Russian anti-U.S. adoption bill passes

Posted on: 10:06 am, December 26, 2012, by , updated on: 03:04pm, December 26, 2012

By Brian Walker and Samira Said, CNN

(CNN) — Russia’s upper house of parliament has approved a controversial measure banning adoption of Russian children by U.S. families, Russian media reported Wednesday.

The legislation now goes to President Vladimir Putin to be signed into law, the semiofficial RIA-Novosti news agency said.

Russia is one of the top countries of origin for international adoptions in the United States. The legislation could affect hundreds of American families seeking to adopt Russian children.

The bill also bars any political activities by nongovernmental organizations receiving funding from the United States, if such activities could affect Russian interests, the news agency said.

The legislation also imposes sanctions against U.S. officials thought to have violated human rights.

The vote in the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house, was unanimous, but the Foreign Ministry said it may seek to challenge the bill if it is signed by Putin as expected in coming days.

Lawmakers in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, adopted the bill last week.

The move by Russian politicians is widely seen as retaliation for a law that U.S. President Barack Obama signed on December 14. That bill, called the Magnitsky Act, imposes U.S. travel and financial restrictions on human rights abusers in Russia.

“The United States is concerned by measures in the bill passed in the Russian Duma today that, if it becomes law, would halt inter-country adoptions between the United States and Russia and would restrict the ability of Russian civil society organizations to work with American partners,” U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said last week.

The Magnitsky Act is named in honor of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered the largest tax fraud in the country’s history in the form of rebates claimed by government officials who stole money from the state. Magnitsky died in 2009 after a year in a Moscow detention center, apparently beaten to death.

The Russian bill’s implementation would nullify a recent agreement between the United States and Russia in which the countries agreed to additional safeguards to protect children and parties involved in inter-country adoptions.

“American families have welcomed more than 60,000 Russian children into American homes over the past 20 years,” Ventrell said last week. “Just last month we implemented a bilateral adoptions agreement with Russia to improve safeguards for adopted children and their families. If Russian officials have concerns about the implementation of this agreement, we stand ready to work with them to improve it and remain committed to supporting inter-country adoptions between our two countries.”

Only China has more adoptions to the United States than Russia.

Backers of the Russian bill said American adoptive parents have been abusive, citing 19 deaths of Russian children by their foster parents since the 1990s, according to local media.

In 2010, an American woman caused outrage after she sent her adopted son back to Russia alone on a one-way flight, saying the boy, then 7, had violent episodes that made her family fear for its safety.

Groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had urged lawmakers to reject the bill.

“This bill hits back at Russia’s most vulnerable children and could deprive them of the loving families they desperately need,” Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said last week.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia program director, has said, “this bill is frankly a childish response to the Magnitsky Act.”