By Alexandra Sandacz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
MOSCOW, Russia – On Thursday, the United States Congress passed a bill to stabilize trade with Russia. However, the bill will also simultaneously penalize Russian officials who are linked to human rights violations.
In August, Russia joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), and as a result, opened its market and reduced tariffs under the terms of its membership.
The new United States trade legislation, which passed by large majorities in the House and Senate, replaces a 1974 provision, the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, that connected trade relations with the former Soviet Union to the emigration of Jews and other Soviet minorities. Before the new trade provision was passed, the US was the only WTO member that could not take advantage of Russia’s newly modified market.
Under the Magnitsky bill, named after Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison three years ago after allegedly being tortured, the United States will release a list of Russian officials suspected to be involved with human rights violations and withhold their visas and freeze their financial assets.
The bill currently awaits President Barack Obama’s signature. President Obama, expressing his desire to sign the law, stated, “The legislation will ensure that American businesses and workers are able to take full advantage of the WTO rules and market access commitments that the United States worked so hard to negotiate.
He continued, “My administration will continue to work with Congress and our partners to support those seeking a free and democratic future for Russia and promote the rule of law and respect for human rights around the world.”
Furthermore, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, a supporter of the Magnitsky bill, said, “Today, we close a chapter in U.S. history. It served its purpose. Today, we open a new chapter in U.S. leadership for human rights.”
However, despite the optimism in the United States, Moscow does not favor the human rights portion of the trade bill. The Russian Foreign Ministry called the bill “a performance in the theatre of the absurd”.
The Ministry also said, “It’s strange and wild to hear such claims about human rights addressed to us by politicians of the very state where in the 21st Century torture and the kidnapping of people all over the world were officially legalized.”
Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, warned that the Magnitsky provision will provoke a “symmetrical and asymmetrical reaction” from Russia. He continued, “It’s inadmissible when one country tries to dictate its will to another.”
As a response, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, announced Moscow’s plan to retaliate by barring “entry to Americans who are in fact guilty of human rights violations.”
For further information, please see:
BBC News – Russia to retaliate over US Magnitsky rights act – 7 December 2012
Reuters – US trade-human rights link tests Obama-Russia ties – 7 December 2012
BBC News – US Congress passes ‘Magnitsky’ rule on Russia trade law – 6 December 2012
The Washington Post – Russia fumes as U.S. Senate passes Magnitsky law aimed at human rights – 6 December 2012