Open Russia’s Vladimir Kara-Murza has been awarded the Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Award for his work as an “Outstanding Russian Opposition Activist”.
Kara-Murza, who was himself poisoned twice in Moscow and very nearly lost his life, has been one of the foremost campaigners for justice for Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition leader who in 2015 was murdered less than 100 meters from the Kremlin walls.
Kara-Murza has campaigned insistently all over the western world for justice, democracy and the rule of law in his home country. He has also campaigned widely for the necessity of an international Magnitsky legislation which would make it possible to prevent corrupt Russian officials and human rights abusers from “stealing in Russia, while spending in the West”.
The Magnitsky Awards were set up by Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital, for whom Sergei Magnitsky worked as a lawyer. Sergei uncovered an elaborate tax fraud scheme that involved a number of individuals running right up into the government. Instead of keeping quiet, Sergei decided to testify against the suspected criminals, and was subsequently thrown in jail. Over the course of a year Sergei was maliciously beaten and tortured in an attempt to force him to retract his testimony. 11 months later he died of his injuries in prison on November 16 2016. He left behind a wife and two children.
Bill Browder now devotes his life to fighting for justice for Sergei Magnitsky. Immediately after the murder Browder and his team attempted to turn to the International community for assistance in punishing the perpetrators, however, at the time there was no international mechanism for punishing such crimes. And so in response, in the words of Browder himself, “if no mechanism exists, let’s create one”.
This was the birth of the Magnitsky movement which pushed for worldwide legislation sanctioning individual criminals, corrupt officials and human rights abusers who rule their home lands like tyrants, and then spend lavishly in Western democracies. After the first Magnistky Act passed through the US Senate in 2012 with overwhelming support (89% of representatives voted for the bill), Vladimir Putin came out and furiously stated that revoking the Magnistky legislation was to be Russia’s top foreign policy goal.
The semi-feudal system of corrupt patronage that exists in Russia means that the ruling clique can effectively purchase the loyalty of political and business actors by allowing them to surreptitiously extract large sums of money through bribes and fraud. These individuals then channel their money out of Russia to western banks in countries where they and their families enjoy comfortable lives away from the chaos they have created at home. The anger expressed by the Russian elite at the Magnitsky legislation (which has since effectively been implemented in Canada) means that the law is working as intended.
A report earlier this year by the Paris School of Economics and UC Berkeley claimed the total value of Russian offshore capital is somewhere in the region of 75% of the country’s GDP. The report claimed that “As much money is kept abroad in Britain, Switzerland, Cyprus and other such offshore centres, as is kept inside Russia by the entire Russian population.” These revelations come at the same time that Russia is experiencing record levels of income inequality, and standards of living for the majority of the population have dropped significantly in recent years.
This is why Boris Nemtsov termed the US Magnitsky Law “the most pro-Russian law ever conceived by a foreign country”. Nemtsov later went a step further claiming that “once the rule of law is restored in Russia I will be the first person to come back to the US and campaign for the law to be repealed, as we will no longer need it.”
During his award acceptance speech Vladimir Kara-Murza echoed Boris Nemtsov, saying that “I hope to be able to one day go back to Washington, and Tallinn, and Ottawa, and Vilnius, and hopefully London, and other democratic capitals to thank them for their support at a difficult time, and to tell them that this law is no longer needed. And it will then be up to us in Russia to do everything we can to make sure that our country never again has a government that provides impunity and protection to human rights abusers”
A parliamentary discussion was held at the UK parliament earlier in the day on Thursday November 16 to debate the necessity for a Magnitsky-style law in the UK, in light of Canada’s recent adoption of its own Magnitsky legislation, to which an additional 30 names were recently added to the sanctions. Ian Austin MP, who chaired the discussion, claimed that “a lot more could be done” by the UK government, which has historically turned a blind eye to the kinds of funds flowing into London, the world’s money laundering capital.
Bill Browder, who was on the parliamentary panel of guests speaking in favour of new legislation, emphasised that “it is our intention to attach a Magnitsky-style amendment to legislation going through parliament ahead of Brexit.”
Vladimir Kara-Murza, who also contributed to the parliamentary discussion, underlined that “this is simply the removal of privileges, real justice would be for these individuals to face trial and go to jail in the countries they themselves have terrorised.”
As the Magnitsky legislation picks up momentum across the western world, it is a step forward towards individual accountability, an important factor in arbitrating justice not just to individual criminals and human rights abusers, but to the victims and their families.