Ms. Jacquelyn Wright (Vice-President, International Programs, CARE Canada):
Thank you very much.
It's really an honour to be here today, and thank you so much for inviting CARE.
CARE Canada is honoured to have been invited to contribute to the committee's deliberations on women, peace, and security.
CARE is a rights-based, international non-governmental organization. We support life-saving humanitarian assistance and protection, recovery and peace building, as well as longer-term development work. Last year, CARE's development and humanitarian projects reached more than 65 million people in 95 countries around the world. We continue to respond to the needs of people touched by conflict in Syria, the Kurdistan region of Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan, and elsewhere.
Our comments today are rooted in our on-the-ground experience working with women and girls affected by conflict. Women and girls are typically portrayed as victims of war rather than survivors and actors. It is well established, for example, that gender inequalities that exist in society before conflict are always exacerbated by conflict. Less attention is given to women's and girls' enormous contributions to the prevention of violence as responders when crisis hits and to the reconstruction and resilience of communities.
In CARE's experience, working with girls and women is indispensable for durable humanitarian and development interventions. This requires policies and approaches that view women as agents rather than beneficiaries.
Involving women in key decisions on refugee camp design and management, such as where to build latrines in refugee camps, can help reduce gender-based violence. Involving women in humanitarian response and development projects cultivates their capacity to participate in decision-making and ensures that women's perspectives are part of the local governance agenda. Syrian women, for example, have demonstrated unimaginable strength and energy during five years of conflict and displacement. One in eight families in Syria and one in three Syrian households in neighbouring countries is now headed by a woman.
As women assume increasing responsibilities as income generators and decision-makers, domestic violence has increased. Adolescent girls throughout the region are being forced into marriage in order to reduce their families' expenses. In situations of extreme economic distress, cases of adolescent girls engaging in survival sex have also been reported.
As war and displacement trigger fundamental shifts in gender roles and responsibilities, however, women can transform the societies in which they live. Syrian women have supported food aid delivery, hygiene promotion, water management, community health, and many other humanitarian activities. They have also campaigned for a voice in peacemaking.
In post-Taliban Afghanistan, CARE has worked with some 9,000 widows through solidarity groups. These groups help women build a collective voice and to advocate for their needs, rights, aspirations, and entitlements. Some have challenged warlords over their right to land. Others have intervened to stop forced marriages in their communities. Such are the on-the-ground changes that the women, peace, and security agenda aims to inspire.
The evidence is clear that women's involvement in the development and application of policy and programs in conflict situations supports violence reduction and the prevention of conflict, the attainment and sustainability of peace, the effectiveness of humanitarian relief and recovery, and the protection of women and girls from gender-based violence.
Much has been achieved in the 15 years since the adoption of Resolution 1325. Thousands of women have used the women, peace, and security agenda to mobilize political action and resources in support of their rights and participation in peace and security efforts. Huge volumes of policy statements and reports have been issued on the women, peace, and security agenda.
The original and innovative spirit of Resolution 1325 has, however, often been lost in the process. Women's participation in discussions about how to respond to crises and rebuild communities remains inconsistent and often tokenistic.
There are, however, a number of practical steps Canada can take to translate the women, peace, and security agenda into impacts for women on the ground. ARE Canada offers three recommendations.
First, the Government of Canada should consider appointing a high-level authority on gender-responsive foreign policy. In his September 2015 report on women, peace, and security, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored that national action plans' effectiveness depends on strong leadership and effective coordination. The 2013-14 progress report on Canada's national action plan reached similar conclusions. Other countries, such as Australia and Sweden, have created ambassadorial positions on global gender equality and rights.
A respected and visible Canadian authority could be mandated to do the following: coordinate and monitor the implementation of Canada's national action plan on women, peace, and security across departments; ensure that gender is central to Canadian diplomatic, peace-building, and development efforts; manage linkages with key processes, such as the 2030 agenda for sustainable development; and advocate for women's and girls' human rights.
The second recommendation is that the government should launch a cutting-edge, second-generation national action plan on women, peace, and security. The plan should have the status of a policy directive and be underpinned by dedicated and flexible funding, driven by results-oriented indicators, concrete targets, and timelines, and backed by robust monitoring and evaluation.
Reports on the implementation of the women, peace, and security agenda have repeatedly called for these elements to be included in national action plans. Adequate funding for women's civil society organizations is critical for building local capacities to engage in decision-making and to respond in emergency situations.
The Secretary-General, for example, has committed the United Nations system to allocate at least 15% of funding for conflict-affected areas for initiatives whose principal objective is gender equality and women's empowerment. Gender, age, and diversity disaggregated data, meanwhile, is critical for quality program design as well as for fostering accountability for investments, results, and impacts.
The third recommendation is that the government should lead efforts at the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit to integrate local women's groups more meaningfully in a reformed global humanitarian architecture. The World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May was conceived as a means to establish new ways to address global humanitarian challenges. A focus on women and girls at the summit provides an opportunity to revitalize the women, peace, and security agenda.
Canada can lead these efforts by championing efforts to empower local women's groups and ensure their involvement in emergency preparedness and humanitarian assessments, program design, quality, and accountability efforts. Canadian parliamentarians can help set the stage by advocating for women's and girls' rights and agency, as humanitarian and policy actors in their own right, through their engagement with parliamentary counterparts, policy processes, and institutions around the world.
Conflict is always devastating for the individuals, families, and communities they affect, women and girls especially. Effectively integrated in our humanitarian responses, however, women can conquer new spaces within their families, communities, and nations that had previously been closed to them. Time and time again, CARE witnesses how women in desperate situations discover new strengths and capacities, how they acquire new degrees of self-consciousness and skills, and how they gain decision-making power within the household, their communities, and their countries.
Canada has long been a leader on women, peace, and security. As our national action plan comes up for renewal, amid new international attention on sustainable solutions to the world's most pressing challenges, Canada has an opportunity to reinvigorate its commitment to help ensure that women and girls are meaningfully engaged in developing and delivering responses to the multiple protracted crises confronting the world today, and to ensure that future policies and programs are driven by women's voices and aspirations.
I'd like to quote from what one Syrian woman recently told a CARE researcher: “If I had the ability, first, I would stop the death that is surrounding us. Then, I would think how to compensate all the affection that our children are missing. If I had the freedom to choose, I would choose a job for my husband first, then a job for myself that can ensure our family's stability. I wish to participate in decision-making in our society. I wish to learn English, then go to Damascus and join the English language faculty.”
Such are the aspirations that the women, peace, and security agenda seeks to put into action.
Ms. Julie Delahanty (Executive Director, Oxfam Canada):
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon.
Given Oxfam's focus on women's rights, we are particularly pleased to be here. Thank you for the opportunity. We applaud the committee for taking on this timely study of Canada and the women, peace, and security resolutions.
Oxfam is an international confederation working in 90 countries to support long-term development, humanitarian assistance, and advocacy and campaigns to address the root causes of poverty and vulnerability. In everything we do, we put gender justice and women's rights at the centre.
Oxfam is involved in programs and projects around the world that support women, peace, and security objectives. To name just a few, the young women peace-builders program in Colombia brings together young women to discuss and learn from each other's experiences. Together they are developing a national strategy to create a culture of peace in Colombia and present their ideas to the government. In Myanmar, Oxfam supports the women's initiative network for peace, which brings together women's organizations from diverse ethnic groups to support women's engagement in peace processes. In Afghanistan, our project trains both men and women on the importance of women's participation in society and on ways for women to access the formal justice system.
Last autumn the global community celebrated the 15th anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. One of the overwhelming conclusions of these discussions was that progress on the ground has been disappointing. It's clear that implementation has lagged behind commitments.
How can Canada play a leadership role on women, peace, and security? Oxfam has identified six global areas for action. In each of these areas I have recommendations for Canadian priorities and actions.
First, we note the importance of international support for women's meaningful participation and leadership in all peace processes, in the security and justice system sectors, and in post-conflict reconstruction. A growing body of research documents how, when women are involved in peace processes, there is a greater chance of success, yet these processes continue to be closed to women and women's organizations. In recent years only 4% of signatories, 2.4% of chief mediators, 3.7% of witnesses, and nine negotiators were women. In Canada we could mobilize diplomatic support to ensure that women's organizations participate in a meaningful way in the Syrian peace talks, for example, and in all other peace processes. Canada could also provide support and training to these organizations so that they can increase their effectiveness.
The second area for attention is increased financing from donors and governments for implementing the women, peace, and security agenda. According to the United Nations, although there is a great deal of rhetoric supporting women, peace, and security, funding for programs and processes remains abysmally low across all areas of the agenda. This is a key dimension of leadership, so I have several recommendations.
First, increase the percentage of our development assistance in crisis contexts and our humanitarian spending that addresses women's needs and targets gender equality as its primary, principal objective. The United Nations has adopted a specific target for this type of spending. Their goal, as Jacquie said, is to have 15% of peace-building initiatives with women's rights and gender equality as their principal objective. Right now, the reports on Canada's action plan for implementing the women, peace, and security agenda don't provide this figure, so we do not even know what Canada is investing in and whether or not this amount has increased or decreased as a result of the action plan.
Second, we need to provide multi-year core funding and sizable grants for women's organizations. We need to ensure that the next iteration of the national action plan is fully resourced with a clear budget and human resource allocations. Our current plan has no dedicated budget.
Our third area is more effective prevention of and responses to gender-based violence in crisis contexts. Globally this includes tackling the socio-political causes of gender-based violence, more support for gender-sensitive security sector reform, implementation of the arms trade treaty, and gender-sensitive strategies for countering terrorism and extremism.
In recent years, Canada has spoken out, at the G8 and other international forums, on gender-based violence in conflict. We applaud the funding of various initiatives, including support for the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. However, we believe Canada's investments in this area would yield stronger results with a clear strategy and greater investments in women's grassroots organizations.
One area of disappointment to many global organizations has been Canada's failure to fund the full range of sexual and reproductive health services, including those relating to pregnancy during crisis. We are encouraged to note that the mandate letters to the relevant ministers include direction for a progressive stand on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Our fourth area for attention is the importance of effectively addressing women's needs, rights, and roles in humanitarian responses. Oxfam's been working for several years to increase the profile and role played by women's organizations in humanitarian response. We're committed to promoting gender equality and women's rights in our humanitarian response by consulting with women, ensuring our programming is safe, and working with women's organizations from the start of the crisis to ensure that women's and men's different needs are understood and met equitably.
For example, we work with women to guide the design of the programs, from ensuring that the locations of water points are easily accessed, that communal latrines are safely separated and have locks, and that bathing and clothes-washing facilities are private. Hygiene messages for men and women, boys and girls, also need to be different. Oxfam tries to ensure hygiene or dignity kits contain pads so that women can manage their monthly periods in comfort and in dignity.
Our staff also co-authored and recently participated in the Canadian launch of the new guidelines for integrating gender-based violence interventions in humanitarian action. To more effectively address women's needs, rights, and roles in humanitarian response, Canada could take concrete and specific measures to strengthen women's participation in humanitarian assistance, protection, and recovery programs. We could strengthen the capacity of partner governments to address gender equality and gender-based violence in national disaster risk reduction strategies and programs, require sex and age disaggregated data in all emergency response initiatives, and provide funding for training on the gender-based violence guidelines.
Our fifth area is greater international attention to conflict prevention and tackling the root causes of conflict. This is one area where the national action plan was particularly weak. One of the key insights of the women, peace and security agenda is that supporting women's leadership is a key lever in building more sustainable and peaceful societies.
In terms of Canadian priorities, this involves emphasizing conflict prevention and the role of women activists and women's rights organizations in conflict prevention in the revised national action plan, providing increased support to women's rights organizations working on peace-building, and ensuring that all efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism include agenda perspective.
Our sixth and final area is related to the effective implementation and accountability for women, peace and security commitments by the United Nations and member states. Bridging the gap between rhetoric and implementation requires stronger monitoring and accountability. In Canada's case our national action plan does have some positive features. It was the first national action plan to include indicators and assign responsibility for specific actions, but we could create new, much improved second-generation action plans.
First, we need an action plan that has ambitious priorities that are grounded in a rights-based perspective. The Canadian national action plan should outline how Canada will address the previous five issues I've highlighted.
Second, the independent mid-term review of the plan found that it doesn't seem to have a significant impact on Canada's overall policy direction with respect to conflict-affected and fragile states. This is an enormous weakness and requires efforts to increase its profile, including through the World Humanitarian Summit.
As mentioned earlier, we need a dedicated budget, including significant multi-year, consistent resources for women's rights organizations. We need to include a results focus. The current Canadian national action plan reports tend to focus on outlining activities, and there's little effort to understand if these activities are leading to much needed change on the ground.
Finally, we need to improve reporting. The progress reports on the national action plan have been consistently late, raising questions about the priority given to the plan within the government. Although the progress reports are full of details, they do not outline a clear picture of progress, challenges, and lessons.
In conclusion, United Nations Security Council Resolution 2122 stated that UN member states were deeply concerned about persistent implementation deficits in the women, peace and security agenda. It's time to move from deep concern to effective action. Canada has played a role, but this role has not been one of a global leader. It has not been commensurate with our national and international commitments to gender equality and women's rights. Our rhetoric has not been backed by sufficient resources and expenditures of diplomatic capital. We have the chance to change this. We urge this committee to recommend a bold and ambitious agenda for Canada, an agenda backed by resources, and an agenda that puts women at the centre of peace building.
Ms. Jacquelyn Wright:
I think one of the best ways to understand that is to understand the root causes, or where the inequalities are happening.
I was just in Jordan. One of the things that struck me the most there is that most of the refugees are in urban settings, and we think of them in refugee camps. Urban refugees have a very specific set of circumstances.
We run a program where we do something like a case management, almost like social work, where a woman and her family can come to the centre, sit with a worker, and really look at what their needs are. Really, it's everything from protection, to children, to schooling, and we either provide some cash assistance or referrals or whatever.
In talking to those women, you really see what the impacts are, like the changing role of women. Men aren't able to work and they're now at home with the kids, and women are better able to access the informal working system by cooking or cleaning at someone's home. Suddenly the man is home looking after the children, which is a different way for them, and that becomes a tension in the family.
Another woman I spoke to was newly married and pregnant. There was a lot of physical abuse, and she decided to leave her husband and get a divorce. In order to receive assistance as a refugee, you need to be registered through UNHCR and have your registration card. Because of the way the UN system is set up, it was under the man's name, which meant that when she went to get divorced she no longer had access to any services because she didn't have her own card. She was not able to register herself until she got her court documents to say that she was now divorced.
Those are some of the real, practical things you see.
It's just about having enough money. You get a cash transfer. Well, what do you pay for? Hopefully, you're paying for the basics, such as shelter. Well, you're living in an urban situation where now you have to pay rent, and these are not the nicest of houses. These are often houses where things are just built on top. A tin roof is put on, etc. But then there is a medical emergency, so now you have to use the money you would have used for rent to go to the hospital.
Often it's women who are bearing the burden of all of those types of things that are happening, and it's a complicated web. If we don't recognize those needs, if we don't design our programs, we are discriminating against them and they're having even further difficulties.
I think those are some practical examples.
Ms. Julie Delahanty:
Thank you for your question.
I will answer it in English.
In terms of examples, often there are women's committees in camps. We'll work to bring together all of the women to have a women's committee. In those committees, they'll talk about a lot of things.
In DRC we have these committees. They'll come together and talk about structures that are preventing them from accessing all kinds of things. They may talk about gender-based violence. They may even report it. Even if they don't, as I was saying in another meeting the other day, they're in a setting where they don't have therapists who are helping and giving counselling after gender-based violence. They don't have anti-depressants. They just have their sisters in an NGO meeting, and sometimes that's what they need. That kind of programming does make a difference on the ground. It is important programming.
That's one set of things. Generally women's rights organizations, when it comes to....
Another study showed why there was a reduction in violence in countries. The number one indicator of lower gender-based violence in a country is not legislation. It's not policing and security. It's the presence of a strong women's rights movement and strong women's rights organizations in the country. Supporting that kind of organization does make a difference in some of these issues.
I think the most important thing is to talk to the women, which often is not something that happens. As I was saying earlier, where are their toilets located? What do they need? You don't know unless you ask them, and traditionally women often aren't asked. They're very straightforward pieces, those kinds of things.
Another one would be providing the kind of guidelines that have been created, UN guidelines, to be able to make those real and to provide that training. Those are not for gender advisers. They're not for health practitioners. They're for average humanitarian workers and those who are providing those services. It can give them ideas about how to see what some of the issues are for women.
Another area would be referral systems in a camp. When you come to a camp, you're told where the latrines are, that the food is delivered on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at such and such a time, and so on. We consider those basic needs, but we don't often talk about where the reproductive health services are, or where you can go if you've been raped. Those sorts of referrals aren't considered basic enough to be given through basic referral systems.
It's not hard stuff, really.
Ms. Zhanna Nemtsova (Deutsche Welle Correspondent, Founder of The Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, As an Individual):
Thank you very much.
I have my statement written, but only electronically.
Thank you for the presentation. I'm a Deutsche Welle reporter, but I'm also the eldest daughter of Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated more than one year ago in front of the Kremlin walls.
In 2012 he visited Canada to campaign for the Magnitsky Act. Before visiting Canada, he wrote an article with Vladimir Kara-Murza for the National Post. It was called “Standing up for freedom In Russia”, where he said, “While the current regime is in power, Russian citizens can only defend themselves through international mechanisms.”
That is true. Until 2013 Russia was the leader in terms of the number of applications filed with the European Court of Human Rights. According to the recent polls conducted in Russia, over 50% of Russians do not believe that my father's case would be fully solved in Russia. Thousands of Russians signed a petition to initiate an international control over the investigation into my father's murder.
When my father was assassinated, I had little hope that his murder would be solved in Russia. My expectations have so far been proven true.
I started to look for international mechanisms, or at least international control over the investigation, that could be applied in this case. I found very few of them. Even those that could be used, such as a special rapporteur within the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, are not easy to implement.
It is so-called real politics, and politicians tend to be reluctant in taking action on such issues as human rights abuses in Russia. That's why this enables the Russian government to block the most high-profile assassination in modern Russian history and provide impunity for those who might be involved, including the ruler of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. Moreover the Russian government encourages the criminal behaviour as long as these people are loyal to Mr. Putin.
Of course I understand there is lack of progress, but I'm still dedicated to solving this crime and to having justice for my father. I think in this case, and I strongly believe, that more international mechanisms should exist that can be used by the Russian citizens to bring justice and accountability to the Russian authorities in Russia. Otherwise, gross violations of human rights will persist in Russia. We're not talking about only political prisoners, but we are talking about death threats and the fact that Russian politicians and the leaders of the opposition might be killed in Russia.
Mr. Vladimir Kara-Murza (Coordinator, Open Russia and Deputy Leader of People's Freedom Party, As an Individual):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Honourable members of the committee, thank you very much for this opportunity to appear before you today.
In 1991, 25 years ago, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, of which both Russia and Canada are full members, adopted the Moscow document, which upheld explicitly that human rights are not internal affairs but are subject to international obligations by member states. Under Vladimir Putin's government, the Russian Federation has made a mockery of these obligations in all the fundamental spheres of the human dimension.
Elections in our country have become a meaningless ritual for confirming the incumbents, with the opposition candidates routinely disqualified from the ballot, and the voting process itself marred by administrative intimidation, overwhelming media bias, and pervasive fraud. For instance, in the most recent parliamentary election, in 2011, up to 14 million votes, according to independent estimates, were stolen in favour of Vladimir Putin's party.
For more than a decade now, the Russian Parliament has been a decorative institution, devoid of any real opposition to the regime, “not a place for discussion”, in the unforgettable words of its own former speaker.
The same applies to Russia's largest media outlets today. Since the early years of Mr. Putin's rule, the state has taken over or shut down every single independent nationwide television channel, and TV channels have become outlets for the official propaganda, used to rail against so-called external enemies, which is mostly western countries and more recently Ukraine, and against Mr. Putin's political opponents inside Russia, us, who are denounced as traitors and foreign agents.
Many of the regime's opponents today are behind bars. According to the Russian human rights centre Memorial, which is probably the most respected human rights organization in our country, there are currently 53 political prisoners in the Russian Federation, and that's using the high standard established by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1900.
These include opposition supporters jailed under the infamous Bolotnaya case, for protesting against Mr. Putin's inauguration on the streets of Moscow in May 2012. They include Oleg Navalny, the brother of anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, who is basically held as a hostage. They include Alexei Pichugin, the remaining hostage of the Yukos case; Sergei Udaltsov, the leftist politician; and Ildar Dadin, a pro-democracy activist, who was recently sentenced to three years in prison for staging one-man protests on the streets of Moscow. There is a new law that targets street protesters. He was the first one convicted under it. Of course, they now also include citizens of Ukraine seized during Mr. Putin's military aggression against that country, most famously, or I should say most infamously, Nadia Savchenko, whose show trial is currently under way in southern Russia.
