Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Will the Magnitsky Law Take the Place of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment?

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The House of Representatives Rules Committee of the US Congress decided that voting on the bill that stipulates simultaneous abolishment of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment aimed against Russia and the adoption of the so-called Magnitsky Act shall take place on 13 November. Chances are, the replacement of one discriminatory document with another would become an obstacle in the dialogue between Moscow and Washington.

Two bills that cause heated discussions in Russian and American political and business circles are combined in one document. If the Committee approves it on 13 November, it’ll go to a vote of the whole House. The main problem with the US lawmakers’ initiative is that they’ve connected the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and the Magnitsky Act; they have absolutely nothing in common, either technically or in their contents. The so-called Magnitsky Act stipulates freezing assets and banning entry to the USA for Russian citizens allegedly associated with the death of the Hermitage Capital Management employee Sergei Magnitsky in an investigative isolation ward in Moscow in 2009. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which is a vestige of the Cold War, was adopted in 1974. It stipulated restrictions upon trade with the USSR, because the US Congress believed that it had undue restrictions upon Jewish emigration.

Expert Vilen Ivanov told us, “Replacing one law with another is unlikely to add optimism in Moscow. The Magnitsky Law is even worse than the Jackson-Vanik Amendment is. The aim of the latter was trade discrimination against Russia, whilst the new law lets off the leash all those in the USA who dislike Russia; it gives them a free hand in announcing Russian citizens personae non grata and introducing individual sanctions against them. This law couldn’t promote better relations between our two countries and it makes our partnership more problematic in general”.

It’s worth remembering that the Magnitsky Law contains a paragraph that gives the US Secretary of State the right to introduce alterations to the list of sanctions, based on the country’s interests. This is an obviously superfluous measure, as 18 months ago the US Department of State already made a blacklist of persons allegedly associated with Magnitsky’s death to prevent them from getting US visas. In addition, the US Secretary of the Treasury would have the right to freeze Russian citizens’ bank accounts. In essence, this boils down to the fact that the American authorities can smear Russian citizens for one reason or another. As is known, this is a very effective method of political pressure.

Sergei Mikheyev, the Director of the Centre of Political Situations, said, “The latest developments demonstrate Washington’s current attitude to Moscow. Unfortunately, the general mood in the USA is in the vein of the Cold War. Americans believe that they should always have some ‘lever’ to be able to put pressure on Russia. I don’t think that we could radically change this situation at present, so, we should make the best of what we’ve got”.

Repeatedly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that Magnitsky’s death is a Russian internal problem, which is being dealt with at the highest level. As for the attempt to replace the Jackson-Vanik Amendment with a new anti-Russian law, this doesn’t suit Moscow at all. Incidentally, not only Russian politicians but also American businessmen are amongst the opponents of the Magnitsky Law. Bill Reinsh, President of the influential National Foreign Trade Council, recently announced that the adoption of that law would seriously damage trade and political relations with Russia, including cooperation on the Iranian and Syrian problems. He thought that Russia would prefer other partners within the WTO and that it could take retaliatory measures against the USA. Interestingly, some people in the Obama Administration hold the same view. However, Republicans in the US Congress wouldn’t listen to these arguments; they stubbornly insist on their position.

13 November 2012

Ilya Khartamov

Voice of Russia World Service

http://english.ruvr.ru/2012_11_13/Will-Magnitsky-Law-replace-Jackson-Vanik-Amendment/

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Prisoners’ Rights Violations in the USA

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During the spring of 2012, the US State Department sharply criticised Russia for conditions in its prisons. American officials claim numerous violations of prisoners’ rights due to harsh prison conditions, poor medical care, and violent staff {that sounds like Texas or Alabama: editor}. The report calls these conditions “life threatening”. US lawmakers were also quick to respond to the death of Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in pre-trial detention. They adopted the so-called Magnitsky blacklist of financial and travel sanctions against top Russian officials allegedly linked to the lawyer’s death. In July 2011, the US State Department put 11 Russian officials on the US visa blacklist… the so-called Cardin list initiated by Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) and Roger Wicker (R-MS).

However, what about sanctions for those responsible for bad detention conditions in American prisons? The word “bad” seems to be too mild for what’s happening in California prisons. In late March 2012, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law went to the UN on behalf of California prisoners kept in solitary confinement. The petition says that some 4,000 inmates languish in isolation cells for years because of their alleged gang ties. The lawyers claimed that some people spend years in jail even without committing any crime, supposing that a number of prisoners were jailed for taking part in hunger strikes. The petition noted, “They live like prisoners held in a GULag, not a modern democracy”. The Center also reported violent guards, bad food, and poor medical care in California prisons. Earlier, in the fall of 2011, some 12,000 California inmates went on a hunger strike demanding better conditions. Then, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said that the reported number of strikers had been exaggerated.

