The Cable

Magnitsky bill moves forward in the House

The House Foreign Affairs Committee marked up a bill today to punish Russian human rights violators, moving that bill closer to passage in conjunction with another bill to grant Russia privileged trade with the United States.

Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) convened her committee on Thursday morning to approve the House version of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, legislation meant to promote human rights in Russia that is named for the anti-corruption lawyer who died in a Russian prison, after allegedly being tortured, two years ago. Her committee counterpart Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) said during the markup he supports joining the Magnitsky bill with a coming bill to grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status, which would include a repeal of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, established to punish Russia for not allowing Jews to emigrate during the Soviet period.

"The entire world knows that the state of democracy and human rights in Russia, already bad, is getting worse," Ros-Lehtinen said at the markup. "Moscow devotes enormous resources and attention to persecuting political opponents and human rights activists, including forcibly breaking up rallies and jailing and beating those who dare to defy it. Instead of the rule of law, Russia is ruled by the lawless."

The Obama administration is publicly opposed to the Magnitsky bill, especially the effort to connect it to Jackson-Vanik repeal, and has been working behind the scenes with bill sponsors such as Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) to alter the legislation. "From our point of view this legislation is redundant to what we're already doing," U.S. Ambassador Russia Mike McFaul said in March.

One of the administration ideas is to expand the Magnitsky bill to deal with human rights violators from all countries, but doing so wouldn't eliminate strong Russian objections to the bill. A short amendment added to the House version today by Ros-Lehtinen makes clear that the bill is directed only at Russia.Cardin even came up with a new draft version of the legislation in April. The Cable obtained an internal document showing exactly what changed in the bill. For example, the new version makes it more difficult to add names to the list of human rights violators that the bill would create, potentially softening the bill's impact on Russian officials

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee delayed consideration of the Magnitsky bill in April, so that the details inside the bill could be ironed out. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) has promised to take up the bill in that committee at their as yet unscheduled next business meeting. He has also said he supports joining the Magnitsky bill with legislation to repeal Jackson-Vanik.

In both chambers, the bill faces cross jurisdiction with the finance and possible judiciary committees, which means they would also have to approve the legislation, because it deals with financial sanctions and criminal prosecutions. The Senate Finance Committee under chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) is where the Russian PNTR bill would begin as well, although it's not clear whether the PNTR bill, which would include the repeal of Jackson-Vanik, would be joined with the Magnitsky bill in committee or on the floor.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee also approved today a bill calling for the International Olympic Committee to hold a moment of silence at the 2012 London games to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the murder of 11 Israeli Olympic team members in Munich. The IOC has thus far refused requests to hold a moment of silence, saying that it is unnecessary and would establish an unwelcome precedent. That drive is being led by Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Nita Lowey (D-NY), and Steve Israel (D-NY).

Another bill approved today by the HFAC would express "sense of the House of Representatives with respect toward the establishment of a democratic and prosperous Republic of Georgia and the establishment of a peaceful and just resolution to the conflict with Georgia's internationally recognized borders."

The committee also approved a resolution expressing support for efforts to combat the Lord's Resistance Army and secure the imprisonment of Joseph Kony, a bill calling upon the Turkey to  reopen the Ecumenical Patriarchate's theological school at Halks, and the "Donald M. Payne International Food Assistance Act of 2012," which is mean to improve the quality and effectiveness of U.S. food assistance programs abroad.

Kris Connor/Getty Images

The Cable

Japanese comfort- women deniers force White House response

Right-wing Japanese lawmakers and activists have successfully rounded up more than 25,000 signatures for a petition on the White House website asking the Obama administration to force the state of New Jersey to take down a monument dedicated to the memory of "comfort women," the thousands of women kidnapped and raped by Japanese soldiers during World War II.

The Bergen County executive dedicated a small monument in Palisades Park, New Jersey, in late 2010 that included the following inscription:



Ever since then, officials in the Japanese governmentand and elements of Japanese society that dispute the above facts related to the comfort women have been trying to get the monument, which is located in an area with a large Korean population, taken down.

Two delegations of Japanese officials visited Palisades Park last month to ask local leaders to remove the monument. One of the delegations was led by the Japanese consul-general in New York, Shigeyuki Hiroki. Local officials in New Jersey refused to remove the monument, even when offered cherry trees and other goodies from the Japanese government.

Now, the Japanese comfort-women deniers have a new tactic -- to go straight to the White House. They started a petition on the White House's official website and have conducted a successful campaign resulting in over 28,000 signatures.

"We petition the Obama administration to: Remove the monument and not to support any international harassment related to this issue against the people of Japan," the petition reads. "False accusations regarding the South Korean comfort women issue have disgraced the people of Japan for decades. Over the past few years it has come to light that many of the original charges were false or completely fabricated."

"Yet despite this new information, the United States continues to lend credence to the original false charges by memorializing the comfort women in a monument in New Jersey and a street name in New York. Not only is this perpetrating historical untruths, but it also leads unnecessary racial conflict and suffering of people of Japanese ancestry," the petition reads. "We strongly request President Obama to remove the monument and not to support any international harassment related to this issue against the people of Japan."

According to the White House website, the administration must give an official response to any petition that receives 25,000 signatures within 30 days of when it was originally posted. The Japanese comfort women petition crossed that threshold more than a week ahead of its June 9 deadline.

The massive amount of signatures came mostly from Japan and due to the direct advocacy of several Japanese lawmakers and former officials. A Japanese resident in the United States, by the name of Yasuko R, created the petition. A supporter can sign for the petition once a day.

The petition was advertised in Japan on the websites of Japanese lawmakers Eriko Yamatani and Keiji Furuya, who were part of one of the delegations that visited New Jersey, which included family members of some of the 13 Japanese citizens that were abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

Nippon Kaigi, a right-wing Japanese organization, supported the petition's call to remove the monument, as did other organizations, including Nippon Kaigi Local Government (Pride of Japan), and The Spirit of Japan Party (Nihon Soshin To), which posted directions on how Japanese citizens could participate in the petition.

Major advocacy for the petition came from Toshio Tamogami, the former Japanese Air Force chief of staff who was fired in 2009 after creating an international incident by writing in an essay that Japan was "not an aggressor nation" in World War II. Tamogami not only called for petition signatures on his website, he gave instructions in Japanese for users to log onto the White House website so they could be part of the effort.

The comfort women issue and Japan's reluctance to come to terms with its wartime actions is still the No. 1 irritant in Japan's relations with its neighbors. For U.S.-based experts that are critical of Japan's handling of the issue, the petition and its underlying argument are doing great damage to Japan's ability to move past the events of the war.

"Is the Japanese right so strung out, so unpopular that it is reduced to these silly international stunts to get attention? Have they become so irrelevant that they have to prop up Comfort Women and Abductees of the North Koreans for attention? They have become as pathetic as their ideas," said Mindy Kotler, the founder of Asia Policy Point, a non-profit organization that does research on Japan.

She said one part of the problem is the failure of the U.S. government to connect its human rights and women's rights policies to Japan.

"We have built and demanded to build institutions around the world to address war crimes and human rights. In regard to historical war crimes, we have a bureau in the State Department on the Holocaust and even appointed an ambassador in the late 1990s to deal with German and Austrian war crimes," she said. "But we have done nothing that addresses the lingering, if not festering problems of Japan's reluctantly acknowledged war crimes. It eats away at our alliances and undermines our ‘shared values.'"

The White House petition response should be posted "in a timely manner," according to the website.