Senators Explore Human Rights Troubles in Russia

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week heard from a panel concerned with the human rights situation in Russia. The hearing, titled “A Dangerous Slide Backwards: Russia's Deteriorating Human Rights Situation,” featured the testimony of a number of foreign policy experts from the Council on Foreign Relations, Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, and Amnesty International. In addition, Boris Nemtsov, a high official during the Yeltsin Administration and now Co-Chairman of the Republican Party of Russia-People's Freedom Party, also testified.

Ambassador Stephen Sestanovich, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for the former Soviet Union, observed:

Over the past year and a half President Putin and his supporters have put in place a new strategy to re-stabilize their rule after the protest of 2011-2012. One key element of their strategy is to portray challengers to the status quo as instruments of foreign manipulation. This was Mr. Putin’s first rhetorical jab at those who demonstrated against fraud in the parliamentary elections of December 2011. (It was Hillary Clinton, he claimed, who had ordered them into the streets.) The same impulse lives on in the new law requiring Russian NGO’s to register as “foreign agents” if they receive any part of their funding from abroad. There are some puzzling elements of Putin’s strategy, but his political calculation is pretty obvious. He hopes to benefit by blurring the distinction between political movements and civil society.

Last year, Congress approved legislation known as The Magnitsky Act, which would deny Russian human rights violators visas to enter the U.S. and would provide authority for U.S. officials to freeze their assets.  The Magnitsky Act is named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and whistleblower who was allegedly tortured and died in prison three years ago.

In addition, NRB denounced the demolition of an evangelical Christian church in Moscow last year.

Find testimony and other resources from this hearing here.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: June 14, 2013