Belarus Democracy Act 2003

Belarus Democracy Act 2003

Hon.
Ben N. Campbell
United States
Senate
108th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Mr. President, as Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have closely monitored developments in the Republic of Belarus and informed my Senate colleagues of disturbing trends in that nation. I have met with members of the fledgling democratic opposition who, at great personal risk, dare to speak out against the repressive regime led by Alexander Lukashenka. I have met with the courageous wives whose husbands disappeared because they stood up to the regime and would not be silent. Against the backdrop of this climate of fear, the powers of the state have been brought to bear against independent journalists, trade unionists, and other voices of dissent.

Increasingly, Belarus has been driven into self-imposed isolation under Lukashenka devoid of legitimate leadership or accountability. A little over a year ago I addressed the Senate to voice concern over reported arms deals between the regime and rouge states, including Iraq. It appears that such sales have taken on greater importance as the Belarusian economy spirals downward.

Mr. President, while some might be tempted to dismiss Belarus as an anomaly, the stakes are too high and the costs too great to ignore. Accordingly, today, I am introducing the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, which is designed to help put an end to repression and human rights violations in Belarus and to promote Belarus’ entry into a democratic Euro-Atlantic community of nations.

As a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Belarus has accepted a series of norms in the areas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. As Europe’s last dictator, Lukashenka continues to brashly trample the fundamental rights of his own people and their culture.

As I alluded to earlier, independent media, non-governmental organizations, trade unions and the democratic opposition have had to operate under extremely difficult conditions, often facing serious mistreatment and an orchestrated campaign of harassment. Despite the repressions there are courageous individuals who support democracy have not been silenced. Two weeks ago, for example, Alexander Yarashuk, the leader of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, called on Lukashenka to immediately cease backing Saddam. Moreover, just last week, on March 12, thousands gathered peacefully in a central Minsk square to protest deteriorating economic and social conditions in Belarus. Four of the rally’s organizers – Andrei Sannikov, Ludmila Gryaznova, Dmitry Bondarenko and Leonid Malakhov – were given 15 day jail sentences for “participation in unauthorized mass actions.”

Despite calls for change within Belarus, and considerable prodding from the international community, Lukashenka has shown no desire to deviate from his path of authoritarianism and personal profit at the expense of his own people. A few months ago, Lukashenka, who effectively controls the Belarusian parliament, signed into laws a new, repressive religion law. Local elections held earlier this month followed the pattern of Belarus’ 2000 parliamentary and 2001 presidential elections – they were a joke. Control of election commissions, denials of registration for opposition candidates, “early voting” and outright falsifications were the norm.

Mr. President, the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003 would authorize additional assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for NGOs, independent media, including radio and television broadcasting to Belarus, and international exchanges. It also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, which have been notably absent in Belarus. This bill would also deny high-ranking officials of the Lukashenka regime entry into the United States. Additionally, strategic exports to the Belarusian Government would be prohibited, as well as U.S. Government financing, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. executive directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance for humanitarian needs. The bill would also require reports from the President concerning the sale of delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states, including Iraq and North Korea.

I am very pleased that the Ranking Member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Biden, is an original cosponsor of this measure. His support will ensure that we proceed on a bipartisan basis as we work to ensure the timely adoption and implementation of this legislation.

Mr. President, the goal of the Belarus Democracy Act is to assist Belarus in becoming a genuine European state, in which respect for human rights and democracy is the norm and in which the long-suffering Belarusian people are able to overcome the legacy of dictatorship – past and present. Adoption and implementation of the Belarus Democracy Act will offer a ray of hope that the current period of political, economic and social stagnation will indeed end. The people of Belarus deserve a chance for a brighter future free of repression and fear.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the Belarus Democracy Act be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

S. 700

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the "Belarus Democracy Act of 2003''.

SEC. 2. FINDINGS.

Congress makes the following findings:

(1) The United States supports the promotion of democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus consistent with its commitments as a participating state of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

(2) The United States has a vital interest in the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Belarus and its integration into the European community of democracies.

(3) The last parliamentary election in Belarus deemed to be free and fair by the international community was conducted in 1995 from which emerged the 13th Supreme Soviet whose democratically and constitutionally derived authorities and powers have been usurped by the authoritarian regime of Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenka.

(4) In November 1996, Lukashenka orchestrated an illegal and unconstitutional referendum that enabled him to impose a new constitution, abolish the duly-elected parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, install a largely powerless National Assembly, and extend his term of office to 2001.

(5) In May 1999, democratic forces in Belarus challenged Lukashenka's unconstitutional extension of his presidential term by staging alternative presidential elections which were met with repression.

(6) Democratic forces in Belarus have organized peaceful demonstrations against the Lukashenka regime in cities and towns throughout Belarus which led to beatings, mass arrests, and extended incarcerations.

(7) Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky, and Yuri Zakharenka, who have been leaders and supporters of the democratic forces in Belarus, and Dmitry Zavadsky, a journalist known for his critical reporting in Belarus, have disappeared and are presumed dead.

(8) Former Belarus Government officials have come forward with credible allegations and evidence that top officials of the Lukashenka regime were involved in the disappearances.

(9) The Lukashenka regime systematically harasses and represses the independent media and independent trade unions, imprisons independent journalists, and actively suppresses freedom of speech and expression.

(10) The Lukashenka regime harasses the autocephalic Belarusian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Jewish community, the Hindu Lights of Kalyasa community, evangelical Protestant churches (such as Baptist and Pentecostal groups), and other minority religious groups.

