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 Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.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