Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:40 pm on 29th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland) 5:40 pm, 29th July 2020

My Lords, as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe from 1999 to 2005, I saw the Russian delegation emasculated, changing from a pluralistic group, with liberals, Yabloko and opposition MPs willing to speak freely, to a block of Putin clones. When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, as rapporteur on Chechnya, was refused a visa to visit the province, the assembly suspended the Russian delegation’s voting rights—yet, sadly, a week later Tony Blair took Putin for tea with the Queen. Subsequently, the conservative group in the assembly teamed up in the same group as Putin’s MPs and served under the leadership of one of his acolytes.

I became involved in supporting Mikhail Khodorkovsky after Yukos was crushed by the Kremlin and he was arrested in Siberia in 2003 and prosecuted and imprisoned, in reality for his support for opposition parties and his challenge to Putin. At that time, I tried to secure support for the plight of Svetlana Bakhmina, a lawyer advising Yukos who was imprisoned on trumped-up charges and denied access to her young children. Disappointingly, UK MPs and the British media were impervious to her plight. I attended a seminar at Columbia University, where a session was entitled “Are We Back in the USSR?”—to which the answer was, “No, it is much worse, there are many more KGB-trained personnel running Russia than ever was the case in the Soviet Union.”

I then came into contact with Robert Amsterdam, Khodorkovsky’s lawyer, and Bill Browder, whose successful business in Moscow was targeted by the Kremlin. I learned how they were exposing high-level activity and fraud, for which Sergei Magnitsky, as Bill Browder’s lawyer, paid the final price of his life, dying in agony having been denied effective treatment for pancreatitis. The names of those responsible were well documented, and campaigns were begun to ban them from visiting or engaging with democratic countries.

So the Government came late to this process, and it was only with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko that our leadership finally woke up. Today’s instrument is therefore welcome and necessary but, I would suggest, late. I appreciate that the Government make much of unilateral action, but I trust that the Minister will acknowledge that co-ordinated efforts are much more effective. These regulations need to pave the way for further measures against agents of the Kremlin and other hostile agents.