Of course, as you well know, disqualification from the ballot, slander in state-run media, and even prison are no longer the biggest dangers that face those who dare to oppose Vladimir Putin's regime. On February 27 last year, the leader of Russia's pro-democracy opposition, former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, was gunned down, killed by five bullets in the back, as he walked home over the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky bridge, just 200 metres from the Kremlin wall, in what is probably the most secure area not just in Moscow but in the whole of Europe. Boris Nemtsov was the strongest, the most prominent, and the most effective leader of the democratic opposition in my country, and his murder left an enormous void in the democratic movement. The tens of thousands of people who came out on the streets of Moscow two Saturdays ago to walk in the memorial march in memory of Boris Nemtsov are testimony to this.
I am very fortunate and very happy to be able to appear before you today. Last May I slipped into a coma, as a result of a severe poisoning of unidentified origins that led to multiple organ failure. Tests showed an abnormal concentration of heavy metals in the blood, and medical experts told my wife the chances of survival were 5%. I am certainly very happy to be here. I have no doubt that this was deliberate poisoning intended to kill, and it was motivated by my political activities in the Russian democratic opposition, likely including my involvement in the global campaign in support of the Magnitsky Act.
As you know, that law, which was passed in the United States in 2012, established a groundbreaking precedent by introducing for the first time ever personal accountability for human rights abuses. These are not sanctions against a country or even a government. These are sanctions against specific individuals responsible for corruption and for abusing human rights. That law introduced visa sanctions and asset freezes against people involved in the arrest, torture, and death of Moscow lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered a large tax fraud scheme involving state officials—Bill Browder will speak in more detail about this—and also against people involved in other human rights abuses.
It is an honourable law, and it is a pro-Russian law in my view. It's a law that targets those who abuse the rights of Russian citizens and who steal the money of Russian taxpayers through official corruption.
It is also a very effective law, because for all the many similarities that we can discuss between the Soviet regime and what we have today under Vladimir Putin—and there are many similarities, as I mentioned, such as political prisoners, the lack of free and fair elections, media censorship, and so forth— there's also one very important difference. The difference is that while they were persecuting dissenters, harassing their opponents, and putting them in prison, members of the Soviet politburo did not keep their money in the west, did not educate their children in the west, and did not buy luxury real estate and yachts in the west. People in the current regime like to do that, both officials and Kremlin-connected oligarchs and kleptocrats. This double standard has to be put to an end.
Those people who openly trample on the most basic norms of the free world should not, in my view, be allowed to enjoy the privileges that the free world has to offer.
Back in December 2012, Boris Nemtsov and I published an op-ed here in Canada in the National Post, which Zhanna has already referenced. It was entitled “Standing up for freedom in Russia”. It called on the Canadian Parliament back then to adopt its own version of the Magnitsky law. The article states:
||Canada has an opportunity to lead — just as it has led on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – by adopting the Magnitsky legislation.... The task of democratic change in our country is ours and ours alone. But if Canada wants to show solidarity with the Russian people and stand for the universal values of human dignity, the greatest help it could give is to tell Kremlin crooks and abusers that they are no longer welcome.
This is a message I would like to reiterate before you today. I hope our friends and our overseas partners here in Canada will act to stop this impunity for the crooks and the abusers, and will support this legislation in memory of Sergei Magnitsky and also in memory of Boris Nemtsov.
Thank you very much once again for the opportunity to appear before you.
Mr. William Browder (Head, International Justice Campaign for Sergei Magnitsky and Author of Red Notice, As an Individual):
Mr. Chairman and ladies and gentlemen of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to come before you today and for your continued focus on the murder of Sergei Magnitsky and the efforts that I and my colleagues have embarked on to get justice for Sergei Magnitsky and for the other victims of human rights abuses in Russia.
As many of you know, Sergei Magnitsky was murdered on November 16, 2009, about six and a half years ago, after being tortured for 358 days after being unjustly arrested for accusing Russian officials of being involved in the largest tax refund fraud in Russian history. The evidence of his murder and his torture is well documented and overwhelming.
In spite of that, the Russian government exonerated every single person involved. It gave special state honours to some of the most complicit and, in the most absurd legal nihilism probably in the history of Russia, they then put Sergei Magnitsky on trial three years after they killed him, in the first-ever trial against a dead man in the history of Russia.
It became obvious that the only chance of justice was justice outside of Russia.
The people who killed Sergei Magnitsky killed him for money. They killed him to cover up the theft of $230 million.
Those people don't like to keep their money in Russia; they like to keep it in the west. They like to keep it in real estate in Toronto, in bank accounts in Zurich, and in villas on the French Riviera. They like to travel, to send their kids to boarding schools in the west, and to send their girlfriends on shopping trips, and they like to be on vacation themselves. So we came up with this idea of naming the names, freezing the assets, and banning the visas of the people who killed Sergei Magnitsky and the people who commit other gross human rights abuses. It became known as the Magnitsky Act.
I launched this initiative in Washington on a bipartisan basis with Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland and Senator John McCain of Arizona. I launched this effort in conjunction with Irwin Cotler, who's sitting right here today and who is a colleague of yours, and I launched it in the European Parliament and in various other places.
