Retaliation: Russians Now Accusing Americans of Abusing Human Rights

October 31, 2013 - 3:17 AM

magnitsky

In this Monday, Nov. 30, 2009, file photo a portrait of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in jail, is held by his mother Nataliya Magnitskaya, as she speaks during an AP interview in Moscow. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

(CNSNews.com) – Almost seven months after the State Department released a blacklist of Russians accused of human rights abuses, lawmakers in Moscow are finalizing further retaliatory legislation targeting Americans they accuse of violating Russian citizens’ rights.

Russian media reported Thursday that the measure has strong cross-party support, is backed by the upper house of parliament, and that President Vladimir Putin could sign it into law before the end of the year.

The action is the latest response by Russians angered by a U.S. congressional initiative aimed at identifying and punishing Russian officials responsible for “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

The law was named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian whistleblower who accused Interior Ministry officials of embezzling $230 million, was then himself accused of tax evasion, and died in pre-trial custody in 2009 amid allegations of abuse.

The Magnitsky Act required the administration to compile a list of individuals responsible for egregious violations, both in the Magnitsky case and others, to be denied U.S. visas and have any U.S.-based assets frozen.

Troubled by the potential implications for its attempted “reset” with Moscow, the Obama administration opposed the measure, but the president signed it into law last December. The State Department met an April deadline to compile the list. Eighteen individuals were named, 16 of them in connection with Magnitsky. They included Interior Ministry officials, prison officers and four judges.

The Russian Foreign Ministry slammed the list, blaming it on “Russophobic members of the U.S. Congress,” and in response listed 18 Americans who it said would be subject to visa bans and asset freezes. They included a former chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney, former commanders of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and law enforcement officials responsible for bringing Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout – now serving a 25-year prison term in the U.S. – to trial.

Even before the State Department had published its list, the Kremlin had slammed the “unfriendly” law, and in response enacted controversial legislation banning American families from adopting Russian children.

Last summer a Russian court convicted Magnitsky of tax evasion in an unprecedented posthumous trial that critics said further illustrated Moscow’s resentment over U.S. criticism of its human rights record. A month later, Putin promoted the judge who presided over the trial, Radio Free Europe reported last week.

Now the Russian business daily Kommersant reports that the push for legislation to create a retaliatory list of alleged U.S. rights abusers is steaming ahead.

The legislation has been drafted by the speaker of the State Duma and the leaders of the four parties represented in the legislature, and received the backing of nine out of 10 members at a recent meeting of the Duma’s constitutional legislation committee.

It will be reviewed under an accelerated procedure on December 14, and the upper house, the Federation Council, has pledged its support, it said. Putin could sign it into law before year’s end.

Relations between Washington and Moscow have worsened over the months since the Magnitsky List was released, largely over the Kremlin’s decision to grant temporary asylum to the former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, who leaked information about NSA surveillance programs.

Obama was to have held a bilateral meeting with Putin on the sidelines of a G20 summit in St. Petersburg last month but the White House canceled it, citing the Snowden affair and other issues including missile defense.

Amid the crisis over a Syrian chemical weapons attack, they did talk briefly in the end.