The U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that would impose sanctions on Russian officials allegedly linked to Hermitage Capital lawyer Sergei Magnitsky’s death in 2009.
The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, sponsored by U.S. Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin, seeks to impose visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials allegedly involved in the death of 37-year-old Russian anti-corruption lawyer Magnitsky, as well as in other gross human rights abuses in Russia.
The act that Russia strongly objects to has broad support in Congress but the Barack Obama administration does not look too enthusiastic about it.
Magnitsky was arrested on tax evasion charges in November 2008, days after accusing police investigators in a $230 million tax refund fraud, and died after almost a year in the Matrosskaya Tishina pre-trial detention center in Moscow.
A probe into his death revealed that the lawyer, who was suffering from untreated pancreatitis and a heart condition, did not receive proper medical treatment. Rights activists pointed to multiple violations of his rights during his arrest and in detention, including signs that he was beaten by prison guards hours before his death.
Russia has warned that it would respond to the adoption of the bill in kind, imposing restrictions on U.S. officials.
The U.S. State Department issued visa bans on several dozen Russian officials in connection to the Magnitsky case in July 2011. In response, Russia has imposed travel bans on several U.S. officials.
A group of influential U.S. senators, including former Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, proposed in mid-March canceling the Jackson-Vanik amendment but simultaneously adopting the Magnitsky bill.
The Jackson-Vanik amendment, passed in 1974, barred favorable trade relations with the Soviet Union because it wouldn’t let Jewish citizens emigrate. The restrictions imposed by Jackson-Vanik are often waived, but remain in place and are a thorn in the side of Russia-U.S. trade relations.
The Magnitsky case, along with the Jackson-Vanik amendment and the rift over the Syrian crisis, is a major stumbling block in the “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations.
The Obama administration, which has been evasive about the proposed legislation, on June 18 said it considers it necessary to distinguish between the adoption of the Magnitsky blacklist and the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment.