By Kathy Lally
MOSCOW— An international body devoted to security and democracy Sunday chided Russia—one of its 56 members—on its human rights record and urged governments to impose sanctions by banning visas and freezing the assets of Russians connected to the death of a crusading lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), representing the United States at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, which was convened in Monaco, spoke urgently in favor of the resolution approved Sunday, calling Magnitsky’s death an example of pervasive and systemic corruption in Russia.
A similar law, named in memory of Magnitsky, is already making its way through Congress, with the energetic support of Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D.-Md.), who is vice president of the OSCE parliamentary assembly.
Magnitsky was working for an American law firm in Moscow, advising the Hermitage Capital investment firm on tax issues, when he uncovered a $230 million tax fraud. After he accused tax officials and police investigators of the crime, Magnitsky was arrested and charged instead. He died in 2009 after a year in pre-trial detention, denied medical care and showing signs of having been beaten. “Not one person has been held responsible,”McCain said, calling Magnitsky’s treatment tantamount to torture.
Russia put up a spirited defense Sunday, arguing that an investigation of Magnitsky’s death was very much underway and that the sanctions amounted to conviction by public opinion rather than a court of law. It was overruled by an overwhelming show of hands in favor of the resolution.
Speaker after speaker criticized official impunity, the lack of a convincing investigation and the absence of punishment for Magnitsky’s death. He was 37 when he died.
Valdis Liepins of Latvia pointed out that Russia was a signatory to OSCE conventions and that the resolution urged similar action against anyone connected to gross abuses of human rights. “It is not against anything but evil itself,” he said.
“I believe that supporting the rule of law is pro-Russia,” McCain said. “I believe that defending the innocent and punishing the guilty is pro-Russia. . . .Let us align this assembly to the aspirations of the Russian people and for Sergei’s aspirations for justice, for equal dignity under the law, and for the indomitable spirit of human freedom.”
Last month, McCain wrote to President Obama, asking him to designate those associated with the Magnitsky case as a criminal organization involved in money laundering and other international crimes. That would prevent them from doing business in dollars around the world. McCain named a former banker, Dmitry Klyuev, and his lawyer, Andrei Pavlov, as allegedly part of the group. Both were in Monaco over the weekend, apparently lobbying against Sunday’s resolution.
Separately, the assembly criticized Ukraine for deteriorating human rights, lack of an independent judiciary and the detention and mistreatment of a former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. The resolution urged Ukraine to permit OSCE representatives to visit Tymoshenko in jail.