The Foreign Service Journal, June 2013

30 JUNE 2013 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Policymaking on human rights issues is sometimes hindered by poor relations between State and Capitol Hill. Fortunately, there are ways to improve cooperation. BY ROBERT MCMAHON H uman rights activists wel- comed passage of the Ser- gei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act at the end of 2012, hailing it as a lever for the United States to press Rus- sia on its obligation to be a bet- ter global citizen and respect the rights of its citizens. The act requires the executive branch to bar travel to the United States by top Russian officials implicated in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was detained and died in custody after blowing the whistle on a massive tax fraud with reputed links to the Kremlin, and to seize their U.S. assets. (On April 12, the State Department published the names of 18 Russian officials whose names have been added to the sanctions list overseen by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Con- trol.) Although President Barack Obama ultimately signed the measure into law, his administration had actually opposed the measure over concerns that it compromised the president’s abil- ity to manage a crucial relationship through a rough phase. But members of Congress said human rights trumped such con- cerns, and asserted that the bill “fills many of the gaps in Presi- dent Obama’s policy toward Russia,” as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, put it. Robert McMahon is editor of , the Web site of the Council on Foreign Relations. Before that, he was director of central news for Ra- dio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and has been writting about human rights in transitional societies since 1995. AHUMANRIGHTS DIALOGUE WITHCONGRESS FOCUS ON WORKING WITH CONGRESS The mixed messaging from Washington on the Magnitsky Act marked another familiar chapter in a sometimes tense debate between the executive and the legislature over human rights policy. The State Department, of course, is the admin- istration’s standard-bearer on global human rights issues, monitoring and reporting on each country and articulating the administration’s policy on the international stage. But for nearly four decades, Congress has also been a major player on human rights. It requires annual reporting on each country’s performance, establishes special mandates, and sanctions nations and individuals seen as rights abusers. In a period when bipartisan initiatives are increasingly rare, human rights causes can still unite lawmakers from both parties on subjects like halting human trafficking or sanc- tioning repressive regimes. “There are many issues where Congress is paralyzed and dysfunctional, but on the issue of human rights, there are people from [one] end of the spec- trum to the other who have an interest,” Michael Posner, a former assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor, told a Council on Foreign Relations meet- ing in March. “So the challenge is just to figure out what’s the