more than two decades of persistent, ground-breaking efforts to prosecute the individuals responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in the former Yugoslavia, the ICTY is concluding its work. As it prepares to close its doors, this briefing will assess the tribunal’s achievements and limitations, and most importantly, what still needs to be done by the countries of the region to seek justice in outstanding cases, bring greater closure to victims, and foster greater reconciliation among peoples. Panelists discussed these questions and suggested ways that the United States, Europe, and the international community as a whole can encourage the further pursuit of justice in the Western Balkans.

  • The Legacy of Sergei Magnitsky

    By Woody Atwood, Intern In 2008, a Russian tax lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky representing Hermitage Capital Management in a dispute over alleged tax evasion discovered a $230 million fraud being committed by Russian law enforcement officers assigned to the case. Magnitsky reported the fraud to the authorities and was arrested soon after by the same officers he had accused. For almost a year, Magnitsky was held in squalid prison conditions, denied visits from his family, and beaten by guards. Despite developing serious cases of gallstones, pancreatitis, and cholecystitis, he was denied medical attention. On November 16, 2009, Sergei Magnitsky was beaten to death in his cell. He had been imprisoned for 358 days, just seven days short of the maximum legal pre-trial detention period in Russia. A year later, Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), then Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, introduced the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act, directing the U.S. Secretary of State to publish a list of individuals involved in Sergei’s detention and death, and enabling the government to deny these individuals entry to the United States and freeze their American assets. The bill was reintroduced in the next Congress as the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. This version covered all individual who commit extrajudicial killings, torture or otherwise egregiously violate the human rights of activists or whistleblowers in Russia. Both houses of Congress passed the new bill in late 2012 as part of the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. On December 14, 2012, President Obama signed the Magnitsky Act into law, establishing severe consequences for the worst human rights violators in Russia. Just weeks after the passage of the Magnitsky Act, the Russian parliament and government responded by passing a law banning American families from adopting children from Russia. The law immediately terminated adoptions that were being processed, and many children, including children with serious disabilities, who were due to leave Russia were never able to join their American families. In 2013, the Russian government also issued a list of 18 American officials banned from entering Russia. In 2015, Sen. Cardin and Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), who was then chairing the Helsinki Commission, introduced the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to expand the authorities established by the original Magnitsky Act to include the worst human rights violators and those who commit significant acts of corruption around the world. The legislation required the President to annually issue a list of individuals sanctioned under it on Human Rights Day (December 10) or the soonest day thereafter when the full Congress is in session. The global version was passed in December 2016 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. The story of Sergei Magnitsky and the actions of the U.S. Congress have sparked a global movement to hold individual perpetrators accountable for their human rights violations and corruption. In the last year, Estonia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Lithuania have all passed their own Magnitsky laws. In honor of Human Rights Day and the fifth anniversary of the Magnitsky Act, and to correspond to the deadline for the annual Global Magnitsky List, the U.S. Helsinki Commission is holding two events related to the legacy of Sergei Magnitsky. On Wednesday, December 13, at 3:00PM Commission staff will lead a public briefing on “Combating Kleptocracy with the Global Magnitsky Act,” and on Thursday, December 14, Commissioners will hear testimony on “The Magnitsky Act at Five: Assessing Accomplishments and Challenges.”

  • International Anti-Corruption Day 2017: Curtailing Kleptocracy

    By Paul Massaro, Policy Advisor and John Engelken, Intern On Saturday, December 9, the Helsinki Commission joins the United Nations and many others in recognizing International Anti-Corruption Day, which is of particular importance today given the ease with which illicit financial flows traverse national borders. International Anti-Corruption Day was established as part of the UN’s passage of the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which was adopted on October 31, 2003. This legally binding international agreement focuses on five key areas of anti-corruption policy: preventive measures, criminalization and law enforcement, international cooperation, asset recovery, and technical assistance and information exchange. Given corruption’s global nature, disproportionate victimization of economically vulnerable communities, and corrosion of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, participating in anti-corruption efforts worldwide is a central responsibility of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the U.S. Helsinki Commission. No form of corruption is so insidious as kleptocracy, or “rule by thieves.” Kleptocrats abuse the global financial system, moving massive wealth from their home countries to nations where the rule of law is more established; they then use these ill-gotten funds to finance crime and terrorism, fund extravagant lifestyles, and corrode political institutions from the inside out. The frequency with which kleptocratic regimes engage in corrupt activity and money-laundering to maintain political power and accumulate material wealth emphasizes the need for governments and international bodies to coordinate more closely and step up their work to root out corruption. It also emphasizes the need for countries where the rule of law is respected to adopt reforms that make it more difficult for kleptocrats to abuse their legal and financial frameworks. Encompassing a region that contains both corrupt kleptocracies that steal state and business assets and rule-of-law democracies in which those stolen assets are hidden, the OSCE is uniquely situated to confront the problem of corruption, and has taken on a number of commitments to do just that. In particular, the 2012 Dublin Declaration and the 2014 Basel Decision contain language calling for domestic reforms consistent with the rule of law and political transparency initiatives, in tandem with more concerted anti-corruption efforts. In addition, these texts contain commitments to combat the transnational money-laundering that makes grand corruption possible and encourage private firms to play a greater role in identifying and countering corruption. The U.S. Helsinki Commission regularly highlights the problem of corruption through public events, publications, and statements. In 2017 alone, the Commission has held four briefings on the issue – Countering Corruption in the OSCE Region: Returning Ill-Gotten Assets and Closing Safe Havens; Energy (In)Security in Russia’s Periphery; Kleptocrats of the Kremlin: Ties Between Business and Power in Russia; and Ukraine’s Fight against Corruption – as well as two Congressional hearings, The Romanian Anti-Corruption Process: Successes and Excesses and Combating Kleptocracy With Incorporation Transparency. In addition, the Commission has published two short thematic articles, Russia’s Weaponization of Corruption (And Western Complicity) and Beyond Pipelines: Breaking Russia’s Grip on Post-Soviet Energy Security, as well as a brief overview of corruption in Russia and an in-depth report on Ukraine’s fight against corruption. Finally, the Commission’s Chairman, Senator Roger Wicker, recently made a statement regarding Ukraine’s fight against corruption. On International Anti-Corruption Day, the Helsinki Commission remains committed to doing its part in the fight against corruption and applauds the efforts of other national, international, and non-governmental organizations doing the same.  

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