Title

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

Senators
Cardin and McCain
Washington, DC
United States
Thursday, May 26, 2011

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 Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.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.

 

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    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “TURKEY: HUMAN RIGHTS IN RETREAT” Friday, December 9, 2016 2:00 PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2255 Respect for human rights in Turkey has declined dramatically since the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Though the international community agrees that the Turkish government has the right to pursue justice against those who sought to overthrow it, Ankara’s reaction to the coup attempt has swept aside international human rights standards. Five months after the coup attempt, the Turkish government maintains sweeping state of emergency decrees, shuttering educational institutions, civic associations, and media organizations and arresting, suspending, or firing tens of thousands of people alleged to have conspired with the coup plotters, oftentimes with little to no credible documentation. These measures, along with dramatic changes to the country’s judicial system and further changes planned to the country’s constitution, are transforming Turkish society and raising serious questions about the future of Turkish democracy. Panelists will review the ongoing crackdown in Turkey; discuss the broad authority the government enjoys under the state of emergency; raise areas of concern regarding human rights and rule of law; and evaluate the implications of these developments for Turkish institutions and society. The discussion will also focus on policy options for the incoming U.S. Administration and U.S. Congress to consider when shaping relations with Turkey in coming years. The following experts are scheduled to participate: Dr. Y. Alp Aslandogan, Executive Director, Alliance for Shared Values Dr. Nicholas Danforth, Senior Policy Analyst, Bipartisan Policy Center Dr. Karin Karlekar, Director, Free Expression at Risk Program, PEN America Additional panelists may be added.

  • Baltic Security Focus of Upcoming Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “BALTIC SECURITY AFTER THE WARSAW NATO SUMMIT” Wednesday, December 7, 2016 2:00 PM Cannon House Office Building Room 340 The Baltic States are on the front lines of Moscow’s demonstrated willingness to use force to change borders in its neighborhood. In recent years Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have been subject to a series of provocations and threats from their Russian neighbor, stoking fears of potential aggression in the region. Many have questioned NATO’s ability and willingness to defend the Baltics from Russian aggression, even after the Alliance decided at the July 2016 Warsaw Summit to deploy four international battalions to the region, in conjunction with a significant commitment of U.S. forces and equipment. Speakers will review Russian actions vis-à-vis the Baltic States; evaluate the multifaceted threats to the region; and assess ongoing national, regional, and Alliance responses. They will also offer their ideas on how the new U.S. Administration should approach the region. The following experts are scheduled to participate: Michael Johnson, Senior Defense Research Analyst, RAND Corporation Magnus Nordenman, Director, Transatlantic Security Initiative, Deputy Director, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Atlantic Council of the United States Karl Altau, Managing Director, Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc.

  • Nuclear Pollution in the Arctic: the Next Chernobyl?

    For decades, certain nations have been dumping nuclear waste and radioactive material in the Arctic. The extent of this contaminated waste has only come to light in recent years, and some experts fear there could be severe consequences if the waste is not swiftly handled and removed. This briefing sought to explore the magnitude of the problem and present recommendations for what the U.S. and the international community can do moving forward. The briefing participants offered diverse subject-area expertise, coming from backgrounds of Arctic environment, U.S. policy, and broader geopolitics. Nils Bøhmer, a Norwegian nuclear physicist, started the briefing off with an educated overview of past and current Russian nuclear activity in the Arctic. Next, Julia Gourley brought attention to some Arctic Council programs addressing environmental and health issues in the Arctic. Finally, Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen discussed nuclear-waste management, the current state of Arctic geopolitics, and offered models for nuclear-waste governance.  The discussion was productive and all of the participants encouraged further U.S. engagement on this issue.

