WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), delivered the following opening remarks Thursday at a Commission hearing on ‘The Magnitsky Act at Five: Assessing Accomplishments and Challenges.’ Senator Cardin is the lead author of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act and the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act:
“Chairman Wicker, first of all, thank you for your leadership on the Helsinki Commission. You’ve been a true champion on the human rights basket of the OSCE and U.S. participation, and I thank you for convening this hearing. We do have three very distinguished witnesses here today and I thank all three for being here.
“Mr. Browder, I remember when you first brought Sergei Magnitsky to my attention in June of 2009. I was shocked to hear what had happened and you were able to do something that has been very difficult. What happened to Sergei Magnitsky was not unique under Mr. Putin in Russia. But what made it unique was your ability to tell that story to the international community. And the international community was forced to take action and you were able to take that activity to help so many people around the world. So, I thank you for your courage and I thank you for making sure we remember Sergei Magnitsky and remember his courage and are motivated by him every day.
“Mr. Cotler, I want to thank you. Canada has been our true ally and friend because there was a lot of pushback about taking action against Russia and your leadership in Canada, your leadership in helping us with the OSCE parliamentary assembly was critical and we thank you for that partnership for giving us international legitimacy to moving forward on the Magnitsky Act.
“Mr. Kasparov, I want to thank you because you represent the Russian people, what the Russian people want. This is not about penalizing Russia, it’s about penalizing the leaders of Russia for what they’re doing and first hurting the people of their own country. So, I thank our three witnesses.
“The tragic death of Sergei Magnitsky in November 2009 for discovering $230 million corruption, one of the largest in the history of Russia, was just beyond our comprehension that the political leadership of Russia could stoop to that type of level and take out the life of a very young lawyer, and we took some action. We, the Helsinki Commission, said ‘Look, we’re going to do some things.’ And I remember conversations I had with the Administration on how we could perhaps use visas or use the banking system to take action against the known perpetrators. Those conversations were going through the normal bureaucracy problems that you see in Executive branches in diplomacy.
“In April of 2010, I sent a letter to Secretary of State Clinton suggesting formally that she take action. And they were considering it. And then, Mr. Chairman, we came to the conclusion that for this to really work, we know the Executive had the authority, but would they exercise that authority? Because when you talk about bilateral relations with countries, there are so many things on the agenda, will human rights really get the place it needs? So we knew that Congress needed to act and the Helsinki Commission did get engaged on this issue.
“I filed legislation and I was proud of so many people who joined in that, and I thank the Chairman, Senator Wicker, clearly Senator McCain was one of our true champions throughout this process. And our prayers are with him on his health as we go through this. Also I want to mention Kyle Parker, a staff member of the Helsinki Commission who was critically important in keeping us focused, and again this never became partisan. We worked it through the Senate. I then went on to Senate Foreign Relations Committee and got a little bit of a hostile treatment there. But a champion emerged and I have to mention that. Senator Lugar was a real champion in giving us, again, the bipartisan support needed. Senator Shaheen was a critical supporter on Senate Foreign Relations Committee on this issue.
“And we got it enacted. And we celebrate the fifth anniversary of its enactment but we didn’t stop there because it was Russia-specific and we knew these problems were global and [last year] we passed the Global Magnitsky Law.
“So, I just really want to acknowledge that when the United States leads, we find other countries that follow. We’ve seen action taken in Estonia, Lithuania, and the U.K. We’ve made significant progress. So I just really want to acknowledge the importance of the work that has been done but tell us as I said earlier, we can’t rest of our laurels. There are serious issues globally taking place, the Administration is supposed to present their Global Magnitsky list very shortly and we’ll be watching that very closely. We also will be watching their implementation of the Russian sanction law that requires reports as early as next month and we will be watching very closely to make sure they comply with the laws that we have passed.
“The bottom line is that the Helsinki Commission, the United States Congress, has taken leadership on this issue and we will continue to lead on protecting human rights globally.”