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: