Russia ban on US adoption clears last parliament hurdle

26th December 2012, Comments 0 comments

Russia's upper house of parliament on Wednesday unanimously backed a bill barring Americans from adopting Russian children, leaving the controversial measure in the hands of President Vladimir Putin.

The vote was the last legislative hurdle for the bill, one of the toughest pieces of anti-US legislation in Russia in years that now just needs to be signed by Putin to become law.

Putin has expressed understanding for the bill but has not yet explicitly vowed to sign it.

The tough piece of anti-US legislation -- retaliation for a new law sanctioning Russian officials implicated in the prison death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 -- has inflamed tensions between the two former Cold War rivals.

The draft legislation has already passed the three required readings in the State Duma lower house despite the protests of human rights advocates and even senior officials.

The Federation Council upper chamber -- comprised exclusively of Putin allies and ruling party members -- passed the measure in a 143-0 vote.

"I believe that any foreign adoption is detrimental to our country," Russia's childrens rights commissioner Pavel Astakhov said after the vote.

"The more children are adopted abroad, the less we do here to help them," news agencies quoted Putin's adviser as saying.

Although Putin has not explicitly said whether he would sign the bill into law, comments by his spokesman on Tuesday appeared to indicate that he backed the measure.

"This will not lead to any infringement of international rights," Dmitry Peskov said.

"Russia is fully implementing the rights it has under international law."

The bill also includes a provision banning Russian political organisations that receive US funding.

In Washington, the White House said Tuesday that "we deeply regret recent efforts to restrict civil society activity in Russia" and vowed to continue raising concerns over the proposed adoption ban.

"Children should have every opportunity to grow up in loving families," US President Barack Obama's national security staff said in a statement.

"Their fate should not be linked to unrelated political considerations."

The legislation came up this month after Obama signed into law the so-called Magnitsky Act -- a measure paying tribute to the Russian lawyer who died in custody after exposing a $235 million police embezzlement scheme.

The US law blacklists Russian officials allegedly involved in his death.

Magnitsky's employer Hermitage Capital -- once Russia's largest Western investment fund -- and family both believe he was tortured to death.

But Russian prosecutors this week moved to drop charges against the only person on trial in the case.

They are also due to hold hearings on Thursday into a separate set of fraud charges that originally put Magnitsky under arrest.

The Russian lawmakers' response has agitated some cabinet members including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who has said banning adoption as an institution "is wrong", in a rare rebuke to the official position.

Putin's advisory human rights council also condemned the pending legislation as potentially unconstitutional.

"The entry of this bill into law in its present form... could lead to negative consequences for the Russian legal system and in other areas," the human rights council's conclusion states.

Leading rights advocate Lyudmila Alexeyeva said she planned to appeal to the constitutional court should Putin sign the bill into law.

The United States remains the number one foreign destination for orphans in Russia -- a country that since Soviet times has relied on state-run homes for children and has a weak tradition of adoptions.

A total of 956 Russian children travelled to the United States last year to be adopted out of the 3,400 who were adopted abroad. Russian families recorded 7,400 adoptions in the same period.

The measure would enter into force on January 1 and complicate the plans of US families that have already filed adoption papers and are simply waiting for a final verdict from a Russian court.

Astakhov said Wednesday that 46 kids whose adoption by US families is pending would not be able to travel to their new homes if the measure becomes law.

"These children will be given priority assignment for adoption by Russian families," he said.


© 2012 AFP

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