In an act that can only be called cruel and vindictive, the Russian legislature voted on Friday to pass a law banning the adoption of Russian orphans by American citizens. This comes in retaliation for an American law which was passed a few days ago.
The Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act is named for a Russian lawyer who died in prison in 2009. It denies visas to any Russian citizens who have been accused of violating human rights, and also bans them from using the U.S. banking system. Congress passed the bill 3 years after Magnitsky died, getting rare bipartisan support, and it was signed by President Obama on December 14th.
Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer whose arrest and subsequent death in police hands garnered international media attention. His arrest came in the midst of alleged large-scale, systematic corruption in the Russian government, and with the full knowledge and cooperation of Russian government officials. He was in prison for 358 days before he died – days before the expiration of the one-year limit he could be held without trial. The following December – December of 2010 – the British human rights organization Redress filed a complaint with the UN, alleging torture and murder. Magnitsky’s detention and death caused a worldwide outcry.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee introduced the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 in April, sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) as H.R. 4405:
“To impose sanctions on persons responsible for the detention, abuse, or death of Sergei Magnitsky, and for other gross violations of human rights in the Russian Federation, and for other purposes.”
Later, the Senate took up the bill and added a list of Russian officials who were subject to the bill. In November, it was attached to another bill which normalized trade with Russia. Rather ironic, considering how the Russian government reacted.
The Kremlin was furious at the Magnitsky law and got to work immediately on a retaliation bill, one designed to stymy adoption of Russian orphans by American citizens. The Russian Parliament voted Wednesday on that bill, and though several senior Russian officials spoke out against it, it passed 420 to 7 in the Duma, the lower house of Parliament. The upper house – the Federal Assembly – will consider it next week and leaders there say they expect it to pass easily. It will then go to President Vladimir Putin who has not indicated if he will sign it into law, saying he needs to read it first.
The exact number of orphans in Russia is not known, though one American aid organization estimates there were 800,000 last year. There were about 900 children who were adopted by Americans in 2011, the most of any country. More than 450,000 of these Russian-American adoptions have occurred since 1999. The American ambassador to Russia, Michael A. McFaul, said in a statement:
“If it becomes law, the legislation passed today will needlessly remove the path to families for hundreds of Russian children each year. The welfare of children is simply too important to be linked to other issues in our bilateral relationship.” (Source)
Hopefully, Mr. Putin will think about this and not punish the orphans in such a blindly punitive way.