The Interpreter

A special project of Institute of Modern Russia

The Story of How the Magnitsky Act Was Born

A massively important law with humble beginnings.

Seldom does the death of a single person create shockwaves across the entire planet. However, when an ordinary Russian, a lowly accountant, was imprisoned and eventually died in a Russian prison, his name became a symbol for the struggle for human rights, and the reasons for a significant rift in the international community.

The Sergei Magnitsky Act, a law passed by the United states congress, sanctioned some of Russia’s business and political elite. The Russian government responded by stopping any citizens of the United States from adopting Russian children. The death of Magnitsky has stressed the world’s relations with Russia, continues to eat away at what little trust many have left for the corrupt Russian government, and has put the struggle for universal human rights back into the international spotlight.

But the story of the Magnitsky Act starts with humble beginnings, with a businessman, William Browder, setting up a meeting with a human rights advocate to speak about the plight of his tax lawyer. The story is told by Kyle Parker, the senior policy advisor for Russia at the U.S. Helsinki Commission, who spoke at Bowdoin College on Monday at an event called “From Chechnya to Pussy Riot: Human Rights and the Russian Reset.” The text below the audio is taken directly from the flyer for the event. – Ed.


As the Winter Olympics in Sochi draw near, the Russian government stands charged with multiple human rights abuses and a low-intensity conflict simmers just miles from Olympic venues. At the same time, a newfound civic consciousness is emerging in Russia as citizens lose their fear of the authorities and the authorities lose their ability to control the flow of information. Few dare to predict exactly how this tension will be resolved, but most agree the status quo is unsustainable. Whatever happens, consequences for U.S. interests are high. Join the U.S. Helsinki Commission’s Russia expert Kyle Parker for a timely conversation on why human rights continue to be at the center of U.S.-Russian relations.

Kyle Parker, a native of Old Town, Maine, is the senior policy advisor for Russia at the U.S. Helsinki Commission—a government agency that monitors human rights compliance in Europe. Kyle is widely recognized as an authority on Russia in the U.S. Congress and a leading advocate for human rights. He recently led an historic multi-year effort combining trade and human rights that culminated in the passage of the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012.