(11) The Law on Religious Freedom and Religious Organizations, passed by the National Assembly and signed by Lukashenka on October 31, 2002, establishes one of the most repressive legal regimes in the OSCE region, severely limiting religious freedom and placing excessively burdensome government controls on religious practice.

(12) The United States, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Parliamentary Assembly, and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly have not recognized the National Assembly.

(13) The parliamentary elections of October 15, 2000, conducted in the absence of a democratic election law, were illegitimate, unconstitutional, and plagued by violent human rights abuses committed by the Lukashenka regime, and have been determined by the OSCE to be nondemocratic.

(14) The presidential election of September 9, 2001, was determined by the OSCE and other observers to be fundamentally unfair, to have failed to meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections formulated in the 1990 Copenhagen Document, and to have featured significant and abusive misconduct by the Lukashenka regime, including--

(A) the harassment, arrest, and imprisonment of opposition members;

(B) the denial of equal and fair access by opposition candidates to state-controlled media;

(C) the seizure of equipment and property of independent nongovernmental organizations and press organizations, and the harassment of their staff and management;

(D) voting and vote counting procedures that were not transparent; and

(E) a campaign of intimidation directed against opposition activists, domestic election observation organizations, and opposition and independent media, and a libelous media campaign against international observers.

SEC. 3. ASSISTANCE TO PROMOTE DEMOCRACY AND CIVIL SOCIETY IN BELARUS.

(a) PURPOSES OF ASSISTANCE.--Assistance under this section shall be available for the following purposes:

(1) To assist the people of the Republic of Belarus in regaining their freedom and to enable them to join the European community of democracies.

(2) To encourage free and fair presidential, parliamentary, and local elections in Belarus, conducted in a manner consistent with internationally accepted standards and under the supervision of internationally recognized observers.

(3) To assist in restoring and strengthening institutions of democratic governance in Belarus.

(b) AUTHORIZATION FOR ASSISTANCE.--To carry out the purposes set forth in subsection (a), the President is authorized to furnish assistance and other support for the activities described in subsection (c), to be provided primarily for indigenous groups in Belarus that are committed to the support of democratic processes in Belarus.

(c) ACTIVITIES SUPPORTED.--Activities that may be supported by assistance under subsection (b) include--

(1) the observation of elections and the promotion of free and fair electoral processes;

(2) the development of democratic political parties;

(3) radio and television broadcasting to and within Belarus;

(4) the development of nongovernmental organizations promoting democracy and supporting human rights;

(5) the development of independent media working within Belarus and from locations outside Belarus, and supported by non-state-controlled printing facilities;

(6) international exchanges and advanced professional training programs for leaders and members of the democratic forces in matters central to the development of civil society; and

(7) other activities consistent with the purposes of this Act.

(d) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.--

(1) IN GENERAL.--There is authorized to be appropriated to the President to carry out this section $40,000,000 for fiscal years 2004 and 2005.

(2) AVAILABILITY OF FUNDS.--Amounts appropriated pursuant to the authorization of appropriations under paragraph (1) are authorized to remain available until expended.

SEC. 4. RADIO BROADCASTING TO BELARUS.

(a) PURPOSE.--It is the purpose of this section to authorize increased support for United States Government and surrogate radio broadcasting to the Republic of Belarus that will facilitate the unhindered dissemination of information in Belarus.

(b) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.--In addition to such sums as are otherwise authorized to be appropriated, there is authorized to be appropriated $5,000,000 for each fiscal year for Voice of America and RFE/RL, Incorporated for radio broadcasting to the people of Belarus in languages spoken in Belarus.

(c) REPORT ON RADIO BROADCASTING TO AND IN BELARUS.--Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report on how funds appropriated and allocated pursuant to the authorizations of appropriations under subsection (b) and section 3(d) will be used to provide AM and FM broadcasting that covers the territory of Belarus and delivers independent and uncensored programming.

SEC. 5. SANCTIONS AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT OF BELARUS.

(a) APPLICATION OF SANCTIONS.--The sanctions described in subsections (c) and (d), and any sanction imposed under subsection (e) or (f), shall apply with respect to the Republic of Belarus until the President determines and certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that the Government of Belarus has made significant progress in meeting the conditions described in subsection (b).

(b) CONDITIONS.--The conditions referred to in subsection (a) are the following:

(1) The release of individuals in Belarus who have been jailed based on political or religious beliefs.

(2) The withdrawal of politically motivated legal charges against all opposition figures and independent journalists in Belarus.

(3) A full accounting of the disappearances of opposition leaders and journalists in Belarus, including Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky, Yuri Zakharenka, and Dmitry Zavadsky, and the prosecution of the individuals who are responsible for their disappearances.

(4) The cessation of all forms of harassment and repression against the independent media, independent trade unions, nongovernmental organizations, religious organizations (including their leadership and members), and the political opposition in Belarus.

(5) The implementation of free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections in Belarus consistent with Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) standards on democratic elections and in cooperation with relevant OSCE institutions.

(c) PROHIBITION ON STRATEGIC EXPORTS TO BELARUS.--

(1) PROHIBITION.--No computers, computer software, goods, or technology intended to manufacture or service computers, or any other related goods or technology, may be exported to Belarus for use by the Government of Belarus, or by its military, police, prison system, or national security agencies. The prohibition in the preceding sentence shall not apply with respect to the export of goods or technology for democracy-building or humanitarian purposes.

