Russian Delegation to Council of Europe walks out in protest at testimony on Magnitsky Case


June 8, 2011

The Russ­ian Del­e­ga­tion to the Coun­cil of Europe staged a protest yes­ter­day in advance of a sched­uled sem­i­nar of the Coun­cil of Europe’s Human Rights and Legal Affairs Com­mit­tee at the Nor­we­gian Par­lia­ment, issu­ing a state­ment that the del­e­ga­tion planned to boy­cott the tes­ti­mony of William Brow­der,  CEO of Her­mitage Capital.

Mr. Brow­der was in Oslo to tes­tify before the Com­mit­tee on the case of Sergei Mag­nit­sky, the 37-year-old anti-corruption lawyer who was tor­tured and killed while in Russ­ian police cus­tody. Mr. Brow­der called on the Coun­cil to sup­port visa and eco­nomic sanc­tions against the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment offi­cials respon­si­ble for Mr. Magnitsky’s tor­ture and untimely death, as well as the sub­se­quent cover-up.

Mr. Brow­der tes­ti­fied at a spe­cial sem­i­nar on the Rein­force­ment of the Rule of Law in Europe, orga­nized by the Coun­cil of Europe’s Com­mit­tee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nor­we­gian par­lia­men­tar­ian del­e­ga­tion to PACE and the Nor­we­gian Helsinki Commission.

Three hours prior to Mr. Browder’s tes­ti­mony, the four mem­bers of the Russ­ian del­e­ga­tion issued a state­ment that they were with­draw­ing from the sem­i­nar where Mr. Brow­der was sched­uled to speak because of con­cern that “only one side of the story was pre­sented.” The del­e­ga­tion was com­prised of three rep­re­sen­ta­tives of United Rus­sia — Dmitry Vyatkin, Valery Par­fenov and Valery Fedorov – and a deputy from Just Rus­sia, Svet­lana Goryacheva.

In an offi­cial state­ment they made as part of their protest, Russ­ian law­mak­ers said that the death of Sergei Mag­nit­sky “has heav­ily dam­aged the image of law enforce­ment bod­ies of Russia.”

They seem to be more con­cerned with the rep­u­ta­tion of law enforce­ment bod­ies than the life of an inno­cent man who tried to stop a major crime being com­mit­ted by offi­cials against his peo­ple,  — said William Brow­der. — It just shows that they have no con­cern or sen­si­tiv­ity to the value of the human life.”

Mr. Browder’s tes­ti­mony was attended in fact by two out of four mem­bers of the Russ­ian delegation.

Speak­ing to the assem­bly, Mr. Brow­der stated:

The Russ­ian law­mak­ers may have ignored the fact that an inno­cent lawyer had been tor­tured and killed in pre-trial deten­tion, or the fact that half a bil­lion dol­lars had been stolen from the Russ­ian trea­sury, but as soon as it was under­stood that gov­ern­ment offi­cials might be barred from vaca­tion­ing at their Euro­pean vil­las or access­ing their EU bank accounts, Russ­ian law­mak­ers are hold­ing protests in an attempt to block this leg­is­la­tion.”

Eigh­teen months after Sergei Magnitsky’s death from tor­ture in cus­tody, the Russ­ian par­lia­ment has not inves­ti­gated his false arrest, or his tor­ture in pre-trial deten­tion. Russ­ian law­mak­ers have like­wise refused to fol­low the evi­dence Mag­nit­sky sub­mit­ted, which impli­cates gov­ern­ment offi­cials in the theft of $500 mil­lion from the Russ­ian trea­sury. In a reverse course of jus­tice, which is emblem­atic of the cor­rup­tion and law­less­ness grip­ping Rus­sia today, the offi­cials Mr. Mag­nit­sky exposed have been pro­moted, hon­ored and for­mally re-certified to remain in their posi­tions of power.

In April of this year, Mr. Magnitsky’s for­mer col­league, Amer­i­can attor­ney Jami­son Fire­stone, filed a 23-page peti­tion addressed to the heads of all four lead­ing fac­tions of the Russ­ian par­lia­ment, seek­ing a par­lia­men­tary inves­ti­ga­tion into the Mag­nit­sky case and the role of Gen­eral Pros­e­cu­tor Chaika in its cover-up. He has received no response and no inves­ti­ga­tion has been launched.

Russ­ian human rights activists and dis­si­dents have stated that the Mag­nit­sky case is clear and unde­ni­able evi­dence of the impunity of Russ­ian gov­ern­ment offi­cials. Sev­eral Russ­ian activists have inde­pen­dently appealed to EU lead­er­ship to enact eco­nomic sanc­tions. Dur­ing his tes­ti­mony, Mr, Brow­der told the assem­bled Euro­pean law­mak­ers that he felt embold­ened by the brav­ery of ordi­nary Rus­sians, and by Sergei Mag­nit­sky in par­tic­u­lar, in call­ing for mea­sured justice.

Mr. Brow­der stated:

“Sergei Mag­nit­sky stood up for jus­tice while suf­fer­ing through the most unimag­in­able, inhu­mane treat­ment until his phys­i­cal state was com­pletely bro­ken down by his cap­tors. But his spirit was unshake­able. He died on Novem­ber 16, 2009, hav­ing spent his final hours in pain, vom­it­ing, being hand­cuffed by eight prison guards, beaten by a rub­ber baton and writhing in agony. He never signed a false con­fes­sion nor did he with­draw his tes­ti­mony against the cor­rupt offi­cials who kept him hostage for 12 months with­out trial. Given the involve­ment of the most senior gov­ern­ment offi­cials in the per­se­cu­tion of Sergei Mag­nit­sky and in the cover-up after his death, it is incon­ceiv­able that an inves­ti­ga­tion by Russ­ian author­i­ties alone could pro­duce a fair and unbi­ased inves­ti­ga­tion free from the inter­fer­ence of the highest-ranking offi­cials com­plicit in the mis­treat­ment and tor­ture of Sergei Mag­nit­sky. The only chance we have to impose mea­sured con­se­quences on those who com­mit­ted these crimes is to appeal to coun­tries where the rule of law serves to pro­tect ordi­nary citizens.”

On Decem­ber 16th, 2010, the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment adopted a res­o­lu­tion call­ing for visa and eco­nomic sanc­tions on the Russ­ian offi­cials impli­cated in the Mag­nit­sky case. This spring, two sim­i­lar pieces of leg­is­la­tion were intro­duced in both cham­bers of the United States Con­gress, titled “The Sergei Mag­nit­sky Rule of Law Account­abil­ity Act of 2011” and “The Jus­tice for Sergei Mag­nit­sky Act of 2011.” Both acts would impose visa and eco­nomic sanc­tions on Russ­ian offi­cials involved in the crimes against Sergei Mag­nit­sky, and the sub­se­quent cover-up that has shielded Russ­ian offi­cials from prosecution.

 See text of Tes­ti­mony by William Brow­der in front of the Coun­cil of Europe’s Com­mit­tee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights

See infor­ma­tion on the Rein­force­ment of the Rule of law in Europe sem­i­nar orga­nized by the CoE Com­mit­tee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Nor­we­gian del­e­ga­tion to the PACE:

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