US President Barack Obama [official website] signed legislation [HR 6156 materials] on Friday that normalizes US trade with Russia and places sanctions on any individual associated with violations of human rights in Russia. While the law eliminates Cold War era restrictions on trade that will allow better trade relations with Russia, it also directs the Secretary of State [official website] to publish and update a list of each person believed to be responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other human rights violations committed against individuals seeking to promote human rights or to expose illegal activity carried out by Russian officials. Placement on this list allows the State Department to bar admittance to the US and revoke any outstanding visas. Informally known as the Magnitsky Act, a portion of the law specifically calls for sanctions on any individual involved in the prison death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky as well as a Russian tax fraud scheme. Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website] expressed his disapproval [AFP report] of the bill on Friday, and Russian legislators are discussing passing a similar bill in retaliation for the bill's enactment.
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs approved [JURIST report] an early version of the bill in June. Following the approval, Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen stated, "[The bill] requires that those responsible for the death, torture, or repression of individuals investigating crimes by Russian government officials, or who were simply trying to exercise their basic human rights, be publicly named and sanctioned." Prior to his death, Magnitsky was held in prison for 358 days with little to no access to legal representation, his family or medical professionals. In a controversial move last August, Russian investigators reopened the case [JURIST report] against Magnitsky on the basis of a new ruling permitting criminal cases against the dead. Critics of this action, such as JURIST Contributing Editor David Crane, argue that the ongoing posthumous prosecution of Magnitsky is a violation of the rule of law [JURIST op-ed] and an embarrassment for the Russian judicial system.