One of the principal arguments that the Russian government made to try to stop this from happening was that this law was anti-Russian. I could scream until I was blue in the face that it wasn't anti-Russian, but the person who showed up and helped quash that argument was Boris Nemtsov. Boris Nemtsov, the leader of the Russian opposition, showed up in Canada, in the United States, and in Europe, and said that this was not anti-Russian but pro-Russian. He said that it was anti-Russian for Russian officials to steal from us and then kill us, and that it was pro-Russian to go after those people on a targeted basis and sanction them for doing that.
Boris Nemtsov went around to all these different law-making bodies. So did Vladimir Kara-Murza. As we know, a year and two weeks ago, Boris Nemtsov was murdered in front of the Kremlin.
Vladimir and I were in the House of Representatives about two months after Boris was murdered. At that point, the Magnitsky law had passed in America and had become a law. We were asking the Congress to put on the Magnitsky list the people who were involved in calling for Boris Nemtsov's assassination. Vladimir, shortly after that, was poisoned in Moscow. He went into a coma and multiple organ failure, and his doctors suggested that he had a 95% chance of dying and a 5% chance of living. It's only through an act of God that Vladimir is sitting here next to me today, having survived this unbelievably terrible ordeal.
The situation in Russia since we started this campaign for justice for Sergei Magnitsky and justice for other victims of human rights abuses has become dramatically worse. Whatever restraint Russia had in previous times has all but disappeared. We're now in a situation where there's total and absolute repression.
In March of last year, I came to Canada. With Irwin, and with a number of people who are sitting here today, a resolution was put in front of the House calling on the Canadian government to impose a Canadian version of the Magnitsky Act. There was a unanimous vote in favour by the House. There was also a unanimous vote in favour by the Senate. I was promised by the foreign affairs minister and the immigration minister at the time that the government would impose a Magnitsky act for Canada.
I had meetings with the lawyers working in the foreign affairs ministry to discuss the mechanics of it, and then, sadly, the mandate of the government ended and we were not able to get the Magnitsky act fully implemented.
During the election campaign, my colleagues and I went to every party—the Liberals, the NDP, and the Conservatives—and asked them whether they would support a Magnitsky act. Every party put it in writing that they would support a Magnitsky act if they formed a government. The Liberal Party won the election and formed a government. Moments after the government was formed, I said to Irwin, “Let's go back to Ottawa and get the government to fulfill their campaign promise.” Irwin said, “Let's wait until everybody has found their seats.”
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. William Browder: I was raring to go, and finally he could hold me back no longer. Two weeks ago, I came to Ottawa and met with about three dozen members of Parliament from all the different parties to see whether we were still onside, whether there was still the same amount of support, and I would say that the support has only become stronger. Not a single person I met with didn't support the idea of a Canadian Magnitsky act.
I also had meetings with members of the government, and I didn't get the same passionate response as I got from members of Parliament. Nobody said no, but nobody said yes. What I would hope for is that the new government would take this Magnitsky act and put it into place.
Mechanically, there's a way to do that. There's current sanctions legislation that's already in place, SEMA, the Special Economic Measures Act, which currently doesn't have the ability to sanction human rights abusers. The proposal we had in the previous version, before the end of the last government, was to make a Magnitsky amendment to the SEMA that would target the human rights abusers and allow them to name names of the human rights abusers and to impose visa sanctions and asset freezes.
That's what I'm here today to ask for. I'm asking your committee to support a call on the government specifically to amend the SEMA legislation and to call for a Magnitsky amendment. That would effectively close the loop we started so many years ago and would allow this country to sanction the people who killed Sergei Magnitsky, the people who killed Boris Nemtsov, the people who poisoned Vladimir Kara-Murza, the people who illegally took Nadiya Savchenko hostage, and many others.
It's a cost-free policy. It doesn't cost anything. It would put Canada in a strong moral leadership position, and it's something that was promised to us and should be done.
Thank you very much.
Mr. William Browder:
Yes. There are currently 39 people on the U.S. Magnitsky list. Their names have been publicly listed on the U.S. Treasury OFAC registry. Their visas have been cancelled and their assets have been frozen.
Most importantly, as of the moment your name goes onto the U.S. Treasury sanctions list, there's no bank in the world that wants to violate U.S. sanctions. They are able to close their accounts for any person on that list. I'm not just saying that about U.S. banks: it's any bank. No bank wants to be in violation of U.S. sanctions.
If you're on that list, you can no longer open a bank account and you can no longer operate a credit card. No international company will do business with you. Effectively, you become a financial pariah in the world. Also, even though this is just about U.S. travel bans, many other countries look at that list and deny visas on the basis of that list, so all of a sudden, your travel opportunities become limited.
Most significantly, we all know, and they all know in Russia, that eventually the Putin regime will fall. The current plan of all the bad guys in Russia is that when the regime falls, they will flee to the west and enjoy their ill-gotten gains in the west. But if you're on that list on a public registry, you can't flee anywhere, because when you flee somewhere and ask for a long-term visa or for asylum and the asylum officer types your name into the computer, he's going to say, “Wait a second. You're not welcome here, and in fact, we're going to send you back to Russia.”
There's nothing so existentially terrifying for a bad guy as not having an escape plan, which is what this does.
Mr. William Browder:
Let me address that, because I've been through this in America.
The American Magnitsky Act had originally started as just an act for Sergei Magnitsky. Then various people—Boris Nemtsov, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kara-Murza, and various others—came forward and said that we had hit the Achilles heel of the Putin regime, so let's do it more broadly than just one case. My Senate sponsors said of course that made total sense, and broadened it to include all gross human rights abusers in Russia.