(2) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION.--Nothing in this subsection shall prevent the issuance of licenses to ensure the safety of civil aviation and safe operation of commercial passenger aircraft of United States origin or to ensure the safety of ocean-going maritime traffic in international waters.

(d) PROHIBITION ON LOANS AND INVESTMENT.--

(1) UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT FINANCING.--No loan, credit guarantee, insurance, financing, or other similar financial assistance may be extended by any agency of the United States Government (including the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation) to the Government of Belarus, except with respect to the provision of humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products.

(2) TRADE AND DEVELOPMENT AGENCY.--No funds available to the Trade and Development Agency may be available for activities of the Agency in or for Belarus.

(e) DENIAL OF ENTRY INTO UNITED STATES OF CERTAIN BELARUS OFFICIALS.--

(1) DENIAL OF ENTRY.--It is the sense of Congress that, in addition to the sanctions provided for in subsections (c) and (d), the President should use the authority under section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1182(f)) to deny the entry into the United States of any alien who--

(A) holds a position in the senior leadership of the Government of Belarus; or

(B) is a spouse, minor child, or agent of a person described in subparagraph (A).

(2) SENIOR LEADERSHIP OF THE GOVERNMENT OF BELARUS DEFINED.--In this subsection, the term ``senior leadership of the Government of Belarus'' includes--

(A) the President, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Ministers, government ministers, Chairmen of State Committees, and members of the Presidential Administration of Belarus;

(B) any official of the Government of Belarus who is personally and substantially involved in the suppression of freedom in Belarus, including judges and prosecutors; and

(C) any other individual determined by the Secretary of State (or the Secretary's designee) to be personally and substantially involved in the formulation or execution of the policies of the Lukashenka regime in Belarus that are in contradiction of internationally recognized human rights standards.

(f) MULTILATERAL FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE.--It is the sense of Congress that, in addition to the sanctions provided for in subsections (c) and (d), the Secretary of the Treasury should instruct the United States Executive Director of each international financial institution to which the United States is a member to use the voice and vote of the United States to oppose any extension by those institutions of any financial assistance (including any technical assistance or grant) of any kind to the Government of Belarus, except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs.

(g) WAIVER.--The President may waive the application of any sanction described in this section with respect to Belarus if the President determines and certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that it is important to the national interests of the United States to do so.

SEC. 6. MULTILATERAL COOPERATION.

It is the sense of Congress that the President should continue to seek to coordinate with other countries, particularly European countries, a comprehensive, multilateral strategy to further the purposes of this Act, including, as appropriate, encouraging other countries to take measures with respect to the Republic of Belarus that are similar to measures provided for in this Act.

SEC. 7. ANNUAL REPORTS.

(a) REPORTS.--Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and every year thereafter, the President shall transmit to the appropriate congressional committees a report that describes, with respect to the preceding 12-month period, the following:

(1) The sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from the Republic of Belarus to any country, the government of which the Secretary of State has determined, for purposes of section 6(j)(1) of the Export Administration Act of 1979 (50 U.S.C. App. 2405(j)(1)), has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism.

(2) An identification of each country described in paragraph (1) and a detailed description of the weapons or weapons-related technologies involved in the sale.

(3) An identification of the goods, services, credits, or other consideration received by Belarus in exchange for the weapons or weapons-related technologies.

(4) The personal assets and wealth of Aleksandr Lukashenka and other senior leadership of the Government of Belarus.

(b) FORM.--A report transmitted pursuant to subsection (a) shall be in unclassified form but may contain a classified annex.

SEC. 8. DECLARATION OF POLICY.

Congress hereby--

(1) expresses its support to those in the Republic of Belarus seeking--

(A) to promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law and to consolidate the independence and sovereignty of Belarus; and

(B) to promote the integration of Belarus into the European community of democracies;

(2) expresses its grave concern about the disappearances of Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky, Yuri Zakharenka, and Dmitry Zavadsky;

(3) calls upon the Lukashenka regime in Belarus to cease its persecution of political opponents or independent journalists and to release those individuals who have been imprisoned for opposing his regime or for exercising their right to freedom of speech;

(4) calls upon the Lukashenka regime to end the pattern of clear, gross, and uncorrected violations of relevant human dimension commitments of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and to respect the basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association, language, culture, and religion or belief;

(5) calls upon the Government of the Russian Federation to use its influence to encourage democratic development in Belarus so that Belarus can become a democratic, prosperous, sovereign, and independent state that is integrated into Europe;

(6) calls upon the Government of Belarus to resolve the continuing constitutional and political crisis in Belarus through--

(A) free, fair, and transparent presidential and parliamentary elections in Belarus, as called for by the OSCE;

(B) respect for human rights in Belarus;

(C) an end to the current climate of fear in Belarus;

(D) meaningful access by the opposition to state media in Belarus;

(E) modification of the electoral code of Belarus in keeping with OSCE commitments;

(F) engagement in genuine talks with the opposition in Belarus; and

(G) modifications of the constitution of Belarus to allow for genuine authority for the parliament; and

(7) commends the democratic opposition in Belarus for their commitment to freedom, their courage in the face of the repression of the Lukashenka regime, and the emergence of a pluralist civil society in Belarus--the foundation for the development of democratic political structures.

SEC. 9. DEFINITION.

In this Act, the term "appropriate congressional committees'' means--

(1) the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives; and

(2) the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate. 

