The passage of the Magnitsky Act in the United States was not the end, but the beginning of the global campaign to ban human rights abusers from traveling to the West and using its financial systems. This week, the Canadian Parliament turned its attention to this issue, hearing the testimony from IMR Senior Advisor Vladimir Kara-Murza and Hermitage Capital CEO William Browder.
Less than a week after the U.S. Senate passed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which imposes a targeted visa ban and asset freeze on Russian human rights abusers, the same subject was brought up for discussion at the Canadian Parliament. On December 11, the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights held a hearing on Magnitsky’s case in the context of the human rights situation in Russia. Testifying at the hearing were Vladimir Kara-Murza, a member of the Coordinating Council of the Russian Opposition and a senior policy advisor at the Institute of Modern Russia; and William Browder, the CEO at Hermitage Capital Management, the investment fund Sergei Magnitsky represented. The hearing was held with a full turnout of Subcommittee members.
“The tragic story of Sergei Magnitsky, whose only ‘crime’ was to stand against corruption, is symptomatic of the general situation in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where state-sanctioned theft and extortion, politically motivated prosecutions, wrongful imprisonment, police abuse, media censorship, suppression of peaceful assembly, and election fraud have become norm,” Kara-Murza said at the hearing, pointing to the recent repressive laws on public rallies, NGOs and high treason, as well as to criminal cases against opposition activists as evidence that ,“if that is possible, the situation is growing worse.”
“It is time for personal accountability for those who continue to violate the rights and plunder the resources of Russian citizens.”
Kara-Murza and Browder called on Canadian MPs to follow the lead of their U.S. counterparts and deny access to those who are implicated in corruption and human rights abuses – in the Magnitsky case and beyond it.
“It is no secret that a great number of Russian officials, while preferring the style of governance of Zimbabwe or Belarus at home, are choosing the countries of North America and Western Europe when it comes to their bank deposits, vacation homes, and schooling for their children,” emphasized Vladimir Kara-Murza, “This double standard must end. It is time for personal accountability for those who continue to violate the rights and plunder the resources of Russian citizens.”
“There is only one group of people in the world who are against this legislation and that is the Russian government,” noted William Browder, “Until now, they have lived in a world where they can commit human rights abuses with no consequences. Since they control their own justice system, they know that they can torture and kill with full knowledge that nothing will happen to them. In many ways, they cannot control their own system if they cannot guarantee impunity to their foot soldiers when they commit human rights abuses.”
Canada’s version of the Magnitsky Act, Bill C-339 (An Act to condemn corruption and impunity in Russia in the case and death of Sergei Magnitsky), has already been introduced in the House of Commons by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, the former Justice Minister and Attorney-General. The current draft only provides for visa sanctions on those implicated in the Magnitsky case, but during a meeting with Kara-Murza and Browder, Cotler indicated that he is ready to broaden the scope of his bill to include an asset freeze, and to cover human rights abusers beyond the Magnitsky case, as the U.S. law does. The MP emphasized that he is ready to work in close cooperation with Canada’s Conservative government to achieve the aims of his legislation.
Canada’s Magnitsky Act has already been introduced in the House of Commons by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, the former Justice Minister and Attorney-General.
During their visit to Parliament Hill, Kara-Murza and Browder met with other senior Canadian legislators, including the Conservative chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Dean Allison, and the leader of the Liberal Party, Bob Rae. The Magnitsky legislation was the principal topic in all these talks.
“The task of bringing democratic change to Russia is for the Russian opposition, not any outside players,” Kara-Murza asserted at the press conference in Parliament, “But if the world’s democracies, if our friends and partners in Canada want to show solidarity with the Russian people and stand for the universal values of human dignity, the best way do to so would be to tell the crooks and the abusers that they are not welcome here.”