The Departments of State and Treasury have released their public version of the “Magnitsky List”—18 Russian nationals who have committed gross human rights violations and were involved in the unjust imprisonment and death of Sergei Magnitsky.
The list was required by the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law and Accountability Act, which Congress passed last year. However, the people on the list are mostly unknown and mid-ranking officials. This raises the question: Has the Administration fulfilled the legislative intent of the Magnitsky Act requirements?
As it is, the list includes murderers, tax officials, investigators, judges, and prison supervisors involved in Magnitsky’s death. Those on the list are banned from entering the country and their U.S. assets will be seized. The names of these officials, however, will not send a strong message to Moscow to cease and desist its malicious and illicit practices.
The Obama Administration has decided to to avoid stepping on Vladimir Putin’s toes on the eve of National Security Adviser Tom Donilon’s trip to Moscow. The Administration seeks Russia’s cooperation on North Korea, Iraq, and Syria. It also took an unprecedented step of unilaterally cancelling modernization of European missile defense.
Thus, the President chose not to include any of the serious human rights violators in Russia. Not on the list are:
- Yuri Chaika, the prosecutor general of Russia who closed the investigation into Magintsky’s death. Chaika’s office has launched an unprecedented attack on civil society in Russia.
- Ramzan Kadyrov, president of Chechnya, who is suspected in ordering numerous assassinations and whose human rights violations were singled out within the Magnitsky Act.
- Alexander Bastrykin, Russian Federal Investigative Committee chairman and Vladimir Putin’s law school classmate, whose office is investigating political opponents and nongovernmental organizations.
- Salavat Karimov, assistant to the Russian prosecutor general, and Olga Yegorova, Moscow City Court chairman, who spearheaded investigations and convictions of high-profile whistleblowers and political opponents.
The inclusion of these names would have sent the message that the United States is serious about combating human rights violations in Russia.
Not everyone, however, is willing to placate Moscow. Obama’s list pales in comparison to the 280 names on the list proposed by Representative Jim McGovern (D–MA), who sponsored the Magnitsky Act. McGovern worried that the Treasury Department’s lax evidentiary standards would weaken the list, making it “a wink and a nod to the hardliners in Russia that they won.”
He may be right.
Russia has already pledged that it will respond seriously to the Magnitsky List. Putin’s spokesman said the release of names would have a “very negative effect.” At the same time, Moscow recognizes that the relationship with the U.S. is multifaceted and mutually beneficial. The Administration needs to drive the message to Moscow that it must clean up its human rights act.
Benjamin Tigay is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.