Relevant countries: 
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    WASHINGTON—Following the approval of legislation in Belarus that would apply the death penalty to pro-democracy activists and those opposing Russia’s war in Ukraine, and ahead of the May 21 commemoration of the Day of Political Prisoners in Belarus, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Members Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “With these amendments to the criminal code, Aleksandr Lukashenko and other senior officials in his regime seek to frighten brave Belarusian citizens into silence. These craven attempts to mute pro-democracy and anti-war activists are doomed to fail. Belarusians have demonstrated time and again that they are stronger than those who seek to oppress them, and that they will not cower even in the face of outright death threats from authorities. “The real criminals here are Lukashenko and his henchmen who attempt to muzzle political opponents, civil society, and the free press. We demand that all political prisoners in Belarus be released, and that Belarusian authorities cease their attempts to terrorize those who freely speak their minds.” Earlier this week, Lukashenko approved changes to the Belarusian criminal code that would extend the use of the death penalty against those convicted of “attempted acts of terrorism.” According to the U.S. Department of State, the Lukashenko regime “has levied politically motivated charges of ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’ against many of [Belarus’] more than 1,100 political prisoners and used such labels to detain tens of thousands more.”  

  • Putin's Bribetakers and Warmongers

    The Helsinki Commission was briefed on 6,000 bribetakers and warmongers identified by Alexei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation.

  • Swiss Release Some Frozen Russian Assets

    The Swiss government on Thursday reported 6.3 billion Swiss francs ($6.33 billion) worth of Russian assets frozen under sanctions to punish Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, a drop from early April as around 3.4 billion francs in provisionally blocked assets were released. The figure marked a decrease from roughly 7.5 billion Swiss francs in funds the government reported frozen on April 7. Government official Erwin Bollinger pointed to fewer funds -- 2.2 billion francs -- newly frozen than those that had been released. read more "We can't freeze funds if we do not have sufficient grounds," Bollinger, a senior official at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) agency overseeing sanctions, told journalists. Pressure has increased on Switzerland -- a popular destination for Moscow's elite and a holding place for Russian wealth -- to more quickly identify and freeze assets of hundreds of sanctioned Russians. read more The U.S. Helsinki Commission, a government-funded independent commission which looks at security, cooperation and human rights issues in Europe, in early May called Switzerland "a leading enabler of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his cronies", who the commission said used "Swiss secrecy laws to hide and protect the proceeds of their crimes". The Swiss government rejected the accusations "in the strongest possible terms", while Swiss President Ignazio Cassis had requested the U.S. government "correct this misleading impression immediately" during a telephone call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Swiss banks hold up to $213 billion of Russian wealth, Switzerland's bank lobby estimates, with its two largest lenders UBS (UBSG.S) and Credit Suisse (CSGN.S) each holding tens of billions of francs for wealthy Russian clients. read more Credit Suisse alone froze some 10.4 billion Swiss francs of that money through March under sanctions imposed in connection with the invasion. read more Credit Suisse's reporting did not make clear how much of that money was frozen in Switzerland. While banks and asset managers can provisionally freeze funds, SECO officials on Thursday said funds needed to be released if they could not establish the assets were directly owned or controlled by a sanctioned individual. "The amount of assets frozen is not a measure of how effectively sanctions are being implemented," Bollinger said, adding asset freezes were "by far" not the most important measure in a wide-ranging packet of sanctions. ($1 = 0.9948 Swiss francs)

  • Helsinki Commissioners Lead Bipartisan Ask for Biden to Sanction Russians Responsible for Jailing Opposition Leader Vladimir Kara-Murza

    WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), author of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and Chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), along with Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Senator Roger Wicker (MS) and Commissioners Senators Jeanne Shaheen (NH) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) are urging President Joe Biden to publicly sanction “every Russian official and associate involved with the false arrest, detention, and political persecution of Vladimir Kara-Murza.” The lawmakers made the plea last week in a letter that also was signed by U.S. Representatives Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chair of the Helsinki Commission; Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member of the Helsinki Commission; Gerald Connolly (VA-11); John Curtis (UT-03); Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Ruben Gallego (AZ-07); Richard Hudson NC-08); Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX-18); Marcy Kaptur (OH-09); Bill Keating (MA-09); Adam Kinzinger (IL-16); Tom Malinowski (NJ-07); Peter Meijer (MI-03); Mike Levin (CA-49); Gwen Moore (WI-044); Burgess Owens (UT-04); Katie Porter (CA-45); Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27); Abigail Spanberger (VA-07); and Marc Veasey (TX-33). “Kara-Murza is a Russian opposition politician who has long stood up against Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. He embodies what Russia might be one day when it is democratic and free,” the lawmakers wrote. “As Russia loses its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, we must consider what might come next in that country. Kara-Murza offers a vision of a Russia free from imperialist kleptocracy. He has bravely answered the call of many Ukrainians for Russians to take a stand and oppose this bloody and senseless war. He must be immediately freed and allowed to continue his work.” The full letter is below and can be downloaded at this link. President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear President Biden, We urge you to name and sanction every Russian official and associate involved with the false arrest, detention, and political persecution of Vladimir Kara-Murza. Kara-Murza is a Russian opposition politician who has long stood up against Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. He embodies what Russia might be one day when it is democratic and free. We also urge you to examine whether to sanction those involved in the persecution and imprisonment of other Russian political prisoners. Kara-Murza is a Russian patriot who has fought for decades for democracy in Russia and a prosperous future for his country. For this, the regime in Russia has poisoned him twice. On April 11, while in Russia, Kara-Murza called this regime “a regime of murderers.” He was then arrested, and now faces trumped up charges that may result in years of unjust imprisonment. Kara-Murza was the key Russian activist behind the passage of the Magnitsky Act and its adoption by our allies. The late Senator John McCain called him “one of the most passionate and effective advocates for the passage of the Magnitsky Act.” Kara-Murza himself, like his mentor Boris Nemtsov before him, has called the Magnitsky Act the most “pro-Russian law passed in the United States in the history of our countries.” Nemtsov was murdered in front of the Kremlin. The Magnitsky Act is the appropriate tool to sanction those involved in the persecution of Kara-Murza. We ask that you coordinate with our allies to sanction these individuals at the same time. The European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia now all have Magnitsky sanctions laws of their own. As Russia loses its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, we must consider what might come next in that country. Kara-Murza offers a vision of a Russia free from imperialist kleptocracy. He has bravely answered the call of many Ukrainians for Russians to take a stand and oppose this bloody and senseless war. He must be immediately freed and allowed to continue his work. Sincerely,

