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Russian Parliament's Upper House Approves US Adoption Ban

Russian Parliament's Upper House Approves US Adoption Ban
12/27/2012 3:16 AM ET

Russia's Upper House of Parliament, the Federation Council, on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill that bans adoption of Russian children by Americans.

The bill, also carrying a provision to ban all U.S.-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that do any political work in Russia, was unanimously approved by all Federation Council members present at the time of the voting.

Earlier this month, Russia's Lower House of Parliament, the State Duma, had voted in favor of the measure. It will now be forwarded to President Vladimir Putin for signing into law, as both Houses of the Russian Parliament have approved the measure.

Putin, who is now expected to sign the bill into law as early as this week, had already voiced his support for the measure, citing alleged mistreatment of adopted Russian children by their American foster parents. Incidentally, Russia accounts for almost ten per cent of all foreign adoptions by American families.

Adoptions have been a thorny issue in U.S.-Russia relations following a series of scandals, including the uproar about a seven-year-old boy who was sent back to Russia unaccompanied in 2010 by his U.S.-based foster mother.

Prior to that incident, a Russian orphan named Dima Yakovlev had died of heatstroke in July 2008 after being negligently locked in a car in Virginia by his foster father. Miles Harrison, 49, was later acquitted of involuntary manslaughter after a court accepted that he forgot that the boy was in the car and driven to his office without dropping his son at daycare.

Following a public outcry over these incidents, Russia suspended U.S. adoptions in 2010. Moscow alleges that at least 19 Russian children have died due to abuse by American foster parents since adoption of Russian children by Americans began in the early 1990s.

Nevertheless, Russia later withdrew the suspension after negotiations with the United States over the issue. Subsequently in July 2011, the two nations signed a bilateral agreement that reformed their adoption laws and provided procedural safeguards to the welfare of the adopted children.

The deal made the Russian government's approval mandatory for every adoption in compliance with the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoptions, unless the child is being adopted by relatives. It also allowed continued monitoring of the living conditions of the adopted child and made psychological testing mandatory for American couples seeking to adopt Russian children. Further, it allowed the adopted children to retain their Russian citizenship until their eighteenth birthday.

The agreement, which was originally due to come into force on November 1, 2012, is yet to be ratified by the Duma. Nevertheless, the draft law approved by the Federation Council on Wednesday is most likely to result in the annulment of that agreement.

Russia had attempted earlier this year to curb western influence on its internal politics by shutting down the operations of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), accusing it of attempting to "affect the course of the political process in the country by its use of grants" to Russian NGOs.

Moscow also enforced a law that requires Russian NGOs receiving foreign funding to register as a "foreign agent" and submit to more rigorous checks by the authorities. Notably, foreign-funded NGOs and western nations, particularly the United States, were blamed for inciting the widespread protests that followed Putin's disputed re-election in May.

But the draft law on adoption is widely seen as part of Moscow's retaliation to the adoption of the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act by the U.S. Congress earlier this month. The act imposes visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials involved in the alleged torture and murder of 37-year-old Russian anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, as well as in other gross human rights abuses in Russia.

Putin had described adoption of the Magnitsky Act as an "unfriendly" move that "poisoned" Russia-U.S. relations and dragged them into the past, saying: "It is absolutely not a matter of officials, the thing is that they replace one anti-Soviet law with another."

The Magnitsky Act was part of a wider trade bill that repealed a Cold War-era provision, known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which imposed restrictions on trade relations with Russia and Moldova. The long-obsolete measure linked U.S. trade relations with the former Soviet Union to the emigration of Jews and other Soviet minorities.

The development followed Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) as its 156th member in August, after nearly two decades of accession process which began in June 1993.

Russia's WTO accession effectively opens opportunities in the Russian market for foreign investors and exporters alike. It also lowers Russia's import tariffs and sets limits on export duty levels for a list of essential raw materials. Nevertheless, the U.S. was prevented from making use of the opportunity due to the Jackson-Vanik amendment.

by RTT Staff Writer

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