The Cable

Will Putin’s friends be on the Magnitsky list?

Next week, the State Department is expected to release a list of Russian human rights violators who could be subject to visa bans and asset freezes in the United States, but Congress is worried that State will avoid naming senior Russian officials in an effort to placate the Kremlin.

The list is required to be sent to Congress by April 13, according to the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, which was passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last December. Lawmakers and NGOs working on the Magnitsky list want the State Department to include top Russian officials and several close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The State Department is using a narrow interpretation of the law, arguing that a higher standard of evidence is required for legal reasons. But some lawmakers involved in the issue believe the narrower scope is meant to placate Moscow.

"We want to ensure that the administration carries out the law in the same spirit that Congress passed it. We didn't do this for a press release; we did this because of the deteriorating human rights situation in Russia," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), an original sponsor of the bill, in an interview.

McGovern sent the administration his own list of 280 Russian officials (PDF) he believes should be included in the State Department's Magnitsky list. Many of them are directly related to the case of Magnitsky, the anti-corruption lawyer who died in Russian prison after allegedly being tortured, and some are close personal associates of Putin.

Yuri Chaika, the general prosecutor of Russia in Moscow, was included on McGovern's list, as was Victor Voronin, the head of economic counterespionage department of the FSB who was reportedly heavily involved in overseeing the Magnitsky case. Chaika and Vororin are both close associates of Putin, and Voronin's ties to the Russian leader date back to their time together at the St. Petersburg branch of the FSB.

McGovern also names Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Russian Investigative Committee and college friend of Putin, Victor Grin, deputy general prosecutor under Chaika, Olga Yegorova, the head of the Moscow City Court, and dozens of other officials associated with the case -- all the way down to the paramedics and nurses in the prison where Magnitsky died.

Several NGOs have also submitted their own lists to the State Department with other names of senior Russian officials not involved in the Magnitsky case. For example, one list obtained by The Cable submitted by an American NGO named Mikhail Lesin, former Russian information minister, who has been sued in the European Court of Human Rights for various acts of intimidation against Russian media figures. Lesin is also the founder of Russia Today, the government-sponsored news network.

NGOs also want to see on the list Ramzan Kadyrov, the appointed governor of Chechnya, who the State Department itself has reported is responsible for a long list of human rights violations, including the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, an American citizen, in 2006.

McGovern is not the only congressman concerned about how the State Department is forming the list. His concerns are shared by key sponsors Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and John McCain (R-AZ), several congressional aides said, although those senators are waiting until the list is released before criticizing the administration publicly.

McGovern is not waiting, however, and wrote a letter March 26 urging Obama to create the list using a broad standard: a violator should be named where there is credible information that he or she had engaged in any of the activities outlined in the law as human rights violations.

The administration will only place Russian officials on the list if those officials meet the more stringent standard used by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to justify asset freezes, as defined in the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), a State Department official told The Cable.

"OFAC has to develop a legally supportable case about everyone who is on the list," the official said. "OFAC standards demand a case of evidence that can withstand challenge because they will be challenged."

The official also said that the list to be released next week can be updated each year and should not be seen as the final list.

McGovern told The Cable that the whole point of the list is to name and shame Russian human rights violators and that asset freezes are only the final step in the process to be applied to certain members of the list. By using the Treasury Department's narrower standard, the State Department could be gutting the power of the legislation, he says.

"The administration knows exactly what the intent of Congress was when they passed this bill. They are going to take the most limited interpretation and find ways not to put anybody on the list. If that's the course they want to take, they are going to receive some bipartisan pushback," he said.

The Obama administration resisted the law throughout its path through Congress and negotiated several changes meant to soften what it expects will be severe Russian retaliation, McGovern said, and is now trying to appease the Russian government by releasing a small list.

"I understand the political difficulty the administration might face, but if the administration were to take a limited view of the Magnitsky bill, it would be a wink and a nod to the hardliners in Russia that they won."

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The Cable

State Department offers $5 million for Kony

Following Uganda's announcement that it is suspending its hunt for Joseph Kony, the State Department said Wednesday that it is putting a $5 million bounty on the notorious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) leader.

The Ugandan military halted its search for Kony this week after rebels took over the government of the Central African Republic, where Kony is believed to be hiding. The State Department held a special press briefing Wednesday to announce the expansion of its War Crime Rewards Program to include Kony, LRA leaders Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen, and the leader of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), Sylvestre Mudacumura.

"We act today so that there can be justice for the innocent men, women, and children who have been subjected to mass murder, to rape, to amputation, enslavement, and other atrocities," said Ambassador at Large Stephen Rapp, head of the State Department's Office of Global Criminal Justice.

The program, which was started in 1998, had been focused on bringing to justice those indicted by the three international tribunals that were created for the former Yugoslavia, for Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. Over the past two years alone, State has paid out more than $5 million to 14 different recipients, Rapp said

But as those cases neared completion, State sought authority to go after any indicted international war criminals. The department succeeded in getting new legislation passed, sponsored by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and then Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) last year.

"To that end, the expanded program now targets the alleged perpetrators of the worst atrocities, some of whom have evaded justice for more than a decade," Rapp said. "The LRA is one of the world's most brutal armed groups and has survived for over 20 years by abducting women and children and forcing them to serve as porters, sex slaves, and fighters."

Don Yamamoto, the acting assistant secretary of state for African affairs, acknowledged that the U.S. forces assisting the Ugandan military in their hunt for Kony are also suspending their activities, but he promised the United States would continue the search using other means.

"The United States remains very committed to the counter-LRA program, along with our partners. And of course, right now is -- even though we've taken a pause because of the developments in Bangui and how the situation there is unfolding -- is remain committed," he said. "And we're going to use all facilities and all technology at our hands to try to find and locate Kony and his group."

Kerry wrote about the ongoing hunt for Kony and other LRA leaders in a Wednesday op-ed in the Huffington Post.

"I refuse to accept a world where those responsible for crimes of this magnitude live in impunity. We will keep working to hold them accountable and deliver justice to all the people they have hurt. Nowhere will thugs and war criminals who terrorize children be safe -- not for long anyways," he said. "And starting today, their lives on the run -- always looking over their shoulder -- include an even greater prize on their head."

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs, said in a Wednesday statement that he hoped the search for Kony would be resumed soon. 

"Joseph Kony and his commanders in the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) are war criminals whose heinous acts have wreaked havoc across Central Africa for the last 25 years. It is important that they are brought to justice for unconscionable crimes against humanity, even as the political situation in the Central African Republic has destabilized," he said.  "In expanding its Rewards for Justice program today to include a $5 million reward for the apprehension of Kony and other LRA leaders, the United States has reasserted its commitment to bringing their reign of terror in the region to an end."