  • Ongoing Human Rights and Security Violations in Russian-Occupied Crimea

    In Russia’s ongoing illegal occupation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, occupying authorities persistently and egregiously violate the human rights of those perceived to oppose Russian annexation of this Ukrainian territory, especially Crimean Tatars.  At the same time, with Russia’s militarization of the peninsula, the security situation in the surrounding Black Sea region is becoming increasingly perilous. The situation in Crimea is bleak, and continues to deteriorate both from a democracy and human rights viewpoint, as well as a security standpoint.  The experts at this briefing examined the current state of affairs in the region in the face of Russian aggression, analyzed the response of the international community, and discussed how – 40 years after the Ukrainian Helsinki Monitoring Group was formed to monitor the Soviet Government’s compliance with the Helsinki Final Act – Ukrainians continue to defend Helsinki principles in the face of violations by Moscow. Helsinki Commission staff member Orest Deychakiwsky opened the briefing with a brief introduction on the current situation in Crimea. Mr. Deychakiwsky noted that this important briefing took place on the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Helsinki Monitoring Group in November of 1976. Ms. Shulyar and Mr. Berezovets both spoke on the illegality of the Russian occupation of Crimea and the flagrant human rights violations that have been perpetrated by Russian forces against the people of Crimea. Ambassador Herbst then spoke on the political and security challenges facing the West in regards to the situation in Crimea. Finally, Mr. Goble spoke on the challenges to the international system that Putin’s aggression in Crimea and Ukraine represents. All participants stressed the necessity for continued U.S. involvement in Ukraine to counter Russian aggression and to uphold the principles of the OSCE. 

  • Helsinki Commission to Examine Threat Posed by Nuclear Pollution in the Arctic

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “Nuclear Pollution in the Arctic: the Next Chernobyl?” Tuesday, November 15, 2016 3:30 PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2325 For decades, certain nations have used the Arctic as a dumping ground for unwanted nuclear waste. Experts estimate that nuclear contamination in the Artic includes tens of thousands of containers of nuclear waste, in addition to dozens of radioactive ships, reactors, pieces of machinery, and submarines. If this waste is not expeditiously removed from the Arctic, what could be the consequences for human health, commercial interests, and wildlife in the region and beyond? This briefing will examine the policy of the United States, the Russian Federation, and other Arctic Council nations toward the Arctic. Experts will present a general overview of U.S. and international policy in the Arctic, the broader geopolitics of the region, and the imminent threat posed by nuclear pollution. The following experts are scheduled to participate: Nils Bøhmer, Managing Director, Bellona Foundation Julia Gourley, U.S. Senior Arctic Official, Department of State Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, Visiting Fellow, Europe Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies

  • Human Rights, Military Security in Crimea under the Microscope at Upcoming Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: Ongoing Human Rights and Security Violations in Russian-Occupied Crimea Thursday, November 10, 2016 2:00 PM Rayburn House Office Building Room B-318 In Russia’s ongoing illegal occupation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea, occupying authorities persistently and egregiously violate the human rights of those perceived to oppose Russian annexation of this Ukrainian territory, especially Crimean Tatars.  At the same time, with Russia’s militarization of the peninsula, the security situation in the surrounding Black Sea region is becoming increasingly perilous. The briefing will examine the current state of affairs in the region in the face of Russian aggression, analyze the response of the international community, and discuss how – 40 years after the Ukrainian Helsinki Monitoring Group was formed to  monitor the Soviet Government’s compliance with the Helsinki Final Act – Ukrainians continue to defend Helsinki principles in the face of violations by Moscow. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Oksana Shulyar, Embassy of Ukraine to the United States John E. Herbst, Director, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council; former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine   Paul A. Goble, Editor, Windows on Eurasia; Professor, The Institute of World Politics Taras Berezovets, Founder, Free-Crimea Project, Kyiv, Ukraine

  • Bipartisan Legislation to Bring Back Convicted Criminals Abroad Passes Subcommittee

