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Interview: Congressman Says Magnitsky List Is Not Anti-Russia

U.S. Representative James McGovern (Democrat-Massachusetts)
U.S. Representative James McGovern (Democrat-Massachusetts)
U.S. Representative James McGovern was one of the leading sponsors of legislation that mandated sanctions against Russians implicated in the prosecution and death of whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. McGovern (Massachusetts-Democrat) spoke to RFE/RL's Richard Solash on the sidelines of a Washington reception held on April 17 honoring the Magnitsky family.

RFE/RL: You have described the White House's list of sanctioned Russian officials as "timid." What has the administration told you specifically about its intention to add names?

James McGovern: They told me that this was a work in progress, that it was just the first step, that by no means was it the end or a complete list. And I'm going to take them at their word. This law enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support, we passed a law not to make a statement but to make a difference, to help promote human rights in Russia and to make sure that no one has to suffer the fate of Sergei Magnitsky ever again.

RFE/RL: Have you seen the list's secret annex and are you satisfied with it?

McGovern: I've seen it and I would say the same thing about the secret annex as I would say about the public names. It's a work in progress, it's not complete. And I expect that more names will be added over time.

RFE/RL: Are [Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov or [Investigative Committee head Aleksandr] Bastrykin on the secret annex?

McGovern: I can't really tell you that because I would be breaking the law if I did. But I can tell you that all the names on the list deserve to be on the list.

RFE/RL: As I understand it, the president has the option to grant a waiver to any visa bans that are on the secret annex. Because of that, does the annex have any practical purpose?

McGovern: I would be surprised if the president would grant any of these people waivers. I could not imagine it. The administration is going through the list that I submitted, that the Magnitsky family provided me, and they've told me they are taking every name that's been submitted seriously and I expect that's the case.

RFE/RL: U.S. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon was in Moscow this week and delivered a statement from the president. Russia said it was somewhat pleased with the statement. There's speculation that it might have been aimed at tempering the Magnitsky list. Do you think the administration is actively working to downplay it in relations with Russia?

McGovern: I hope not, because human rights is not something that should be downplayed; it should be central to our foreign policy. I would be very disappointed it they downplayed it. The administration is taking the law seriously because the names that are on this list are significant. I take them at their word when they say this is a work in progress and this is not the end. They have an obligation to report to Congress every year.

This is the first time where the Russians are understanding that human rights actually matter to the U.S. government. And my hope is that this will result in an end to these raids on NGOs and persecution of people with different points of view. And that we'll never see another Sergei Magnitsky case again.

ALSO READ: Council Of Europe Decries 'Chilling Effect' Of Russia's NGO Raids

RFE/RL: How much potential does the Magnitsky list have in terms of being a template or paradigm for the U.S. to respond to other human-rights violations?

McGovern: When I drafted the bill initially, it was global in nature. Both Senator [Benjamin] Cardin, who sponsored the bill, and I wanted it to be global. This is one of the compromises we made with the administration, to make it Russia-specific. But my hope is that we can make it global because I do think that this is an important tool. I said to a reporter the other day [that] the people who were responsible for killing Sergei Magnitsky might not face justice in Russia but they are going to be exposed for their crimes here in the United States and around the world, and there's a consequence. I think that the Russian government -- rather than banning U.S. adoptions and using poor children with no families as political pawns, or trying to find any way to talk about anything but the case -- what the Russian government should do is use it as a tool to clean up corruption and get out of government those who violate human rights. It's that simple. This is not anti-Russian government, or anti-Russia, it's anti-human-rights-violators and anti-people-who-are-guilty-of-corruption.

RFE/RL: What is your reaction to the Russians' tit-for-tat blacklist?

McGovern: I don't have much of a reaction. I would have preferred that their reaction be an effort to clean up the corruption and go after human-rights violators in Russia. But I don't have any reaction. They can do whatever they want to do. They need to know we are very serious about human rights and that this list that has been published will continue to grow.

RFE/RL: Do you have any reason to believe that you or some of your colleagues who supported the Magnitsky legislation are on the secret Russian blacklist?

McGovern: I have no way of knowing.

RFE/RL: Do you plan to visit Russia?

McGovern: I would love to visit Russia some day. I'll find out when I get to the airport, I guess, whether or not I can go. I don't know what their secret list says, but I'd love to go to Russia some day. I know a lot of people from Russia. I love the culture, I love the history, and it would be a great privilege to go to Russia.

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