Friday, April 07, 2017

The Magnitsky Act

"It just wasn't possible for the committee to ignore the circumstances of what happened to Mr. Magnitsky [tortured in a Russian prison for accusing the government of corruption, where he later died]."
"If we were to have a discussion about sanctions and the appropriate way that sanctions are used, there would be a missing piece of reality."
Liberal Member of Parliament Bob Nault, Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Ottawa

"That's why Putin and his cronies and his agents and his lobbyists were so aggressive in trying to repeal the Magnitsky Act [Simply as a result of Moscow's virulent opposition to the legislation abroad, effectively holding it to account for its role in this man's death]."
"It is because it will hurt the very foundation of his [Putin's] so-called social contract with the Russian elite."
Garry Kasparov, democracy advocate, Putin regime political opponent
A portrait of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in jail, is held by his mother Nataliya Magnitskaya, as she speaks during an interview with the AP in Moscow. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)
A portrait of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in jail, is held by his mother Nataliya Magnitskaya, as she speaks during an interview with the AP in Moscow -- Alexander Zemlianichenko/The Associated Press

William Browder, the American lawyer whose legal firm Mr. Magnitsky was employed by and who has embarked for the past several years on a personal campaign to honour his dead friend by persuading governments to acknowledge the authors of Mr. Magnitsky's death in a Russian prison through formally passing a law recognizing what he fought against, penalizing those against whom he fought by making them persona non grata, appeared before a House of Commons committee in Canada to testify on behalf of the Magnitsky law.

Several years ago, Mr. Browder realized success in his mission when the U.S. Congress put into law the Magnitsky Act in 2012, sanctioning the Russian rights violators of Sergei Magnitsky, an accountant who uncovered massive corruption schemes favouring Vladimir Putin's friends, a tax fraud of $230-million he stumbled upon in 2008. President Putin reciprocated by enacting a law banning American citizens from the privilege of adopting children of Russian parentage.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee undertook an expansion of its legislative review of the nation's two sanctions laws. That expansion to include an examination of the issues relating to Mr. Magnitsky, leading to a report titled "A Coherent and Effective Approach to Canada's Sanctions Regimes: Sergei Magnitsky and Beyond". This also is what led to a committee hearing when "compelling" testimony was heard from a number of witnesses advocating for Magnitsky-type measures to be adopted.

Aside from William Browder, former Liberal MP, Cabinet Minister and human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler, and chess legend Garry Kasparov, along with additional human rights advocates were heard by the committee. Among whom was Russian human rights activist Vladimir Kara-Murza whose testimony described his near-death occasioned by multiple organ failure after his having been poisoned in 2015, in connection with "my involvement in the global campaign in support of the Magnitsky Act".

"My hope", explained Mr. Browder to the committee, "is that this [adoption of the Act] would become eventually a sort of pedestrian thing where it doesn't even impact any kind of diplomatic relations", between Russia and those nations that choose to adopt into law the Magnitsky Act. The issue is the necessity to hold accountable those involved in corruption and the criminal silencing of those who reveal scandalous circumstances however embarrassing to a government.

There was full support from Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrat Members of Parliament in support of the change to the Special Economic Measures Act, involving a mandated review of the law along with the Freezing Assets of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act. That Mr. Magnitsky was beaten in prison then refused the medical treatment that would have preserved his life, is being highlighted through the act that gives honour to his efforts.

Relations between Canada and Russia have been strained since the Kremlin authorized the annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. Moscow's decision to send troops into Ukraine to fight the legitimate government of Ukraine alongside ethnic-Russian Ukrainians who want autonomy in eastern Ukraine and closer ties to Russia, earned it the world's censure and financially crippling sanctions.

Moscow has retaliated by imposing its own travel bans, including one on Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs. The final decision whether Canada is to adopt into law the Magnitsky Act is now in the hands of Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It would be hard to imagine that he would not take the required steps to complete the adoption of the Act, if for no other reason than to acknowledge his own majority Members of Parliaments' collective direction in that regard.
"This is the testimony of a man [Vladimir Kara-Murza] who escaped death this year and escaped death again at the hands of assassins, which I believe are directly linked to the Putin regime. It was very compelling testimony."
"I think it convinced some Liberal members that there was good reason to examine the sanctions and recommend adoption."
Conservative committee member Peter Kent

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