Attacking Human Rights Violations: UK Parliament set to vote on British-style Magnitsky Sanctions

Attacking Human Rights Violations: UK Parliament set to vote on British-style Magnitsky Sanctions   

Human rights violators may receive another blow if the United Kingdom Parliament adopts U.S. styled Magnitsky sanctions. This could lead to a situation in which human rights violators anywhere in the world could have their assets frozen in the United Kingdom. 

A tombstone on the grave of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky at a cemetery in Moscow in November 2009_BB_ Q&A: The Magnitsky affair_11-07-2013_Photo AP

A possible styled Magnitsky “Amendment,” is being inserted into the Criminal Finances bill, which aims to curb money-laundering and terror financing. Similar to the 2012 U.S. law, the amendment is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer, turned whistle-blower, who died in Russian custody in 2009 after uncovering a $230m theft from the state budget by tax officials. The tabling of the amendment is a breakthrough for campaigners led by Bill Browder, the fund manager who employed Magnitsky.

If the amendment is adopted into law, both the UK Government and private parties could request the High Court to freeze UK assets of individuals or entities involved or facilitating human rights violations in any country. Thus, such parties would be unable to profit from their ill gained wealth. street-698631_1280

Further, the Amendment could also improve the United Kingdom’s reputation that it’s financial center in London is not a safe-haven for corrupt human rights violators, despots or dictators to hide their ill-gained wealth. 

The Amendment also comes given that the U.S. Congress is poised to adopt a Global Magnitsky Act (so-called Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act)The global act aims to extend the scope of the existing 2012 Act from Russian citizens to all human rights violators to any country in the world. 

Although this will certainly strain relations between the UK and Russia, the Amendment must be a welcoming tool in the fight against corruption and human rights violators enjoying their wealth. 

Hopefully, the U.S. Senate will adopt the expanded global act, so that sanctions can be applied beyond the existing geographical limitations. This would undoubtedly put corrupt human rights violators and their financiers on alert. However, it would be more effective if other like-minded countries, especially those of the EU and Japan, would also adopt such sanctions.

I’d like to think that these types of Western laws are not a signal by the West to impose their values and norms on other countries, which is of course might be a justified criticism, but rather a signal that if and when particularly nasty characters take the misguided decision to commit human rights violations, they cannot enjoy their ill gained wealth in the West. 

Finally, another possible ramification of the UK and U.S. bills could be that President-Elect Trump’s efforts to warm up to Russia could be further limited by human rights related sanctions. If adopted by the U.S. Senate, the Trump Administration might find it more difficulty to achieve an election promise to improve relations with Russia. For example, attempts to resolve the crisis in the Ukraine – i.e. reports of massive human rights violations occurring in the Crimea Region and Sevastopol. 

U.S. Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act
 Summary: S.284 — 114th Congress (2015-2016)

(Sec. 3) This bill authorizes the President to impose U.S. entry and property sanctions against any foreign person (or entity) who:

  • is responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country seeking to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials, or to obtain, exercise, or promote human rights and freedoms;
  • acted as an agent of or on behalf of a foreign person in such activities;
  • is a government official or senior associate of such official responsible for, or complicit in, ordering or otherwise directing acts of significant corruption, including the expropriation of private or public assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, bribery, or the facilitation or transfer of the proceeds of corruption to foreign jurisdictions; or
  • has materially assisted or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, such activities.

The authority to block and prohibit transactions in property and property interests shall not include the authority to impose sanctions on the importation of goods (any article, natural or man made substance, material, supply or manufactured product, including inspection and test equipment, excluding technical data).

The President shall, after receiving a request from the chairperson and ranking member of one of the appropriate congressional committees with respect to whether a foreign person has engaged in a prohibited activity:

  • determine if the person has engaged in such an activity; and
  • report to the chairperson and ranking member whether or not the President imposed or intends to impose specified sanctions against the person.

Sanctions shall not apply to an individual as necessary for law enforcement purposes, or to comply with the Agreement between the United Nations (U.N.) and the United States regarding the U.N. Headquarters or other applicable international obligations of the United States.

The President may terminate sanctions under specified conditions.

The Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor may submit to the Department of State the names of foreign persons who may meet the sanctions criteria.

(Sec. 4) The President shall report to Congress annually regarding each foreign person sanctioned, the type of sanctions imposed, and the reason for their imposition.

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