A group of American pundits which includes people as different as William Kristol and Leon Wieseltier is appealing to Barack Obama to make democracy and human rights a priority on his Moscow visit. Grani.ru reports (in Russian) that, according to Obama’s top Russia advisor, Michael McFaul, about half of the President’s time on his Moscow trip will be devoted to interaction with “unofficial” persons. Specifically, nearly all of Day 2 of his three-day visit will be spent in meetings with activists, members of the business community, and youth groups (hopefully not Nashi!). And Gazeta.ru reports that on the first day of the visit, July 6, Obama will attend a “Civic Summit” of non-governmental organizations including Memorial, Human Rights Watch, and Freedom House. (Dmitry Medvedev is also expected to attend, though this is not officially confirmed.) So far, this sounds like good news.
Meanwhile, a resolution urging the Russian government to dismiss the new charges against imprisoned former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and co-defendant Platon Lebedev — a case that reeks of politics and outrageous injustice — has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Reps. James McGovern (D-Mass.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va), co-chairmen of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe. A similar bipartisan resolution was submitted in the Senate earlier.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who was in Moscow this week as head of a visiting Congressional delegation, was asked about this on Ekho Moskvy radio (where he appeared with his Russian counterpart, Konstantin Kosachev).
I am the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and I have never heard of this resolution. There is a tremendous difference between resolutions submitted by members of Congress and the laws Congress actually passes. I would not focus on the isolated proposals of isolated members of Congress. We should focus on what constitutes U.S. policy, what legislators enact, not the statements of some politicians.
Not only does Berman not support his colleagues’ human rights initiative; he goes out of his way to dismiss it as an insignificant and isolated political move. Nice work, Congressman.
By the way, here is the full text of the resolution’s concluding part.
(1) Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev are prisoners who have been denied basic due process rights under international law and the laws of the Russian Federation for political reasons;
(2) in light of the record of selective prosecution, politicization, and abuse of process involved in their cases, and as a demonstration of Russia’s commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law, the new criminal charges brought by Russian authorities against Mr.Khodorkovsky and Mr. Lebedev should be withdrawn;
(3) the standing of the Russian Federation as a nation supporting democracy, freedom of expression, an independent judiciary, human rights, and the rule of law would be validated by paroling these two individuals, both of whom have served more than half their sentences; and
(4) the Russian Federation is encouraged to take these actions to support democratic principles and human rights in furtherance of a new and more positive relationship between the United States and Russia and a new era of mutual cooperation.
Note the careful language; clearly, the sponsors are trying not to be antagonistic toward Russia. Three cheers for Reps. McGovern, Wolf, and Wexler. And shame on Rep. Berman, so anxious to distance himself from this conciliatory and eminently sensible resolution. Of course, it’s possible that Berman really didn’t know anything about the resolution. At the very least, he could have limited himself to saying that he coulnd’t comment on it since he did not know exactly what it said.