August 05, 2014

Statement On The Sochi Olympics

     Mr. CARDIN.  Mr. President, as we speak, the 22nd Winter Olympics are well underway in Sochi, Russia.

     Let me first congratulate the organizers on a fantastic opening ceremony. It really was something to see the depth and breadth of Russia’s rich history and culture on display for the entire world to admire.

     The Olympics put a powerful spotlight on Russia—a spotlight Russia’s president has so vigorously sought. But just as this attention is educating the world about Russia’s invaluable contributions to music, science, and sport, it is also highlighting the gaps between Russia’s previous commitment to fundamental freedoms and the reality on the ground.

     There is no question that in recent years we have seen Russia move towards a less open, less pluralistic society. But we cannot lose hope yet. Change is possible and Russia’s beleaguered, but tenacious civil society offers much hope for the future. We continue to expect Russia’s leadership to uphold basic and universal human rights. Now there are other countries where the situation is much worse, but Russia is a powerful global example and should be committed to upholding fundamental freedoms much like Germany or the United Kingdom, its European neighbors. But unlike those governments, Russia’s current leadership wantonly violates international commitments and seems bent on trying to redefine a settled consensus on the universality of human rights. We cannot let that go unchallenged.

     Much has been said about Russia’s 2013 law prohibiting so-called gay propaganda. Some have pointed to the fact that this law enjoys widespread public support while others have faintly condemned it and worried that Western pressure could be counterproductive. Let’s stop negotiating with ourselves here and tell it like it is. And it’s really quite simple: this law infringes on the rights to free speech, association, and assembly. These rights are not American rights, they are human rights, and they are universally shared and universally binding. Russia acknowledged as much in myriad international commitments. And this law is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to fundamental freedoms in Russia.

     In recent days it’s been fashionable to change the colors of your website or make other symbolic gestures of solidarity with Russia’s LGBT community. I applaud this and have done as much myself, but let’s not kid ourselves or rest on our laurels. It takes little courage to swap an avatar on Twitter or to use a coded phase in a statement and it’s going to take a lot more to change the world for the better. As important as these symbols of solidarity are, let’s not confuse them with the steady and sustained activism that will be necessary to highlight human rights abuses in Russia long after the flame goes out in Sochi.

     I’ve heard much speculation of a further crackdown in Russia after the Olympic spotlight fades, and I would note that the ongoing unrest in Ukraine is watched with great interest from Russia. While the Kremlin appears nervous at the prospects of renewed demonstrations at home or the success of any grassroots uprising on its borders, many in Moscow and St. Petersburg appear envious that the Ukrainian protests have shown staying power and the ability to pry concessions from the ruling elite. I worry that if anything could provoke a crackdown inside Russia post-Sochi, a turn of events in Ukraine could well prove that trigger and I urge the administration to double-down on its efforts to head off further violence. That is why I introduced the Global Human Rights Accountability Act, which would ensure human rights abusers from anywhere in the world are denied entry into the United States and barred from using our financial institution.

     Finally, Mr. President, let me commend our current and outgoing Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Dr. Michael McFaul, for a job well done. Dr. McFaul served with distinction in a tough post at a tough time and did a fantastic job of representing our country’s openness and can do spirit. He will be missed.