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Hands holding photo portrait of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky
Image: dapd

Magnitsky list

Jegor Vinogradov / Markian Ostaptshuk (nh)
April 14, 2013

Russian politicians have rejected the US sanctions against Russian officials. But human rights activists say the penalties for alleged human rights violations don’t go far enough.


The foreign committee of the Russian Parliament has warned that the "fresh start" in Russian-American relations, launched by US President Barack Obama, has now been "buried." The Foreign Ministry in Moscow has also heavily criticized the Magnitsky list released by the US Treasury on Friday (12.04.2013). The blacklist of Russian officials allegedly responsible for the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was, they said, an "interference in domestic affairs."

Following Friday's release of the list, 18 Russian officials now face penalties for alleged human rights violations, as American authorities can freeze their bank accounts and ban the officials from entering the US. In return, Russia has imposed an entrance ban on 18 US citizens who are alleged to have participated in torture practices in Guantanamo prison, or who are said to have violated the rights of Russian citizens.

The Magnitsky Act was passed by Obama last December and was created following the death of Sergei Magnitsky, who was allegedly beaten to death in a Moscow prison in 2009. Magnitsky worked in Russia for an American law firm and was a consultant for Western investment fund Hermitage Capital. He was arrested and charged with alleged tax fraud after he shed light on a corruption scandal involving state authorities.

Breakthrough in international law

Russia's Foreign Ministry
Moscow's Foreign Ministry has accused Washington of "interfering in domestic affairs"Image: picture-alliance/ZB

Sergei Lukashevsky is the director of the Andrei Sakharov Center in Moscow and believes that the Magnitsky Act is a breakthrough in international law. "In my view it confirms the principle that human rights must be protected regardless of state borders," he told DW in an interview.

Lukashevsky hopes that more laws like the Magnitsky Act will be introduced, and stressed that Russia isn't the only country failing to appropriately protect human rights. The general idea behind the Magnitsky Act must not be discredited, he added.

But Lukashevsky was also critical, saying that the way the Magnitsky list was compiled was "not honest." According to him, it would have had to include high-ranking Russian officials. The fact that their names were not included, he explained, showed the contradiction between realpolitik followed by diplomats and the basic values like freedom, democracy and human rights promoted by Western states.

No influence on Kremlin

Lev Ponomarev, head of the Russian movement For Human Rights, agrees that top officials are missing from the list. For example, he told DW that the chairwoman of Moscow's city court, Olga Yegorova, could have been declared an undesired person by the US.

But he believes that the Magnitsky list will not have any tangible effects on the Russian state itself - no matter how many names it contains. "This list or any other list will not make Russia's leaders suddenly comply with the principles of rule of law and respect human rights," the campaigner said. But Ponomarev still believes that fundamentally, it's "an absolutely positive thing."

Lev Ponomarev
Ponomarev says there is a lack of high-ranking Russian officials on the Magnitsky listImage: DW / Winigradow

No intention to spoil relations altogether

Sergey Utkin, a political scientist at Russia's Academy of Sciences, shares the view that the list will have a limited influence in Russia.

"I don't understand the hope of those who erroneously believe that this list will have any effect on the situation in Russia, but I also don't understand the indignation of its opponents," he told DW. He stressed that the US had the sovereign right to ban anyone it chooses from entering the country.

Utkin also pointed out that the mere threat to impose sanctions has generally had a bigger effect on Russia than actual sanctions against certain people.

Yevgeny Minchenko, director of the International Institute for Political Expertise in Moscow, believes that with Russia's entrance ban for the 18 US citizens adopted as a reaction to the Magnitsky list, Russian politicians want to highlight the fact that they deem it unacceptable for the American judiciary to put itself above the Russian legal system. In addition, he said the fact that the list is so short was proof that the US authorities didn't want to spoil their relations with the Kremlin altogether.

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