Today, we mourn the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old Russian lawyer who died a terrible death two years ago in pretrial detention after exposing a multimillion-dollar fraud against Russian taxpayers. Jailed on fabricated charges after alleging that officers of Russia’s Interior Ministry took part in a $230 million tax fraud against his client, Hermitage Capital Management, Magnitsky was essentially murdered in jail after being denied medical treatment despite repeated pleas for help.
His death, caused by the gross negligence of his jailers and those in the Ministry of Interior responsible for putting him in jail in the first place, was no mistake, and should serve as a call to action: Russian officials must take real steps to change the system that enables human rights abuses and hold accountable those who commit them.
In the absence of accountability and rule of law in Russia, a growing list of American and European governments and parliamentarians have made it clear that if Russian officials perpetrate major human rights abuses, they and their immediate families should not enjoy the privilege of traveling to the West or banking in Western financial institutions. While the U.S. State Department has instituted limited restrictions on a list of Russian officials implicated in human rights abuses, the measures fall short of those necessary to impose real accountability or hardship for Russian human rights abusers.
The “Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act,” versions of which are being considered in both the U.S. House and Senate, deserves the full support of the U.S. Congress and of those who support rule of law in Russia. The bill would expand upon the State Department’s limited measures by imposing a visa ban and asset freeze on those Russian officials suspected of involvement in Magnitsky’s death; the Senate version of the bill would extend these measures to other human rights abusers in Russia. Passing the “Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act” is a critical step in promoting justice for those responsible for Magnitsky’s murder – and those guilty of other gross human rights violations.