Press Release of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

For Immediate Release:
August 30, 2013  
Contact:
Washington D.C. Office (202) 224-3553

Boxer, Murphy, Shaheen, McCain Urge Focus on Russia's Repressive, Discriminatory Policies at G-20 Summit  

Senators Ask President Obama to Call Attention to Violations of Basic Freedoms Under Russian President, Including Jailing of Opposition Figures and Laws Targeting NGOs and the LGBT Community

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and John McCain (R-AZ), all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today sent a letter to President Obama urging him to use his upcoming trip to the G-20 Leaders’ Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, as an opportunity to call attention to the Russian government’s ongoing crackdown on human rights and civil society. The Summit begins on September 5.

“The United States must not give President Putin a free pass on repression,” the Senators wrote. “We hope we can count on you to prioritize advancing human rights as a central objective of U.S. relations with Russia.”

In the letter, Senators Boxer, Murphy, Shaheen and McCain called for a renewed focus by the U.S. and its allies on Russia’s deteriorating human rights situation and the government’s assault on basic freedoms—including criminalizing peaceful speech, discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, imprisoning those who criticize President Putin or his security force allies, and harassing and intimidating lawyers who stand up for human rights defenders.

The Senators wrote, “Russia is a great power with enormous potential to help solve the world’s problems. But great powers should respect international human rights norms and uphold the rule of law both at home and abroad.”

The full text of the letter follows:

August 30, 2013

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We commend your decision to cancel a planned bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow next week. This meeting would have sent the wrong message at a time when the Russian government continues to undermine U.S. interests and the rule of law.

However, we believe that the G-20 Leaders’ Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, presents an important opportunity to raise these issues with our allies and to emphasize human rights as a core component of U.S. foreign policy. In particular, we request that you use your trip to St. Petersburg to call on President Putin to reverse his nation’s dangerous slide toward repression and authoritarianism and to respect and uphold fundamental human rights.

At the 2009 U.S.-Russia Civil Society Summit, you said that “the freedom of people to live as they choose, to speak their minds, to organize peacefully and to have a say in how they are governed; a free press to report the truth; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; a government that’s accountable and transparent” are “universal values.” We agree and were proud Congress sent a strong message of support for human rights in Russia with the passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which you signed into law last year.

We know you will have a full agenda at the G-20 Leaders’ Summit, and we appreciate the urgency of securing Russian cooperation on critical foreign policy challenges, including ending the devastating bloodshed in Syria and curtailing Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions. Nonetheless, we believe that to set aside or diminish the importance of addressing Russia’s deteriorating human rights situation would be a serious mistake. Russia’s treatment of its own people—criminalizing peaceful speech, discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, imprisoning those who dare to criticize President Putin and his security force allies, and harassing and intimidating lawyers who stand up for human rights defenders—speaks volumes about what kind of a partner we can reasonably expect Russia to be on the global stage.

Since President Putin’s election last year, Russian authorities have intensified their assault on basic freedoms and undermined the rule of law. Prominent opposition figures such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev languish behind bars. Others are subjected to politically-motivated prosecutions based on poorly documented allegations of wrongdoing. Even musicians have been sent to penal colonies for daring to criticize President Putin. Government-controlled media outlets routinely smear government critics and bolster President Putin’s policy line.

New draconian laws restricting the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and restricting freedom of speech are especially worrisome. One such law, which entered into force last November, requires NGOs engaged in “political activities” that receive any funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents.” The law has already prompted the respected election-monitoring NGO “Golos” to temporarily shutter its operations. In addition, recent amendments to Russia’s Criminal Code have greatly expanded the definition of “treason,” making it so vague that it allows the government to label virtually any critic a traitor.

Another set of laws passed unanimously by the Duma criminalizes public actions “committed to insult the religious feelings of believers,” and outlaws efforts by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and their supporters to fight discrimination or seek equal protection under the law. We believe this in particular warrants your immediate attention, given that American athletes and spectators at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, could be targeted as a result of this law. We hope you will urge the Russian government to repeal these laws, which are at odds with Russia’s own constitution and its obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The human rights situation is especially grave in the North Caucasus region not far from Sochi. In this region, those sworn to uphold the law are committing serious violations, including secret detention and torture. Human rights defenders brave enough to complain about misconduct by police and other security forces are particularly at risk—subject to harassment, death threats, enforced disappearances, and murder.

The case of Sapiyat Magomedova is emblematic of the challenges to those working in the North Caucasus. As a defense attorney, Ms. Magomedova is known for her work on cases involving corruption and human rights violations by law enforcement agencies in Dagestan. As a result, she has received death threats and has been assaulted by the police simply for attempting to do her job. The fact that this intimidation is occurring during the run-up to the Olympics—when Russia should be on its best behavior—is particularly troubling.

Russia is a great power with enormous potential to help solve the world’s problems. But great powers should respect international human rights norms and uphold the rule of law both at home and abroad. The United States must not give President Putin a free pass on repression. As such, we hope we can count on you to prioritize advancing human rights as a central objective of U.S. relations with Russia.

Thank you for your consideration of this important request.

Sincerely,

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator

Chris Murphy
United States Senator

Jeanne Shaheen
United States Senator

John McCain
United States Senator

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