This case isn’t unique. The USA is number one in the world in the number of prisoners (a quarter of all detainees in the world), and it’s first in the number of prisoners per capita (754 inmates/100,000 population). These statistics come from the Pew Research Center, which means that they’re quite trustworthy. Such a large number of prisoners require vast spending on both the federal and local level. According to the Pew, the USA spent some 11 billion dollars on prisons in 1987, whilst in exceeded 49 billion dollars in 2007. The number of prisoners increased threefold in the last 20 years.

The problem involving prisoners concerns not only US law-enforcement agencies but also it’s a social problem triggering discrimination. Pew said that the inmates’ race/ethnicity ratio differs from the ethnic composition of the American population. One can observe the same discrepancy in the punishment of white vs. dark-skinned criminals. Whites are more often released on probation, whilst dark-skinned Americans are mostly incarcerated, for the same drug-related offences, a disparity that causes ethnic and social conflicts. Meanwhile, official prison reports don’t provide many details of prisoners’ life and they explain the growing numbers of prisoners by tougher measures undertaken by law enforcement agencies after 9/11.

On Tuesday, a lawyer for hundreds of California inmates held in solitary confinement because of their gang ties filed a petition to the UN to intervene to stop the practise and investigate living conditions and prisoners’ health. The petition, sent to a UN working group on arbitrary detention, comes after about 6,000 inmates at 13 prisons in the state went on a summer hunger strike. Peter Schey, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law said that the petition focused on more than 400 inmates held in isolation cells for years because of alleged gang ties.

25 August 2012

Voice of Russia World Service

http://english.ruvr.ru/2012_08_25/Prisoners-rights-violation-in-the-US/

Thursday, 19 July 2012

US Senate Committee Approves Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Magnitsky Bill

“Freedom, American-style…”

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On Wednesday, the US Senate Finance Committee approved a bill combining a repeal of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and a measure aiming to punish Russian officials involved in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) said, “By enacting PNTR (permanent normal trade relations), together with the Magnitsky bill, we’re replacing Jackson-Vanik with legislation that addresses the corruption and accountability issues that Russia confronts today”. The new bill is a response to the demands of a majority of lawmakers for a review of legislation affecting trade and human rights issues, including some laws affecting trade with Russia.

Baucus said that the proposal to add the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act to the PNTR legislation “will help fight human rights abuses in Russia”. He said that Russia would formally be a member of the WTO next month, and “that’s our deadline for passing PNTR. There’s no time to waste, America risks being left behind. If we miss that deadline, American farmers, ranchers, workers, and businesses will lose out to the other 154 members of the WTO that already have PNTR with Russia. American workers will lose the jobs created to China, Canada, and Europe when Russia, the world’s seventh largest economy, joins the WTO and opens its market to the world”.

The Senate began studying the issue in mid-March, along with amendments from Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), including proposals for visa sanctions against Russians allegedly involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a tax lawyer working for the Hermitage Capital investment company, who died in custody in Russia in 2009. Cops arrested Magnitsky on tax evasion charges in November 2008, days after accusing police investigators of involvement in a 230 million USD (7.37 billion Roubles. 188 million Euros. 147 million UK Pounds) tax refund fraud, and died after almost a year in Matrosskaya Tishina pre-trial detention centre in Moscow.

In turn, Russian investigators accused Magnitsky and Hermitage of tax evasion. Last week, a group of Russian senators went to the USA to present what they claimed was new evidence of Magnitsky and Hermitage’s guilt. A probe into his death revealed that the lawyer, who was suffering from untreated pancreatitis and a heart condition, didn’t receive proper medical treatment. Human rights activists pointed to multiple violations of his rights during his arrest and in detention, including signs that prison guards beat him hours before his death. Russia warned it’d respond to the adoption of the Magnitsky bill in kind, imposing restrictions on US officials. In July 2011, the US State Department issued visa bans on several dozen Russian officials in connection to the Magnitsky case. In response, Russia imposed travel bans on several US officials.

In mid-March, a group of influential US senators, including former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, proposed cancelling the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, but simultaneously adopting the Magnitsky bill. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment, passed in 1974, barred favourable trade relations with the USSR because it wouldn’t let Jews freely emigrate. Often, waivers override the restrictions imposed by Jackson-Vanik, but they remain in place, and are a thorn in the side of Russia-US trade relations.

The Magnitsky case, along with the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, and the rift over the Syrian crisis, are major stumbling blocks in the “reset” of US-Russian relations. The Obama administration, which was evasive about the proposed legislation, said on 18 June that it considers it necessary to distinguish between the adoption of the Magnitsky blacklist and the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment.

18 July 2012

RIA-Novosti

http://en.rian.ru/world/20120718/174669701.html

Editor’s Note:

Americans (especially Anglo-Saxon Proddies) have a lotta damned gall. They think that they’re moral paragons and exemplars for the entire world to imitate. If they don’t receive total and obsequious adulation, they go off and pout; they’re violent and nasty, if their interlocutor’s weak enough. In the case of Russia and China, which are strong enough to deter American violence and aggression, the Americans issue threats and do their best to blacken their reputation (or, at least, attempt to do so).

Hermitage Capital is incorporated in Guernsey (it also has offices in the Cayman Islands, another stronghold of laissez-faire corporate non-regulation (which makes it one of Willard Romney‘s fave locations)), which has notoriously lax incorporation laws. In short, it’s a crank organisation run by crooks. For them to complain of fraud on the part of Russian officials is downright laughable. Ben Cardin’s a joke, too… he’s part of the notoriously corrupt Balto area Democratic machine, which makes Yuri Luzhkov look like a piker (in other words, they’re the General Motors of corruption as compared to Luzhkov’s Acme Products operation).

All in all, it’s a perfect illustration of the hypocrisy and overweening hubris of the American Anglo-Saxon Proddie. If the USSR ceased to exist in 1991, why did the USA keep Jackson-Vanik in place after its demise? In the same vein, the Americans tightened the screws on Cuba after 1991… in the hopes of overthrowing Fidel (who make them look like fools in Latin America). These naked efforts to export the American “system” failed, and all that they did was nourish hatred and resentment of the USA and the American people. We have much to answer for as a people, I’m afraid… and the fact that we didn’t personally support it doesn’t matter. It was done in our name, and we didn’t stop it. God do help us…

BMD  

Monday, 18 June 2012

American Clergy Support Restrictions on Russian Officials in Magnitsky Law

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American religious leaders expressed support for the financial and visa restrictions in the so-called Magnitsky Law targeting Russian officials. On Monday, a spokesman for Hermitage Capital Management stated that a vote on the bill is due on Tuesday in the US Congress, saying to our Interfax correspondent, “Nine religious organizations said in a letter sent to Congress that the adoption of this law will be help to prevent reprisals against fighters for religious freedom”. The spokesman cited an excerpt from the letter, “The opportunity to visit the USA is a privilege. In cases where foreign officials are involved in torture, killings, restrictions of religious freedoms, and other human rights violations, they should be deprived of this privilege”. The letter’s signatories expressed the hope that “the sacrifice of Sergei Magnitsky won’t be in vain, and that it’d lead to the emergence of an important new tool in the fight against violation of human rights in the world”. Amongst the organisations expressing support for the letter were the International Institute for Religious Freedom, the American Islamic Congress, and the Hindu American Foundation.

In particular, the Magnitsky Law envisages reprisals against those people who the USA deems directly or indirectly responsible for so-called “irregularities” related to the arrest and death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, an employee of Hermitage Capital {a shadowy outfit incorporated under the lax laws of Guernsey: editor}, or who tried to hide the facts of what happened, and profited from his death. Magnitsky faced charges under Article 199 of the RF Criminal Code (tax evasion); he died in a Moscow detention centre on 16 November 2009. Magnitsky’s supporters claim that the cops arrested him after he exposed a corruption scheme involving some Russian officials. His death caused wide public attention, not only in Russia but also abroad. MVD investigators have completed their investigation, but they aren’t going to release any information to the public, in order to spare Magnitsky’s relatives.

18 June 2012

Interfax-Religion

http://www.interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&div=45963

Editor’s Note:

Hermitage Capital is a crank institution, all the way around. It’s a stalking horse for the American and British special services, and Russia was correct in slapping them down hard. Let’s cut out all the smarmy and pietistic froufrou. The only reason that the US Congress is doing this is that the Russian government blacklisted Hermitage’s founder William Browder as a “threat to national security” and denied him a visa. Ergo, this is nothing but a childish tit-for-tat gussied up in splashy rhinestones and paste. Do note this smarmy passage from the letter:

In cases where foreign officials are involved in torture, killings, restrictions of religious freedoms, and other human rights violations, they should be deprived of this privilege.

Gee… does that mean that we should deny GWB, Richard Cheney, King Rush, Queen Ann, and Wafflin’ Willy entrance to all civilised countries as they’re proponents of torture (as the CIA black sites proved to the whole world)? Perspirin’ minds wanna know… if it applies to the Russians, it applies to the Americans too! Should we put Yushchenko in the hoosegow for ordering the beating of Fr Dmitri Sidor? Should we shun the KSA for its restriction of religious freedom? You do see how untenable the above quoted assertion is… it shows how ungrounded and unhinged the West has become. It should leave the Orthosphere and the Islamosphere alone… they don’t share the West’s cultural prejudices, and that’s that.

This is a real conundrum for Fathausen. On the one hand, he wants to support his rightwing pals in dumping on Russia. Magnitsky was a zapadnik traitor who wanted Russia to be like the USA… unbridled capitalism, no social safety net, double-dealing with states smaller than it was… in short, he was an amoral monster. That means that he’d have to go against the Centre… and the Centre is his last support in canonical Orthodoxy. Fathausen’s in a real pickle. If he supports the Centre, he pisses off his rightwing pals; if he supports the American rightwing, he pisses off the Centre. Not an enviable position to be in, I’d say. There’s no way to tell which way that he’ll go… so, no one can say what the fallout will be. Nevertheless, he’s facing a LARGE order of Crow Supreme, no matter what course he takes, and that’s beyond question. Quo Vadis, James Paffhausen?

BMD 

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