Now is the time to undermine Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. With major protests going on in response to the recent fraudulent parliamentary elections, with Mikhail Prokhorov announcing that he is likely to challenge Putin for the presidency in the next election, and with major ferment in Russia, it is the best time to further undermine Putin’s control structure by holding human rights violators accountable. And there are several efforts underway to do just that in Congress.
Consider the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, which is a “bill [that] would impose sanctions and visa bans on the individuals named as complicit” in human rights violations, as Julia Pettengill recently reported. The bill has widespread—and real!—bipartisan support in Congress, along with a deep popularity among those in Russian opposition and civil society.
The other day, as Jen Rubin reported, “a group of human rights activists sent an open letter” the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee’s European Affairs Subcommittee. Here’s their explanation for the Magnitsky Act:
This legislation was introduced in May 2011 by Senator Benjamin Cardin, Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the U.S. Helsinki Commission). The legislation has broad and bipartisan support. This legislation calls for the use of targeted sanctions (U.S. visa denial and freezing of U.S. assets) against those individuals responsible for the detention, abuse and death of Sergei Magnitsky and other violations of human rights. We strongly support enactment of this legislation as a necessary step to both seek accountability for past abuses and, hopefully, deter future abuses. Unless and until Russian human rights abusers pay a price for their actions, there will be no justice and abuses will continue.
That was written by Lyudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lev Aleksandrovich Ponomarev of the Human Rights Group, Vladimir Bukovsky of the CATO Institute, Katrina Lantos Swett of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institute, and David Kramer of Freedom House. The group call attention to the wider problem of human rights abuses:
We are writing to encourage action to address widespread and egregious violations of human rights in the Russian Federation contrary to international commitments. For too long, there has been a culture of impunity for Russian officials involved in human rights violations. Many of these cases – such as the death of Sergei Magnitsky, an attorney investigating official corruption, and the trials and incarceration of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a successful businessman and regime critic – are well known outside of Russia. Many others are not. We raise our voices on behalf of all Russians who have suffered serious human rights abuses by the government.
A hearing will be held today on Capitol Hill featuring David Kramer of Freedom House, Ed Verona of USRBC, and Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch.