US: Senate Approves Magnitsky Bill

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee has unanimously approved a bill to impose financial and visa sanctions on foreign officials connected to human rights abuse. The bill is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian anti-graft lawyer who was allegedly tortured to death in prison in 2009.

Earlier this month the US House of Representatives Committee of Foreign Affairs approved a version of the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act” which imposed sanctions only on Russian officials connected to human rights abuses. The Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee revised the bill Tuesday to extend the rule to all foreign officials connected to human rights abuses.

The bill’s main sponsor Sen. Ben Cardin said "This bill is absolutely motivated by the circumstances of Sergei Magnitsky, but it is universal in its application.” He added that "The sponsors of the House bill have encouraged me to keep it universal, so I think it will not be difficult to get the House to go along with the universality."

Russia reacted with threats of retaliation.

"We are not only deeply sorry but outraged that - despite common sense and all signals Moscow has sent and keeps sending about the counterproductive nature of such steps - work on the 'Magnitsky law' continues," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Wednesday.

The two chambers must work out differences between their two versions before the bill can become law.