  • Russia's Swiss Enablers

    Long known as a destination for war criminals and kleptocrats to stash their plunder, Switzerland is a leading enabler of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his cronies. After looting Russia, Putin and his oligarchs use Swiss secrecy laws to hide and protect the proceeds of their crimes. Close relations between Swiss and Russian authorities have had a corrupting influence on law enforcement personnel in Switzerland and have led to the resignation of numerous officials, including the head prosecutor of Switzerland. A recent Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project investigation found that Credit Suisse catered to dozens of criminals, dictators, intelligence officials, sanctioned parties, and political actors, and identified problematic accounts holding more than $8 billion in assets. According to the Financial Times, Credit Suisse also asked investors to destroy documents linked to yacht loans made to oligarchs and tycoons. This briefing examined the relationship between Switzerland and Russia in light of Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Panelists discussed how a compromised Switzerland affects U.S. national security and whether the United States should rethink its strategic bilateral relationship with Switzerland. Related Information Panelist Biographies How the Swiss Law Enforcement Capitulated to the Russians in the Magnitsky Case - Bill Browder

  • Swiss Attacked for Going Easy on Seizing Russian Billions

    The $7.6 billion in Russian assets seized to date by Swiss authorities is “insulting,” outspoken Kremlin critic Bill Browder said at briefing on Russian money in Switzerland.  It’s “a lot of money in absolute terms but Switzerland is one of the main destinations for dirty Russian money,” said Browder. Given the Swiss Bankers Association has said there’s as much as 150 to 200 billion Swiss francs ($202 billion) in Russian assets in the country’s banks “I would almost say it’s slightly insulting,” he said.  Browder, who has also highlighted what he perceives to be Swiss prosecutors’ soft approach to investigating Russian financial crime, called on the U.S. to review its cooperation framework with its Swiss counterparts, during the hearing organized by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday. “Based on my experience, it would lead me to believe the Swiss are knowingly turning their head the other way when it comes to some of the other oligarchs,” said Browder. The Swiss government said a month ago it had blocked 7.5 billion Swiss francs ($8 billion) in Russian assets in the country to date, as it issues sanctions that mirror those imposed by the European Union on those seen as close to Vladimir Putin.  That figure represented a jump of 30% from their previous tally two weeks earlier and Swiss officials say the number will continue to rise as more assets hidden behind shell companies or in the names of associated are painstakingly uncovered.  Switzerland surprised the world in early March by departing from its tradition of neutrality and saying it would fully embrace the European Union measures against Russia.  But critics including Browder contend that the country needs to go much further. Read more: Swiss Hunt for Russian Wealth Criticized Despite $6 Billion Haul Erwin Bolliger, the chief of the Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs which is enforcing the sanctions, has tried to explain the gap by pointing out that are plenty of legitimately-held Russian investments in Switzerland. “There is merit in Bill’s suggestion to review the law enforcement relations between the U.S. and Switzerland,” said Mark Pieth, a law professor at the University of Basel and corruption expert, said at the hearing. Up until now, Switzerland’s approach to clamping down on dirty Russian money in the country has shown a “lack of courage,” Pieth said.

  • Russian War Crimes in Ukraine

    Well-documented Russian bombings and missile strikes in Ukraine have decimated hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings, including a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of children were sheltering and the Kramatorsk rail station where thousands were waiting to escape the Russian onslaught. The withdrawal of Russian troops from towns like Bucha, Chernihiv, and Sumy has revealed horrific scenes of civilian carnage, mass graves, and reports of rape and torture. Several world leaders have accused Russia of committing genocide against the people of Ukraine. In March, 45 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) states began proceedings to “establish the facts and circumstances of possible cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity…and to collect, consolidate, and analyze this information with a view to presenting it to relevant accountability mechanisms.”  The resulting report, issued on April 14, found “clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations by the Russian forces” and recommended further investigations to “establish individual criminal responsibility for war crimes.” The Government of Ukraine, Ukrainian NGOs, and the International Criminal Court are collecting evidence for use in future legal proceedings. Witnesses at the hearing discussed the findings of the OSCE report, examined evidence being collected to document Russian war crimes in Ukraine, and analyzed paths to bring perpetrators to justice.   Related Information Witness Biographies  

  • Helsinki Commission Regrets Closure of OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine

