Russia to vote on banning US adoptions: lawmakers


Children play on in an orphanage in Moscow May 12, 2010. The Russian parliament will vote this week on a bill banning adoption of Russian children by Americans, in retaliation to the Magnitsky Act passed by the United States last week, lawmakers said.

The Russian parliament will vote this week on a bill banning adoption of Russian children by Americans, in retaliation to the Magnitsky Act passed by the United States last week, lawmakers said Monday.

The Russian bill, unofficially named the "Dima Yakovlev bill", was approved in an initial reading Friday in a move by Moscow to retaliate against the Magnitsky Act.

The US law blacklists officials believed to be implicated in the 2009 death in jail of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, banning them from entering the United States and freezing their US assets.

Dima Yakovlev was a Russian toddler who died of heat stroke in 2008 after his adoptive American father forgot him in a car in the summer heat. The father was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.

Ahead of the key second reading scheduled for Wednesday, lawmakers added to the text of the bill new clauses banning adoptions of Russian children by US nationals, according to opposition lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov, who posted a copy of the amended bill online.

The amended bill would also order the closure of US adoption agencies in Russia.

"Every year, 1,000 orphans will lose their future as pawns of political squabbles," Gudkov wrote.

The "Dima Yakovlev" bill's official purpose is to blacklist Americans "implicated in violations of rights of Russian citizens." It was overwhelmingly approved by the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, on Friday.

The proposed ban on adoptions would effectively end the bilateral US-Russia adoption cooperation agreement, which took effect last month, the Interfax news agency quoted Yekaterina Lakhova, a lawmaker with the ruling United Russia party, as saying.

If approved, the new law could go into effect as soon as January 2013.

Moscow initially vowed to retaliate against the Magnitsky Act by targeting Americans suspected by Moscow of violating the rights of not only Russians but nationals of other countries, for example, at Guantanamo, the controversial Cuba-based prison camp for "war-on-terror" suspects.

However, last week Russian lawmakers switched focus to children abused by US citizens, drawing a perplexed reaction from the US State Department and indignation from critics.

"I think it stretches the imagination to see an equal and reciprocal situation here," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a briefing Friday when asked to comment on the similarity of the proposed legislation to the Magnitsky Act.

Russia's top opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta called the bill "the most disgraceful in the history of the Duma's lawmaking."

Magnitsky died in prison in Moscow in 2009 aged 37 after spending almost a year under pre-trial arrest that his mother said had exposed him to "torture conditions" and his employer called retribution for his testimony against interior ministry officers.

The Russian foreign ministry has called it "open meddling" in the country's affairs, while President Vladimir Putin welcomed the Duma's initiative to retaliate.

But critics said that by seeking to ban adoptions by US nationals, the authorities were doing a major disservice to Russian orphans, many of whom suffer abuse at home.

Children's rights activist Boris Altshuler on Friday accused Russian lawmakers of trying to stoke a "new Cold War".

Russia had in the past temporarily suspended US adoptions, citing abuse of its children in the United States.

After that ban, the two countries agreed on a bilateral agreement which gave Russia more oversight of adoptions.

The number of Russian children adopted in the United States went down to 962 in 2011 from a peak of 5,862 in 2004, according to official figures.

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