    WASHINGTON—A bill that strengthens the ability of the United States to secure extradition of wanted fugitives and bring them home to face justice, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Global Human Rights and International Organizations, today cleared a first and important hurdle and was adopted by the Subcommittee. The bill has 20 bipartisan co-sponsors—10 Republicans and 10 Democrats—and has now been referred to the full Committee for consideration. The Walter Patterson and Werner Foerster Justice and Extradition Act (H.R. 2189) is named after the innocent victims of two of the most infamous criminals in modern U.S. history—both of whom live openly abroad. It requires the President to provide Congress with an annual study on important aspects of U.S. extradition policy, assisting Congress as it takes action to address outstanding issues in the extradition system. Currently the President’s management of the extradition system is largely opaque to congressional oversight and hence resistant to reform—H.R. 2189 takes a big step toward changing that. “In many cases around the world, efforts to extradite convicted criminals have simply stalled, leaving surviving families without closure and our efforts to seek justice in limbo,” said Smith. “Instead of continuing to allow violent criminals to live openly abroad—apparently outside of our government’s reach—we must strengthen the Executive Branch’s ability to take action to successfully resolve extradition cases. That the murderers of Walter Patterson and Werner Foerster live openly abroad is an ongoing offense against the surviving family members of the men they murdered.” Walter Patterson was brutally killed in the course of a robbery by George Wright, who was convicted of murder, escaped prison, allegedly hijacked a commercial jetliner, and disappeared, only to be found living openly in Portugal, which  has denied extradition. Werner Foerster was a New Jersey state trooper shot during a routine traffic stop by terrorist Joanne Chesimard, who was convicted of murder, escaped prison, and made her way to Cuba, where she lives as a guest of the Cuban government—along with other fugitives the Cuban government refuses to return to the U.S. Smith is one of the foremost voices in the fight to return escaped fugitives to face U.S. justice. Since the discovery of George Wright in Portugal in 2012, he has held several meetings with and written to Portuguese government officials and corresponded with the Department of Justice on their efforts to secure the return of fugitives. In 2012, he chaired a hearing entitled “Justice in the International Extradition System: The Case of George Wright and Beyond.” H.R. 2189 enjoys the support of a diverse coalition of advocacy organizations, including Concerns of Police Survivors, the National Association of Police Organizations, the National Organization for Victim Assistance, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the American Bail Coalition.

  • Moldova at a Crossroads

    Twenty-five years after its independence, Moldova is at a crossroads as it prepares for presidential elections scheduled for October 30. While it seeks to overcome significant internal challenges, the country is also squarely in the crosshairs of Russian destabilization efforts intended to maintain Moscow’s influence and strike at the foundation of Moldovan democracy. The experts at this briefing offered valuable insight on the significant internal and external challenges Moldova faces as it approaches presidential elections in October 2016. The speakers addressed continued threats to Moldovan territorial integrity and sovereignty; hostile Russian actions including disinformation campaigns, an economic blockade, and threatening rhetoric; and the roles of the Moldovan government and external actors, including the OSCE, in addressing Moldovan vulnerabilities. Commissioner Rep. Joe Pitts (PA-16) opened the briefing with a statement on Moldova and the Transnistrian conflict, as he has been deeply interested and engaged in Moldova throughout his career.  Witnesses Ambassador William Hill and Matthew Rojansky then discussed Moldova's internal and external challenges in greater depth. As a veteran diplomat in Moldova and the region, Ambassador William Hill assigned an absence of rule of law as Moldova’s central challenge. Mr. Rojansky, a renowned scholar on this subject, offered historical perspective on Russia’s objectives in maintaining instability in neighboring countries like Moldova. Before beginning audience Q&A, the event also welcomed comments from Tatiana Solomon, Chargé d’Affaires ad interim of the Moldovan Embassy, who thanked the witnesses and the Helsinki Commission for engagement on the issues discussed. All participants encouraged U.S. support for Moldova and the region as it works towards a stable, democratic, and prosperous future.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Examine Challenges to Moldovan Security, Including Russian Destabilization Efforts

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “Moldova at a Crossroads” Thursday, September 22, 2016 4:00 PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2456 Twenty-five years after its independence, Moldova is at a crossroads as it prepares for presidential elections scheduled for October 30. While it seeks to overcome significant internal challenges, the country is also squarely in the crosshairs of Russian destabilization efforts intended to maintain Moscow’s influence and strike at the foundation of Moldovan democracy. Speakers will address continued threats to Moldovan territorial integrity and sovereignty; hostile Russian actions including disinformation campaigns, an economic blockade, and threatening rhetoric; and the roles of the Moldovan government and external actors, including the OSCE, in addressing Moldovan vulnerabilities. The following experts are scheduled to participate: Ambassador William Hill, National War College, National Defense University Matthew Rojansky, Director, Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson Center