    WASHINGTON—On April 28, the OSCE announced that Russia had definitively forced the closure of the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine, following its veto of the mission’s mandated activities as of April 1. In light of this announcement, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “Moscow’s choice to force the closure of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine is only its latest offense against the rules-based international order. The brave monitors and staff who served the mission, in place since 2014, did exactly what they were supposed to do. Despite continual harassment and under constant threat, they reported objectively on ceasefire violations, informing the international community about the brutal reality of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The monitors’ clear and continuous reporting allowed the world to draw its own conclusions about the roots of Russia’s aggression. Moscow’s move to force the mission to close only underlines its desire to hide this ugly fact. “As we commend the service of these brave monitors and condemn Russia’s obstruction, we renew our call on Moscow to immediately release all Ukrainian SMM staff members who have been detained in occupied parts of Ukraine. “We also mourn the recent loss of Maryna Fenina, a Ukrainian national serving with the SMM who was killed by Russia’s shelling in Kharkiv on March 1, and we will never forget American paramedic Joseph Stone, who was killed while serving in support of the mission when his vehicle struck a landmine in Russian-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine on April 23, 2017.” The SMM was established in 2014 as an unarmed, civilian mission and served as the international community’s eyes and ears on the security and humanitarian situation in the conflict zone. It operated under a mandate adopted by consensus among the 57 OSCE participating States, including the United States, Russia, and Ukraine.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Examine Swiss Enabling of Russian Oligarchs

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following online briefing: RUSSIA’S SWISS ENABLERS Thursday, May 5, 2022 10:00 a.m. Register: https://ushr.webex.com/ushr/j.php?RGID=r72f85e0c40a09b609b328a9481f54063 Long known as a destination for war criminals and kleptocrats to stash their plunder, Switzerland is a leading enabler of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his cronies. After looting Russia, Putin and his oligarchs use Swiss secrecy laws to hide and protect the proceeds of their crimes. Close relations between Swiss and Russian authorities have had a corrupting influence on law enforcement personnel in Switzerland and have led to the resignation of numerous officials, including the head prosecutor of Switzerland. A recent Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project investigation found that Credit Suisse catered to dozens of criminals, dictators, intelligence officials, sanctioned parties, and political actors, and identified problematic accounts holding more than $8 billion in assets. According to the Financial Times, Credit Suisse also asked investors to destroy documents linked to yacht loans made to oligarchs and tycoons. This briefing will examine the relationship between Switzerland and Russia in light of Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Panelists will discuss how a compromised Switzerland affects U.S. national security and whether the United States should rethink its strategic bilateral relationship with Switzerland. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Bill Browder, Head, Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign Miranda Patrucic, Deputy Editor in Chief, Regional and Central Asia, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project Mark Pieth, President of the Board, Basel Institute on Governance  

  • Helsinki Commission Digital Digest April 2022

  • Russian War Crimes in Ukraine to Be Discussed at Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: RUSSIAN WAR CRIMES IN UKRAINE Wednesday, May 4, 2022 NEW TIME: 2:00 p.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission Well-documented Russian bombings and missile strikes in Ukraine have decimated hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings, including a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of children were sheltering and the Kramatorsk rail station where thousands were waiting to escape the Russian onslaught. The withdrawal of Russian troops from towns like Bucha, Chernihiv, and Sumy has revealed horrific scenes of civilian carnage, mass graves, and reports of rape and torture. Several world leaders have accused Russia of committing genocide against the people of Ukraine. In March, 45 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) states began proceedings to “establish the facts and circumstances of possible cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity…and to collect, consolidate, and analyze this information with a view to presenting it to relevant accountability mechanisms.”  The resulting report, issued on April 14, found “clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations by the Russian forces” and recommended further investigations to “establish individual criminal responsibility for war crimes.” The Government of Ukraine, Ukrainian NGOs, and the International Criminal Court are collecting evidence for use in future legal proceedings. Witnesses at the hearing will discuss the findings of the OSCE report, examine evidence being collected to document Russian war crimes in Ukraine, and analyze paths to bring perpetrators to justice.   The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Panel 1: OSCE Experts Wolfgang Benedek, Professor of International Law (ret.), University of Graz Veronika Bílková, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Charles University in Prague Marco Sassoli, Professor of International Law, University of Geneva Panel 2 Beth Van Schaack, U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale University; Permanent Fellow, the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna Iryna Venediktova, Prosecutor General, Ukraine

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Condemn Detention of OSCE Officials by Russian-Led Forces in Ukraine

    WASHINGTON—Following the detention of four Ukrainian nationals serving as members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Russian-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine who reportedly were accused of illegal activities including treason and espionage, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Members Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “The targeting and detention of OSCE officials by Russian-controlled forces is utterly unacceptable. Those detained must be released immediately. We will hold Russian officials responsible for any mistreatment they suffer.” On April 24, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) confirmed that four Ukrainian staff members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) had been detained and held “for engaging in administrative activities that fall within their official functions as OSCE staff.”   The SMM had served a critical function as the eyes and ears of the international community in the conflict zone since 2014, until a Russian veto forced its mandated activities to cease on April 1. Since then, Ukrainian mission members had been carrying out minimum necessary administrative tasks focused on efforts to ensure the safety and security of its mission members, assets, and premises throughout Ukraine, including in Russian-controlled areas.

