The U.S. can no longer make distinctions between domestic and foreign policy, a lawyer said at a Cato Institute event focusing on the rule of law in Russia.
When talking about the rule of law, we need to remember “a great Russian who lit the light for all of us, and his name was Sakharov. Sakharov made one fundamental statement about life-the way a country treats its citizens is the way it will treat its neighbors,” said Robert Amsterdam, a founding partner of the law firm Amsterdam and Peroff, which specializes in international business law and politically complex cases.
A country’s domestic policy and its foreign policy are both tied, he said.
Amsterdam said Russia is a dual state, which means it “is a country where there is a pattern of legalism, consistently working within a pattern of authoritarianism.”
In Russia the conviction rate is 99.7%, Amsterdam said. This means, when a person is arrested in Russia, he or she knows there is a 99.7% chance he or she will be convicted, he added.
Amsterdam spoke of his late friend, Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian human rights journalist, who according to the BBC was murdered in her Moscow apartment building in October 2006 in what looked to some like a contract killing. Amsterdam said Politkovskaya told him how Putin and the Russian government operate-they use a doppelganger effect.
“They [the Russian government] charge their enemies with the very crimes they commit so that nobody understands what’s really happening,” Amsterdam said.
They “charge [Mikhail] Khodorkovsky [a successful Russian businessman and philanthropist] with tax evasion and money laundering, because that is what they are doing,” he added.
Amsterdam said another example of the “doppelganger” effect is the whistleblower, Alexei Dymovsky, who took pictures of corrupt Russian policemen and was then arrested for corruption.
The situation is not improving in Russia, Amsterdam said. Since the arrest of Khodorkovsky in October 2003, corruption in Russia has risen by a multiple of ten, he said.
The U.S. cannot continue to ignore the domestic situation in Russia, Amsterdam said. “It is contrary today in international law to ignore the plight of human beings in another country whose rights are violated.”
“Every agreement the U.S. ever signed obliges us to make a commitment [to speak out against Russia’s corruption and human rights violations] … under the European Convention, it is actually mandatory for European governments to take on board the activities in Russia today,” he said.
“We can all impact foreign policy and human rights,” he said. Journalists and people engaged in these issues “can stop calling the ‘trial’ of Khodorkovsky a trial … we can stop when the Iranian or Chinese put people in a box for an hour and pretend it’s a trial- we don’t have to call it a trial.”
The U.S. needs to have the courage “to define our policies and values and stick to them … we have to decide if we care about saving ourselves and our Constitution-we can wish no less on our fellow man,” Amsterdam said.