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February 08, 2017

Congress Should Support Legislation to Maintain Sanctions against Russia

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today urged members of Congress to support legislation that would make it more difficult for President Trump to unilaterally lift certain Ukraine-related sanctions on Russia. The legislation, introduced today by a bipartisan group of senators, also states that the president must certify during the congressional review period of any sanctions reductions that the Russian government has ceased undermining the security of the Ukrainian state, and that it has ceased cyberattacks on the United States. 

“Whenever the United States appears to cozy up to dictators or war criminals or fails to call out violations of basic human rights standards, our global reputation is tarnished” said Human Rights First's Melissa Hooper. "Removing sanctions on Russia would send a signal that the U.S. supports Russia's violations of international law, its aggression in foreign lands, its interference in our own policy-making, and its attacks on its own citizens. This would damage U.S. Interests in promoting democracy and serve as a serious blow to American leadership on human rights."

The legislation, introduced by Senators Graham (R-SC), Cardin (D-MD), Brown (D-OH), Rubio (R-FL), and McCaskill (D-MO), would require that the president submit a report on any proposal to weaken or remove sanctions and provide Congress with 120 days of consideration. If a joint resolution of both houses disapproved, the legislation would prohibit the president from lifting sanctions. The administration is currently considering removing sanctions imposed on Russian state entities due to Russia’s illegal invasion of Crimea as well as those imposed on Russian intelligence entities and contractors due to their interference in U.S. elections.  

The United States established clear requirements explaining when it will repeal sanctions. The sanctions mandate that Russia must take specific actions to reduce or eliminate its violations of international law and human rights before sanctions are repealed. The president should maintain these rules, which call for Russia to leave Crimea, comply with the February 2015 Minsk agreements and withdraw its troops and weapons from East Ukraine, restore full control to the Ukrainian government, accede to full monitoring of the region by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and provide clear access for humanitarian aid.

Thus far the Kremlin has not satisfied any of these requirements, and in fact it continues to contribute to significant rights violations both in the Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine and in Crimea. Just last week the Russian Security Service detained a well-known human rights lawyer, Emil Kurbedinov, in Crimea in order to prevent him from representing human rights defenders and Crimean leaders in the region, and well-known opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza appears to have been poisoned for the second time in two years; he currently is in a coma. 

Human Rights First also urges the president not to provide support for Russia’s violations of human rights and international law. 

"The United States must maintain its leadership role in calling out the serious human rights violations of other states, including through the use of sanctions,” noted Hooper. "If we don't keep up pressure, we risk contributing to the deterioration of human rights globally."

For more information or to speak with Hooper contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.