At that point, the White House didn't want to upset Russia. They said we should make it a global piece of legislation. My Senate co-sponsors said of course they would, so it became a global Magnitsky Act. It was only at the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute—there were a lot of arguments from supporters of some countries that didn't want this—that it became Russian again, and it became a Russian Magnitsky Act. Everybody grudgingly accepted that as opposed to the morally perfect idea of sanctioning bad guys everywhere.
There's currently a global Magnitsky Act. The Russian act passed 92 to 4 in the Senate, 89% of the House of Representatives, and became law on December 14, 2012, with the idea that we were going to then try to do a global Magnitsky act. A global Magnitsky Act was then launched in the Senate and House of Representatives. It passed unanimously in the Senate, but it is still waiting for a vote in the House of Representatives. I think it would be my wish, and the wish of the Magnitsky family and many other victims around the world, to have a piece of legislation in America that works that way.
I don't see why that shouldn't be done here. However, there are practical considerations. I know who's on the side of right and on the side of wrong as far as Russia is concerned, but I don't know when it comes to other countries. The moment you open it up into a global debate, you end up with a lot of uncertain allies and enemies.
I can't tell you what the right political strategy is. We want to make sure we get a Russian Magnitsky Act. If it can be global, that's a huge bonus, but I would hate to make perfect the enemy of good. I'd rather get something done that's not perfect than nothing done that is perfect.
Mr. Vladimir Kara-Murza:
Can I add a couple of words on this?
Mr. Peter Fragiskatos: Of course.
Mr. Vladimir Kara-Murza: On your main question, I would also agree in principle. I mean, there can be no objection to making it global, because human rights, by their very nature, are universal and apply to everyone. In principle, then, I think that would be a very honourable thing to do.
We had this discussion about five years ago, when there was a move from the initial Magnitsky bill in the U.S. Congress, which focused just on Sergei's case, to the second bill, which was then adopted and became the Magnitsky Act. It had this widening clause, section 4(b) in the American law, which included other cases of gross human rights abuse.
This, I think, is an extremely important thing to do. It's important not only to bring to responsibility those who Sergei uncovered as having stolen the money from Russian taxpayers—those who then arrested, tortured, and killed him—but to also have this enshrined as a principle for all those who in the future would consider torturing, murdering, abusing human rights, violating Russia's international obligations on human rights, and engaging in corruption, and to have the principle that they will be held responsible. Even if we cannot do it, for now, in our country, because we don't have rule of law and we don't have democratic institutions, we can do this on the international level. It's important to have that open-ended clause that whoever does engage in this sort of behaviour will have to answer and will have to be held responsible for this.
Mr. Vladimir Kara-Murza:
Thank you very much for the question.
They certainly have had a long track record of those kinds of cases. To those that you mentioned, I'd also add Yuri Shchekochikhin. We can add Anna Politkovskaya, who, two years before she was assassinated, was also poisoned on her way to Beslan. We can add the strange case of Mr. Perepilichny, who was a whistle-blower in the Magnitsky case, and Bill can talk in more detail about this.
They certainly have had a very long track record. We know that this organization, which was called at various times different names—the NKVD, the MGB, the KGB, and now the FSB—but whose substance unfortunately has not changed because of that, has had this special lab dealing in those special types of poisons, including untraceable ones, since at least the 1930s. They certainly have a long experience in this.
I have no particular information, obviously, about who and by what means they did what they did to me. I pretty much know why, but I don't know who or how. As soon as I was able to return to Russia last year after medical rehabilitation, I submitted a request for a criminal investigation into attempted murder to the Russian investigative committee. Not surprisingly, I think, there hasn't been any movement on this.
I don't have any information other than to say that it was certainly something very sophisticated and very potent. When a healthy 33-year-old man has all of his organs fail within a few hours, I think it has to be something strong that they used. Other than that, I don't have any specific information, other than to say that those types of sophisticated poisons are usually substances that either those special services that I mentioned, or people from the special services, have access to. I think I can safely assume that this was the case with me as well.
Mr. Vladimir Kara-Murza:
Sure. Thank you very much for the question.
The U.S. Magnitsky Act provides for a detailed process about establishing information about these human rights abuses, obviously prior to making decisions about sanctioning those individuals. Part of that process involves getting information from non-governmental organizations, including those that operate in Russia directly. I know that many of my colleagues in Russian civil society in the human rights movement and the NGO movement have taken part in this process and have submitted this information, detailed information, about specific individuals responsible for human rights abuses.
Actually, on his very last visit to Washington, which was in January 2014, Boris Nemtsov met several members of the U.S. Congress from both houses. He handed them a list that contained the names of 13 individuals with detailed information and relevant evidence and links to primary sources connected to human rights abuses.
I recall that this list included, for instance, Aleksandr Bastrykin, the head of the investigative committee, who once personally took a prominent independent journalist in Russia, Sergei Sokolov of the Novaya Gazeta, to a forest near Moscow and threatened him with murder, openly, if the newspaper continued their investigations. He told him, in a laughing manner, that he'd be the one investigating the murder, so don't worry about it, everything will be fine; nobody will ever find out, and they'll never find you.
That's what he said, and he actually admitted it. That's not just a legend. It's not something that people think; he actually admitted to this.
So he was on the list, as was Mr. Churov, who has become a symbol of election fraud in our country. He's been the chairman of the central electoral commission, and was responsible for the rigged election rounds in both 2007-08 and 2011-12. He was on the list, again with detailed, specific evidence.
