US House approves ‘Magnitsky Act’

US House approves ‘Magnitsky Act’
The US House of Representatives has with overwhelming majority approved a new bill normalizing trading relations with Moscow while at the same time criticizing Russia’s human rights record.

Moscow has condemned the controversial “Magnitsky Act”, as it prevents some officials suspected of corruption from travelling to America.

The act, passed by 365 to 43 votes, also automatically repeals the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment placing trade restrictions on Russia and establishes permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Moscow.

The bill is now en route to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved before being forwarded to President Barack Obama for an executive signature.

Russia has called today’s vote “unfriendly and provocative” and warned of a “tough” response.

“We will certainly not submit without consequences to anti-Russian initiative that imposes visa and financial sanctions against our country,” ministry’s spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said.

The newly act will allow Washington to deny visas as well as freeze the assets ofRussian officials allegedly involved in the death of the Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky who died in jail three years ago this Friday. The bill also stipulates that future possible violations in the field of human rights would be prosecuted by the same measures.

Russia stressed that Washington has no business condemning Russia’s human rights record given its own failures.

“Considering the crude violations of human rights in the United States itself, including the practical legalization of torture and the indefinite holding of inmates without trial in special CIA prisons and at the Guantanamo base [in Cuba], the United States has no moral right to preach or moralize to other countries,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Thursday.

Some Russian officials have suggested imposing retaliatory measures on US officials accused of violating the rights of Russian citizens, for instance those linked to the prosecution of Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison term in the United States.

Author and historian Dr. Gerald Horne believes it’s high time Moscow came up with tit-for-tat actions.

“The human rights situation in the United States is itself quite terrible, and I would hope that the Russian authorities will begin to scrutinize the human rights situation in the United States, where the black population is 13 per cent of the population – and 50 per cent  of the prison population – and they are disproportionally represented on death row! Why not introduce a Magnitsky bill here in Moscow? It would pose visa restrictions on those businesses that seek to do business here in Russia, that are involved in right violations and equal opportunity law here in the US,” he told RT.

In addition to the Magnitsky component, the legislation also annuls the Cold War-era Jackson-Vanick amendment that restricted US trade relations with the Soviet Union, and limited freedom of emigration and human rights. The second component of the Magnitsky Act establishes permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Russia.

After Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in August, following eighteen years of negotiations, Washington must enact PNTR so that US producers can benefit from operating in the Russian market.

American firms seeking to operate in Russia’s 140 million consumer market will benefit from lower import tariffs, intellectual property protection and greater legal transparency.

US economists estimate that US exports of goods and services could double in five years to $22 billion when trade relations are normalized.

The White House said in a statement supporting its passage that the bill "is about providing opportunities for American businesses and workers and creating jobs here at home."

At the same time, the White House has shown little enthusiasm for linking normalized trade relations with Russia to the “Magnitsky Act,” suggesting that the American government already has mechanisms to restrict the movement of individuals alleged to have committed human rights violations.In addition, the administration also sees the bill as a threat to US-Russian cooperation on issues such as arms reduction and counterterrorism.