U.S. House Passes Magnitsky / Russia Rule of Law Act

November 16, 2012

On the third anniversary of the death of Sergei Magnitsky, the U.S. House of Representatives today voted overwhelmingly in favor of H.R. 6156,  RUSSIA AND MOLDOVA JACKSON-VANIK REPEAL ACT OF 2012.

According to a comprehensive story about the evolution of the bill in the New Republic, the main sponsor Bill Browder achieved something of miracle:

“[He] exploited the friction between Congress’s desire to win easy human rights points and a White House that likes to set its own foreign policy (and that has less hawkish ideas about Russia). In the end, he and Cardin won, by striking a bargain: the White House wanted to help Russia enter the WTO, and to do that, the U.S. had to repeal the outdated 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which denied the Soviet Union “most favored nation” trading status because it blocked Jews from emigrating. Cardin and his allies in the Senate — McCain, Joe Lieberman, Roger Wicker—hitched the repeal of Jackson-Vanik to the passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which would ban officials implicated in Magnitsky’s death, as well as other human rights offenders, from traveling to the U.S., while also freezing their assets. A quid pro quo in the best traditions of Washington.”

The bill, which represents a landmark in human rights diplomacy with the selective application of visa bans against government officials accused of severe violations, honors not only the memory of the murdered Hermitage lawyer Magnitsky, but also mentions many of the current victims of political injustice such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

In yesterday’s procedural vote to bring 6156 to the floor, Rules Committee Chair David Dreier (R-CA) noted:  “A lot of us held out a great deal of hope for Russia, more so than we have right now, just a few years ago, and because we’ve seen backward steps. I’ve talked about my friend Mikhail Khodorkovsky , who, at this moment, is languishing in a Russian prison for simply criticizing Vladimir Putin. I’m here today in large part because I want Mikhail Khodorkovsky to be freed. I want to see an end to that kind of treatment of individuals.”

H.R. 6156 passed with wide bipartisan support, 365-43, with 227 Republicans voting for and with 6 voting against; 138 Democrats voting for with 37 voting against.

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