  • Helsinki Commission Honored for Work on Ukraine

    At yesterday’s 2016 Ukraine in Washington forum, the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation recognized the Helsinki Commission for four decades of support for Ukraine and Ukrainian dissidents. “Long before Ukraine’s independence and the formation of the House and Senate Ukraine Caucuses, we must remember there was the Congressional Helsinki Commission,” said Robert McConnell, co-founder of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation. “It was doing everything possible to shine international klieg lights on Ukraine’s human rights issues, from its political prisoners to the illegality of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.”  The Helsinki Commission has a long history of supporting Ukrainians’ aspirations for human rights and democracy, even prior to independence when Ukraine – the largest non-Russian republic in the Soviet Union – was viewed as a particular threat to Moscow’s rule. Since 1991, the Commission has been a strong supporter of the development of an independent, secure, democratic Ukraine. The Commission was instrumental in introducing and ensuring passage of the original resolution calling for the U.S. to recognize Ukraine’s independence in the face of State Department opposition.  In the intervening 25 years, Helsinki Commission hearings, briefings, and other activities have highlighted issues including Chornobyl; the state of democracy and rule of law; the political situation in Ukraine; elections; and – more recently – Russia’s war against Ukraine and human rights violations in Crimea and the occupied territories of the Donbas.  “We know the Ukrainian people want freedom and democracy, whether it be in Crimea or other parts of the country,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Christopher Smith (NJ-04). “Yet we find again that this persistent aggression by the Russians—which is reminiscent of Soviet times—continues to make the freedom, democracy, and prosperity that the people so richly deserve that much harder to achieve.” (View video.) Commissioners have also played an active role in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on Ukraine, especially in condemning Russia’s aggression and violation of all core OSCE principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act. Commission leadership has led several Congressional delegations to Ukraine, including three since Russia’s invasion, and the Commission has observed virtually every national election in Ukraine since 1990. “The Helsinki Commission’s efforts then and now must never be forgotten as they were – though often like cries in the wilderness – critically important in keeping the truth of Ukraine alive and in providing a rallying point for so many efforts that eventually helped Ukraine shed the Kremlin’s shackles,” McConnell said. “The Helsinki Commission for decades was like a beacon of hope. It was an outside promise for the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and a critical source of support for Ukrainian-Americans and so many others as they persevered in their quest for freedom against what seemed like insurmountable odds.”

  • It’s Time for the United States to Act on Azerbaijan

    David J. Kramer is senior director for human rights and democracy at the McCain Institute for International Leadership and a former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. Richard Kauzlarich is an adjunct professor at George Mason University and former U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan and to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Earlier this year, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan looked like he was softening his authoritarian grip on his country. In March, he released 14 political prisoners ahead of his visit to Washington for President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit. Even the harsh anti-American rhetoric from Azerbaijani officials and regime media seemed to subside. While in Washington, Aliyev had sit-downs with Vice President Biden and Secretary of State John F. Kerry. But since the April summit, Aliyev’s regime has intensified its crackdowns on freedoms. Azerbaijan’s rapid, dangerous deterioration demands more decisive action from the United States, yet the Obama administration has remained largely silent. The government in Baku has increased its arrests and detentions of another dozen opposition figures, peaceful religious believers and civil society activists. Nearly 100 political prisoners are languishing in the country’s jails. Azerbaijani writer Akram Aylisli was detained at the national airport and prevented from leaving the country. Faig Amirli, financial director of Azadliq newspaper and assistant to the chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, was arrested last month. Other opposition politicians arrested in August include Natiq Jafarli,  executive secretary of the REAL movement, and NIDA civic movement activist Elgiz Qahraman. The situation on the ground may get even worse. On Sept. 26, Aliyev’s regime plans to force a referendum which aims to enhance his powers. The result of the referendum is already known; we can be sure that the government will ensure its approval. That means that Aliyev can extend his term from five to seven years, create new positions of vice president (to which he might name a member of his family) and lower the age for members of parliament — opening the door for his son Heydar to be elected. It would not be a surprise if elections were called early under the new constitution to ratify these authoritarian steps. Quiet diplomacy, we are told, is the only way to protect American interests in Azerbaijan. Along with its strategic location on the Caspian Sea between Russia and Iran, the country of 8 million is rich in oil and gas resources, and plays a role as a national security ally to the United States. No American interests are served if Azerbaijan’s increasing authoritarianism explodes into a political and social crisis. Moreover, Azerbaijan is following in the footsteps of Vladimir Putin’s media tactics in Russia by increasingly  painting the United States as the enemy. An editorial in the state-approved media outlet, Haqqin, accused the United States of “losing” Azerbaijan, “driving it into a corner” and “neglecting a valuable partnership” with Baku. The editorial warned that Azerbaijan will be left with no option but to establish closer relations with its immediate neighbors, Iran and Russia. Aliyev’s supporters have pointed to the failed Turkey coup and have accused the United States of supporting opposition forces not only to spoil the upcoming referendum — but to plot a coup in Azerbaijan. Aside from legislation introduced by Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) last December and the cries of activists and human rights groups, Azerbaijan has received a free pass from the Obama administration. Rarely do either the U.S. Embassy in Baku or the State Department in Washington speak out against human rights abuses. Even the 2014 raid on U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the arrest of one of its journalists, Khadija Ismayilova, triggered a mild response from Washington. Ismayilova was released from prison earlier this year but has been refused permission to travel outside the country. RFE/RL  is still barred from operating in Azerbaijan, as are most American nongovernmental organizations. In the past, we have called for sanctions — asset freezes and visa bans — against Azerbaijani officials involved in and responsible for gross human rights abuses, similar to the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law and Accountability Act for Russia. President Obama doesn’t need new legislation to take such measures; he can do so under existing presidential authorities. Beyond that, we should withhold U.S. support for International Monetary Fund and World Bank assistance should Azerbaijan request it amid its deteriorating economic situation and end Overseas Private Investment Corporation and Export-Import Bank lending to Azerbaijan. The United States should consider recalling our ambassador for extended consultations over human rights concerns as well as the rising anti-American rhetoric of Azerbaijan officials and government-sanctioned media. We also need to get the Europeans on board with similar measures. These steps should be taken unless and until all the political prisoners are released and the referendum enhancing Aliyev’s powers is voided. Letting Azerbaijan follow through on its threat to form closer ties with Moscow and Tehran without balance from the United States may be a necessary, albeit unpleasant, learning experience for the regime in Baku. The problem in Azerbaijan is not that Aliyev has too little power; it is that he exercises the power he has in the wrong ways against innocent people.  America’s silence as the situation on the ground worsens risks making us accomplices to a looming human rights disaster in Azerbaijan.

