IN WAKE OF RECENT PROTESTS, SHAHEEN CHAIRS HEARING ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN RUSSIA

December 14, 2011

(Washington, D.C.) – As citizens continue to take to the streets in protest of Russia’s recent flawed parliamentary elections, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today held a hearing to examine the state of human rights and the rule of law in Russia.  Shaheen, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs, asked the panel of Obama Administration officials and diplomatic, human rights, and business experts about U.S. policy options regarding human rights in Russia.

Below is Shaheen's opening statement, as submitted for the record.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets today to discuss the state of human rights and the rule of law in Russia – a particularly timely topic given the protests over the last week in response to national elections marred by fraud and abuse. 

This month, the world commemorates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union.

The leadership in Russia chose to mark this anniversary by manipulating elections and engineering a carefully orchestrated political switch at the top.  Misters Putin and Medvedev plan to swap spots, with Putin returning as President and Medvedev taking the Prime Minister position.

Following Russia’s parliamentary elections, independent domestic monitors as well as international observers on the ground in Russia reported vote stealing, fraud, and abuse from supporters of Putin’s United Russia party.  Initial protests saw a swift response from riot police, who unjustly arrested hundreds of peaceful protesters, opposition leaders, and human rights activists – some of whom are still jailed today.  Despite the dangers, protesters continue to take to the streets, calling for the release of those arrested, new parliamentary elections, and an investigation of the recent fraud.

Despite President Medvedev’s strong rhetoric on fighting corruption, the absence of an adequate rule of law doesn’t just mean that the judicial system is weak.  It also undermines entrepreneurial business leaders in Russia and scares off foreign investment.  This leads to an anti-competitive environment where connections to the ruling regime matter more than business models.

A strong, successful, and transparent Russia that protects the rights of its citizens is squarely in the interests of the United States and the entire international community.  So, even as we work with Russia on areas of mutual interest through the Obama Administration’s “reset” policy, we need new tools to press its leaders on areas where we disagree.

One way currently being considered is the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act.  This legislation, introduced by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and cosponsored by 25 Senators – including myself – is currently pending before this Committee. 

Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer who exposed government corruption and who died under questionable circumstances during his detention.  The legislation, named in his honor, would blacklist any Russian believed to be responsible for major human rights violations from receiving a visa to travel to the United States.  The measure would also subject these individuals to a possible freezing of assets. 

This summer, the State Department barred dozens of Russian officials from traveling to the U.S. over their involvement in the detention and death of Mr. Magnitsky.  I appreciate the Administration’s efforts, but there is more we can do.  I hope our witnesses today will provide their views on the current legislation, and we look forward to a constructive dialogue with you.

I would also like to call attention to one more immediate action we can take.  Dr. Michael McFaul – a renowned human rights and democracy expert – still awaits confirmation as the next U.S. Ambassador to Moscow.  Given the ongoing volatility in Russia, we need a strong diplomatic presence in the country as soon as possible.  I hope we will act soon on his nomination.

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