  • Biden administration urged to ban UK lawyers who ‘enabled’ oligarchs

    A member of Congress has urged the Biden administration to place travel bans on senior British lawyers that acted for wealthy Russian clients against investigative journalists. Steve Cohen, a Democratic representative from Tennessee, has written to Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, urging him to sanction the lawyers for having “enabled malign activities of Russian oligarchs”. His letter comes as the Biden administration looks to increase its support for Ukraine in its war against Russia and tighten sanctions against those who have supported the Russian regime. Cohen wrote: “Oligarchs who hire lawyers to engage in abusive cases against journalists to silence them cannot exert malign influence in our system . . . the United States must establish deterrents for foreign enablers serving individuals who are undermining democracy.” The state department did not respond to a request for comment. Cohen singled out several lawyers he believed should be subject to bans on visas for travel to the US: Nigel Tait of Carter-Ruck; John Kelly of Harbottle & Lewis; barrister Hugh Tomlinson; Geraldine Proudler of CMS; Keith Schilling of Schillings; and Shlomo Rechtschaffen of SR law. Each of the lawyers is well known in London legal circles, with firms like Carter-Ruck and Schillings having established strong reputations in defamation law and reputation management. Tait, Kelly, Tomlinson and Proudler all worked on recent cases against the former Financial Times journalist Catherine Belton or her publisher HarperCollins, or both. Belton and HarperCollins were sued last year by several Russian oligarchs including Roman Abramovich over her book Putin’s People, which details the rise to power of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. The lawsuits were later settled or withdrawn. Cohen cited Schillings’ work for Malaysian businessman and fugitive Jho Low. British ministers have expressed concern over the way in which UK courts are used by wealthy foreigners to launch libel cases. Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, last month set out proposals to limit any so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. Also in March Bob Seely, the MP for the Isle of Wight, used parliamentary privilege to claim “amoral” City lawyers were teaming up with “Putin’s henchmen” to offer “legalised intimidation”. A spokesperson for Tomlinson said: “Regulatory rules for lawyers are very strict and work to ensure equal entitlement to independent legal advice. Mr Tomlinson acted properly and in accordance with those rules throughout and has never acted as Mr Cohen suggests.” Tait’s firm Carter-Ruck said: “The claims made against Carter-Ruck are misconceived and are rejected entirely. In addition to other matters, we are not working for any Russian individuals, companies or entities seeking to challenge, overturn, frustrate or minimise sanctions.” It added: “We are not acting for, and will not be acting for, any individual, company or entity associated with the Putin regime in any matter or context, whether sanctions-related or otherwise, and will continue to conduct all ‘know your client’ checks in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations, as we have always done.” Cohen cited Rechtschaffen for his representation of Israeli-British businessman Walter Soriano, who he alleged was an “enabler” of certain oligarchs including Abramovich. Rechtschaffen said: “Walter Soriano is not an enabler of any oligarch . . . The English courts have said that the claim against Mr Stedman is not abusive.” Harbottle & Lewis said the firm had “acted at all time in accordance with its professional and legal obligations, and takes these matters very seriously”. Schillings said the firm did not act for any sanctioned entities and could not comment on client matters. It added that Cohen’s allegations were “wholly misplaced” and “misinformed”. It said the firm had upheld “the highest traditions of the legal profession”. Proudler’s firm CMS said it rejected Cohen’s allegations, adding that Proudler and the firm had been “compliant with all professional regulations”. “As we have said since the invasion of Ukraine, CMS is no longer accepting new instructions from Russian based entities or from any individuals with connections to the Russian government.”

  • Helsinki Commission Urges U.S. Administration to Consider Sanctioning Remaining Individuals Involved in Persecution of Sergei Magnitsky

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) today released a letter sent April 15 to President Biden urging the U.S. administration to consider sanctioning the remaining individuals involved in the persecution of Sergei Magnitsky, the fraud he uncovered, and the coverup of his death in 2009. The letter read in part: “The passage and enforcement of the Magnitsky Act was among the rare times in the last decade that the United States rightly put universal values first in its relationship with Russia. Sergei Magnitsky courageously stood up to the Putin regime’s corruption and represents what Russia might be one day. He has served as an inspiration for Russian activists and civil society who dream of a Russia that respects human rights and complies with its own freely undertaken international commitments… “At this time of great upheaval, it could not be more important that the United States demonstrate its commitment to universal values. Sanctioning these individuals responsible for dismantling the rule of law in Russia and killing one of Russia’s bravest whistleblowers would have this effect.” Included with the letter was a list that includes the names and identifying information of 255 individuals who have not yet been sanctioned for their apparent role in Sergei Magnitsky’s death and the $230 million tax fraud he exposed. The list was compiled by Hermitage Capital Management LLC, the firm where Sergei Magnitsky worked at the time of his arrest and murder.   The full letter and list are available online. 

