Nelson Mandela’s passing this week made all politicians seem rather small by comparison. Very few people can stand up in comparison to a figure like Mandela, but two people, not exactly “pols,” did themselves and the cause of human rights proud.

Two Russian police officers detain two gay rights activists holding a poster reading "Homophobia is Russia's Disgrace" during a protest outside the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games organizing committee office, in downtown Moscow, Russia. (Ivan Sekretarev/AP)
Two Russian police officers detain two gay rights activists holding a poster reading “Homophobia is Russia’s Disgrace” during a protest outside the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games organizing committee office, in downtown Moscow. (Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press)

James Kirchick, a journalist (who distinguished himself already by getting thrown off Russian TV for objecting to repression of gays in Russia) and fellow with the Foreign Policy Initiative and András Simonyi, former Hungarian ambassador to the United States and managing director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations, came up with an ingenious way to combat Russian persecution of gays. I’ll quote them at some length:

The Magnitsky Act was inspired, in part, by the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which tied U.S. trade relations to the right of free emigration, especially for Jews residing in the then-Soviet Union. Because of its success, Congress repealed Jackson-Vanik in 2012 and adopted instead the Magnitsky Act, updating the human rights agenda with regard to Russia. The Magnitsky Act builds upon the vaunted tradition of Jackson-Vanik, linking apparently disparate issues such as trade and human rights.

The text of the Magnitsky Act stipulates that it applies to any Russian citizen “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals seeking…to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms, such as the freedoms of religion, expression, association, and assembly.” The law can clearly be used [to freeze foreign bank accounts and bar travel], then, against those vigilantes who have committed acts of violence against gay people or people perceived to be gay. While many of these vigilantes likely have no assets in foreign bank accounts, nor the intention of traveling to the West, they often act with either the explicit or implicit support of Russian officials, and so naming-and-shaming them could have a bottom-up effect in pressuring the Russian government. It could also increase tension in the system when Russian government officials feel compelled to either publicly denounce or defend such targets of Magnitsky list sanctions. This may help reveal and erode some of the plausible deniability that is built into Russia’s abuse of LGBT individuals.

They raise the possibility the act could be used “against municipal government officials, such as city administrators in Moscow and St. Petersburg who have systematically denied gay rights activists the ability to hold peaceful demonstrations, as well as those police officials and officers who have routinely beaten demonstrators.” They then go on to name names. The vow: “The mistreatment of the LGBT community is rightly viewed as a canary in the coalmine: a warning that democracy has gone off the tracks. America and Europe will be watching before, during, and after the Olympics. Unlike the athletes, this issue will not go away when the lights in Sochi are out.” I’ve suggested world leaders (not athletes) say they won’t  go to Sochi in solidarity with persecuted Russian gays.

So for creative use of the law to further the cause of human rights, we say, well done, gentlemen.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.