  • President Erdogan's Assault on the Human Rights of the Turkish People

    Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I rise to remind our government that the human rights abuses committed by Turkish President Erdogan are grave and ongoing, and to distinguish between the Turkish president and the Turkish people--and to stand with the people. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has in recent years been aggressively violating the human rights of Turkish citizens and undermining the rule of law, in order to root out dissent and consolidate his personal power. The freedom of the press and the rights of common citizens to run schools, businesses, and volunteer associations have come under direct threat. Since assuming the presidency two years ago, President Erdogan has undermined the independence of the judiciary, jeopardizing access to a fair trial and undercutting government accountability. In 2014, he worked to stack the country's High Council of Judges and Prosecutors with party loyalists, enabling his government to ease arrest procedures and curtail opportunities for appeal. This facilitated the detention of thousands of activists, journalists, and businessmen under the country's overbroad terrorism statute. The President has exploited his growing leverage over the courts: his government's reshuffling last month of 3,700 judges and prosecutors rewarded pliant members of the judiciary while punishing others who ruled against the government or heard cases involving official corruption. A law passed earlier this month dismissed most of the judges on Turkey's highest courts, leaving it up to the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors to reappoint them or pick their successors. Mr. Speaker, in addition to undermining government institutions, President Erdogan's tightening grip on Turkey is also weakening the vitality of Turkish society. Under President Erdogan's direction, state authorities are undertaking a campaign of retribution against Erdogan's critics. Since Erdogan assumed the presidency in 2014, the government has opened nearly 2,000 cases against people suspected of “insulting the president” – a crime in Turkey. Professional journalists and major news outlets in particular have incurred the wrath of the President. For reporting that is unflattering to Erdogan, whether on national security issues, the conflict with the Kurds, or official corruption, press outlets have been charged with “supporting terrorism” or have had their entire operations taken over by government-appointed trustees. In one of the most egregious examples, Turkish authorities in March raided the offices of the nation's highest-circulation newspaper, Zaman, and overnight placed it under hand-picked, pro-government management. Mr. Speaker, President Erdogan has taken to politicizing the charge of “supporting terrorism”--undermining the serious business of fighting terrorism, one of the gravest threats faced by the Turkish people. One persistent critic of Erdogan's centralization agenda and authoritarian tendencies is Fethullah Gulen, the founder of Hizmet, a moderate, Islamic civic movement dedicated to promoting education, popular piety, and civic engagement. Because of this criticism, Hizmet and its followers have suffered wave after wave of unfounded terrorism charges and forcible government seizures of businesses, universities, and schools. In May, the Turkish Cabinet approved a decision to designate Hizmet a “terrorist organization,” guaranteeing that this campaign of political retribution will continue. Gulen's followers have been placed in the crosshairs of the very arbitrary policies they criticize. Yet neither our State Department, nor the European Union, nor any other respected body outside Turkey, has ever characterized Hizmet as a terrorist group or anything like it--the Cabinet's designation is absurd. Mr. Speaker, in recent months, the Turkish people have been struck by a wave of violent attacks perpetrated by Islamist and Kurdish terrorists--most recently, a triple-suicide attack at Istanbul's international airport by Islamist extremists killed 44 innocent civilians. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those maimed in these attacks, to all those who lost beloved family and friends. I am confident that the Turkish people--for centuries renowned for their bravery--will never be cowed by terrorists, and that they will equally resist President Erdogan's attempt to undermine their rights, laws, and freedoms. Our government should stand with the Turkish people on both fronts.

