Magnitsky Act overcomes further hurdle in US Congress

The US House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Magnitsky Act, with 365 to 43 in favour of passing the bill

The vote went in favour of passing the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 and a law to grant Russian Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR), a hangover from the Jackson-Vanik amendment to the Trade Act of 1974, which was originally introduced by the US to prevent the former Soviet Union from enjoying PNTR with the US.

The vote was originally scheduled to take place on 3 August before Congress broke for the summer recess, but was postponed until last week (6 August 2012).

Bill Browder, the founder of Hermitage Capital Management and a client of lawyer Magnitsky, who died in November 2009 in pre-trial detention, has been instrumental in bringing Magnitsky’s plight to the attention of the US Congress and was in the US on Thursday testifying prior to the vote on Friday.

Browder, who has compiled a dossier of thousands of pages citing evidence of the 60 Russian officials suspected of collusion in Magnitsky’s arrest, torture and subsequent death, told The Lawyer that the latest vote was hugely significant both for the Magnitsky campaign and for eradicating impunity for human rights abuses in Russia more generally.

“It’s the most important piece of human rights legislation since the Jackson Vanik Act 35 years ago and creates real consequences for human rights abusers in Russia,” he said.

Remarking on the reaction in Russia, Browder said it was clear that the news of the vote had hit home: “The best way of measuring how effective it has been is to witness the apoplectic reaction by the regime in Russia. The more noise and threats they make, the more we know we’ve hit their Achilles’ heel. In the end, we think their threats are empty because Russia needs the West more than the West needs Russia. The US administration is desperately trying to placate the American Congress, who are furious about this case and what’s going on in Russia, and at the same time not infuriate the Russians.”

The bill is now due to be brought in front of the Senate by early December before being passed on to President Obama to sign off. It could become federal law before the end of the year.

Once the Magnitsky Act becomes law Browder is hopeful that it will encourage other Western countries to impose asset freezes and issue visa bans on the 60 individuals. “The UK has been waiting for the US and I believe the law being passed in the US will create a domino effect around the world and the sanctions will also be brought in Europe,” he said.

In the UK, Conservative MP Dominic Raab has been spearheading a campaign for the UK Government to introduce its own version of the Magnitsky Act and sponsored a parliamentary motion earlier this year, which was backed by five former foreign ministers and which received unanimous approval from the House of Commons.

In September the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) denied claims that it had introduced a blacklist naming and shaming 60 Russian officials implicated in Magnitsky’s death (4 September 2012).