  • Russia Critics Press Congress for Curbing Moscow's Role in International Groups

    Critics of Moscow pressed lawmakers to sever remaining international connections with Moscow and punish what they called enablers of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government—including Russian tycoons. “We recognize that the oligarchs are the appendages of Mr. Putin’s mafia state,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.), the co-chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the Helsinki Commission, which held a hearing Wednesday on Russia's financial ties abroad. “I can’t wait to see police tape around mansions in Miami," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.). Witnesses before the commission, a U.S. agency that has frequently scrutinized Moscow, sought to portray Russian billionaires and their network of lawyers and agents in the West as little different from Russian government employees and its lawyers abroad. Bill Browder, a prominent critic of the Kremlin’s human-rights record, called on the U.S. to withdraw from the mutual legal-assistance treaty that allows U.S. and Russian law enforcement to cooperate on investigations and secure witness testimony. Western countries should ban lawyers paid by the Russian government in one country from traveling to their countries, he said. The Kremlin used the Interpol international law-enforcement network in an effort to arrest Mr. Browder after his lawyer died in a Russian prison in 2009. Mr. Browder, who founded investment fund Hermitage Capital, said the U.S. and partner countries should seek to remove Moscow from Interpol or “basically threaten the funding of Interpol if Russia is not expelled.” Mr. Browder was the largest private investor in Russia until his expulsion from that country in 2005. Moscow should also lose its membership and face blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-based intergovernmental body that audits the ability of nations to detect and disrupt illicit finance, said Daria Kaleniuk, co-founder of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Ukraine. Mr. Browder and Ms. Kaleniuk were among five witnesses at the hearing.

  • Countering Oligarchs, Enablers, and Lawfare

    As influential proxies of Russian dictator Vladmir Putin, Russian oligarchs work to weaken Western democracies from within. They pay Western enablers—especially lawyers and lobbyists—millions to use their standing in democratic societies to generate policies favorable to the authoritarian regime in Russia and to silence its critics. On April 6, 2022, the Helsinki Commission heard from five witnesses who testified on the corruption of Russian oligarchs, as well as the various means through which such oligarchs censure journalists from reporting on their nefarious activities. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) opened the hearing by recognizing oligarchs as appendages of Putin’s government who have engaged in extensive laundering and looting of the Russian state. He stressed the importance of sanctioning oligarchs, who utilize the existing financial and judicial frameworks of Western democracies to protect themselves from legal harm, as well as their accountants and lawyers, who utilize lawfare as means of continuing their kleptocratic ways and silencing those who report on their crimes. “We have to fortify our system against lawfare,” he stated. “And we hope that we can win this fight.” Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) asserted that oligarchs, while stealing and oppressing the Russian public, also are funding the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “In exchange for the lavish lifestyles that they live, these oligarchs pledge their loyalty to the mid-level KGB agent… currently overseeing Europe’s biggest land war since 1945,” he remarked. Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) described Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a battle between the virtues of the free world and the vices of a corrupt state. “Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine because Ukraine is a democracy… because it shows accountability over corruption,” he stated. “This is the most black and white conflict in recent memory.” Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Action Centre, testified that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was due to fear of Ukraine’s fight against corruption. On February 22, when Putin declared war on Ukraine, he referred to numerous anti-corruption reforms for which the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Action Centre had advocated. “It was clear to me in that moment that Ukraine’s successful story in fighting corruption is actually the ultimate threat to Vladmir Putin and to his kleptocratic regime,” she remarked. She argued that integral to Putin’s success throughout the years is his legion of legal and financial professionals. “There are two battlefields,” she stated. “One in Ukraine…. And another one in the West, where America is obligated to fight by targeting Russian oligarchs and their enablers.” Bill Browder, head of the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign, described his experience following the passing of the Magnitsky Act, which allows the United States to freeze the assets of kleptocrats and human-rights violators. He highlighted the team of Western professionals who helped Putin target him for his work to passing the legislation. To ensure these Western enablers are held accountable for their actions, Browder recommended that Congress speak out and deny government employment to such organizations in the future. “We should make a list of these type of firms that do this enabling, this list should be put together by the U.S. Congress, and there should be a recommendation to the U.S. Government not to do business with these firms going forward,” he said. “They can pick sides. They can decide they want to work for the bad guys. And if they work for the bad guys, then they shouldn’t get any money from the U.S. government. Scott Stedman, founder of Forensic News, described the increased use of lawfare by oligarchs as a weapon to intimidate reporters into silence. He spoke of his experience reporting on Walter Soriano, a businessman with reported ties to multiple Russian oligarchs. Soriano filed a lawsuit against Forensic News and its contributors, attempting to silence Stedman through financial intimidation and lawfare. “Mr. Soriano’s U.S. litigation counsel Andrew Brettler wrote to me threatening yet more legal action if I did not pay a U.K. court for more money than I’ve ever had in any bank account,” he said. “This is what lawfare looks like. It is designed to suppress, stall, scare critical coverage of the Russian elite and their enablers.” Anna Veduta, vice president of the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation International, outlined the need to sanction corrupt Russian politicians, oligarchs, enablers, and their family members. The assets these oligarchs and enablers have acquired are held by relatives, she argued, who have yet to be sanctioned. “People responsible for these lies, people who are poisoning Russian people with these lies, still can enjoy spring break in Miami and take their kids to Disneyland,” she said. “So I am going to quote Alexei Navalny once again, ‘Warmongers must be treated as war criminals.’” Shannon Green, executive director of the USAID Anti-Corruption Task Force and senior advisor to the Administrator highlighted the reliance of autocrats like Putin on oligarchs and enablers. She reviewed USAID initiatives to support reform coalitions and confront lawfare domestically, as well as efforts to develop new programs to confront kleptocracy abroad.   Addressing her fellow panelists, she stated, “Anna, Bill, Daria, Scott, we draw inspiration and courage from your example. And the U.S. government’s message to you, and to all of your fellow change agents, is: Be not afraid. We stand with you.” Related Information Witness Biographies Statement for the Record: Arabella Pike, Publishing Director, HarperCollins Publishers

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