  • U.S. Delegation to OSCE PA Drives International Action against Human Trafficking, Discrimination, and Anti-Semitism

    WASHINGTON—Seven members of Congress traveled to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) Annual Session in Tbilisi, Georgia last week to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, including respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. At the Annual Session, which brought together nearly 300 parliamentarians from 54 of the 57 OSCE participating States, the U.S. lawmakers introduced several successful resolutions and amendments targeting current challenges facing the OSCE region, ranging from human trafficking to discrimination and anti-Semitism to the abuse of Interpol mechanisms to target political opponents and activists. The delegation included Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), Commissioner Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Commissioner Rep. Randy Hultgren (IL-14), Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-08), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), and Rep. David Schweikert (AZ-06). Rep. Aderholt currently serves as a vice-president of the OSCE PA, while Sen. Wicker was re-elected to a third term as chair of the OSCE PA Committee on Political Affairs and Security, also known as the First Committee, during the annual meeting. Chairman Smith led international lawmakers in battling international human trafficking and child sex tourism through a successful resolution calling on all OSCE participating States to raise awareness of sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism (SECTT), especially by convicted pedophiles, business travelers, and tourists. Chairman Smith, who serves as the OSCE PA Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues, also hosted a July 3 briefing on U.S. efforts to prevent SECTT through a new international reciprocal notification system – known as International Megan’s Law – that facilitates timely communications among law enforcement agencies. A second U.S. resolution, authored by OSCE PA Special Representative for Anti-Semitism, Racism and Intolerance and Helsinki Commission Ranking Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), called for action against the anti-Semitic and racist violence sweeping across North America and Europe. The resolution, which passed overwhelmingly, urged members of the OSCE to develop a plan of action to implement its long-standing body of tolerance and non-discrimination agreements, called for international efforts to address racial profiling, and offered support for increased efforts by political leaders to stem the tide of hate across the region. The resolution was fielded by Commissioner Hultgren. Chairman Smith also called on participating States to more effectively prevent and combat violence against European Jewish communities through the introduction of two amendments to the resolution of the OSCE PA General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions (also known as the Third Committee). His first amendment called for the explicit recognition of the increase in anti-Semitic attacks in the region, while the second encouraged participating States to formally recognize and partner with Jewish community groups. Responding the abuse of Interpol systems for politically motivated harassment by Russia and other members of the OSCE, Co-Chairman Wicker authored a successful amendment to the First Committee resolution, which called on participating States to stop the inappropriate placement of Red Notices and encouraged Interpol to implement mechanisms preventing politically motivated abuse of its legitimate services. The amendment was fielded by Rep. Hudson. During the Annual Session, members of the delegation also offered strong support for important resolutions fielded by other countries, including one by Ukraine on human rights in illegally occupied Crimea and another on the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. They voted for a highly relevant resolution on combating corruption fielded by Sweden, and helped to defeat a Russian resolution attacking the Baltic States, Poland and Ukraine in the context of combating neo-Nazism.  U.S. delegates indicated their support for the work of attending Azerbaijani human rights activists, and met with attending members of the Israeli Knesset.  While in Tbilisi, the group also met with several high-ranking Georgian officials, including Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili; Tedo Japaridze, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Parliament of Georgia; Mikheil Janelidze, Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs; and David Bakradze, Georgian Minister of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration.

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