The Senate also repealed a trade sanction imposed 38 years ago to force the Soviet Union to allow Jews and other religious minorities to emigrate, replacing it with a modern day punishment for human rights abuse that has enraged Russian officials,” The Washington Post reports:
The old law, one of the last vestiges of the Cold War, was called the Jackson-Vanik amendment, named after a U.S. senator and a representative. The new law, passed 92 to 4, grants Russia, and Moldova, permanent normal trade relations, but it is coupled with the Sergei Magnitsky (right) Rule of Law Accountability Act, which …. blacklists Russians connected to the death of Magnitsky in police custody, and to other gross human rights violations, prohibiting entrance to the United States and use of its banking system.
“Today we close a chapter in U.S. history,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, (D-Md.), one of the prime movers of the Magnitsky bill, said during the debate on Jackson-Vanik. “It served its purpose. Today we open a new chapter in U.S. leadership for human rights.”
The bill received robust bi-partisan support, passing by a vote of 92-4 in the Senate and 362-43 in the House, the culmination of a campaign to sanction Russian officials complicit in the killing of Magnitsky, a lawyer who revealed a $230 million case of fraud involving senior members of the security services, judiciary, and tax officials.
“The sanctions introduced in the bill add new arrows to our nation’s quiver of strategies to identify, isolate, and punish gross violators of human rights,” said Human Rights First’s Innokenty Grekov. “Senator Cardin and many others deserve recognition and praise for their leadership to adapt U.S. human rights policy toward Russia from the Cold War era to modern times. This bill should make clear to Russia that the United States is serious about the rampant problem of impunity for serious human rights violators.“
Human rights and civil society groups have been the target of a sustained and punitive Kremlin campaign designed to stifle dissent and close political space.
“Russia’s main independent voting watchdog has been forced to lay off nearly all its staff after the bulk of its funding dried up when the government ordered its main backer, the U.S. Agency for International Development, to cease operations in the country, the Wall Street Journal reports:
The poll-monitoring group, Golos—which means vote in Russian—played a key role in drawing attention to fraud allegations during parliamentary and presidential elections in the past year, which led to the largest protests the country had seen in nearly two decades. The group’s financing source had become a target of heavy criticism in state-run media following the elections.
The 12-year-old group’s leader, Liliya Shibanova [left], said it was currently impossible for Golos to continue, as its financing had almost entirely disappeared with USAID’s departure….. Shibanova said her group would continue looking for financing but was “categorically” against registering as a foreign agent.
“Our budget was based on cooperation with other organizations,” she said, noting that since 2009 Golos had received $2.8 million from the U.S. pro-democracy organization.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today criticized Russia in remarks to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The Kremlin has tried to stifle or impede OSCE election-monitoring missions to Russia and former Soviet states.
“We have seen in Russia restrictions on civil society, including proposed legislation that would require many NGOs and journalists to register as foreign agents,” Clinton said.
“The evaporation of foreign funding has left many Russian nongovernmental organizations hunting for financing and on the brink of closure,” the WSJ reports:
On Wednesday, one of Russia’s oldest human-rights organizations, the Moscow Helsinki Group, said it had received a one-million-ruble ($32,445) infusion of support from billionaire metals magnate Mikhail Prokhorov, which would allow the group to continue operating through May.
Golos and the Moscow Helsinki Group are supported by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.