This is how the U.S. process works. Unfortunately, I have to say that the implementation of the Magnitsky Act as it is done by the current U.S. administration is not, in my view, adequate to the initial goals and aims of the Magnitsky Act. This act was not intended to have a glass ceiling. It was not intended just to punish low-level abusers and violators. Of course, they also should be held responsible, there's no question about it, but it should go higher. It should include high-profile people who order these human rights abuses, who cover them up, and who use their authority to commit them. So far, frankly, among the 39 people that Bill mentioned who have been sanctioned under the Magnitsky list, there hasn't been a single high-profile senior person in the Putin regime. This is why I think the effect has been more limited than it otherwise could have been.
I'll give you a different example, not related to the Magnitsky Act, but related in the same vein of personal sanctions against people who commit these abuses. Back in 2007 you may remember there was a controversy about the relocation of a Soviet-era war memorial in Tallinn in Estonia. While this was developing, a pro-Kremlin group called Nashi—it means “ours”—set out to engage in an intimidation campaign against the then Estonian ambassador in Moscow, Marina Kaljurand. She's now the foreign minister of Estonia. They followed her everywhere. They threw stuff at her. They threw stuff at her car. They hounded her. They shouted at her press conferences and all the rest of it.
The Estonian government ruled this to be in violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. They put Vasily Yakemenko, who was at that time a minister in Mr. Putin's government and the coordinator of Nashi, on a visa ban list. Of course, Estonia being a member state of the Schengen zone of European countries, their blacklist meant a Schengen-wide blacklist.
For the nine years now that have followed, Mr. Yakemenko has been desperately trying to get off that blacklist. He still hasn't succeeded. But in all those nine years, there hasn't been a single case of an attack against foreign diplomats serving in Moscow, including even Ukrainian diplomats, even with all the stuff going on in the last two years, not a single case.
So if ever you need an example that these sanctions work, if applied effectively and at the appropriate level, I would use that example.
Mr. William Browder:
Let me take a crack at that. Maybe Vladimir will back me up.
There are so many human rights abuses in Russia and they are done with such brazenness that it's not hard to prove many of these cases. I guess it's a question of picking the low-hanging fruit first. In many cases, you don't need whistle-blowers. There are people with dossiers of evidence who are showing up now in the United States, all on different cases, and trying to get people added to the sanctions list. As Vladimir said, the big frustration is that there are only 39 people on the list.
It's an evergreen concept. The law exists and will continue to exist so that more people can be added, but we're having trouble getting the political will to add significant numbers of people. There probably should be 10,000 people on this list.
The real issue, which I think Vladimir and Zhanna can speak to, is that nobody in Russia has any confidence that anybody in the west wants to add anybody to any list. I think plenty of people do show up and would like to show up with more information if they had any confidence that something would happen and that there would be consequences for these people who have committed these grave crimes.
There's nothing worse than being a victim of a crime, going to the authorities, whether they be authorities in your country or the authorities in a different country, and having the authorities ignore that crime. That's a feeling most people have with regard to the west—and when I say “the west”, it includes Canada, the United States, and Europe in general—which is that terrible and horrific things happen and everybody says, “It's not our problem.”
Effectively, with a Magnitsky act, whether it be a Russian act specifically or a global act, it would give people some hope that in Canada, the United States, and other places, people do care. My hope is that this would become eventually a sort of pedestrian thing where it doesn't even impact any kind of diplomatic relations, and you can be sanctioning human rights violators almost as a sort of process of criminal justice and can continue to carry on diplomatic relations as you choose, which is almost a separate area.
Mr. Vladimir Kara-Murza:
I'll add a couple of words.
I think you make a very important point about the safety of whistle-blowers. This certainly has been an issue. Again, as we know from the Perepilichny case, even abroad the whistle-blowers are apparently not safe.
I think the point made by Zhanna is the main one here, which is that we're not even at a point where we have to look for whistle-blowers to find more obscure cases, because there are blatant, blazing, in-your-face cases of gross human rights abuses committed by the highest-placed officials in the Putin regime, who openly boast about them. As I mentioned, Mr. Bastrykin openly admitted to threatening a journalist with murder. He then said to him that he was sorry, but he openly admitted doing it.
In the case of Mr. Churov, the head of the electoral commission, we actually have official documents from the Council of Europe, from the OSCE, in the reports of the monitoring missions documenting the fraud. We don't need whistle-blowers for that. It's out there. It's all public.
In this initiative that Bill mentioned a few minutes ago, we met with members of the U.S. Congress back in the spring of last year after Boris Nemtsov was murdered. We proposed introducing sanctions against state propaganda officials in Russia who were personally involved, in the months leading up to his assassination, in incitement against him by calling him a traitor, a foreign agent, and a fifth columnist, and by saying that he would have welcomed Nazi troops in Moscow if he were alive in 1941.
I'm not making this up. These are all on the record. They are public statements made by state propaganda officials month after month and day after day, which created the atmosphere that made it possible to assassinate the leader of the Russian opposition just outside the Kremlin wall. It wasn't created on its own. It was created by specific people with specific names. We know these people, without any whistle-blowers. We know them, but nobody is acting against them.
Before we get to the important point you've raised, I think we have to see some initiative on the blazingly public cases that we know of, that are well documented, and that really should be acted upon.