Impact of Human Rights in the field of sanctions: Magnitsky type laws are being adopted by more countries

The impact of human rights in the field of sanctions are slowly, but surely becoming a serious theme in the global trade arena. As reported earlier, Western countries are increasingly following the lead of the U.S. to slam sanctions on human rights violators – e.g. UK, U.S. and Canada. In this context, Canada just recently adopted the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law).  The EU Parliament has also thrown its hat into the ring by recommending visa restrictions and asset freezes for Russian officials said to be involved in the Sergei Magnitsky case. The recommendation called for 32 named Russian citizens to be placed on an EU-wide visa ban list and to seize any financial assets that they might hold within the EU.

The Magnitsky styled sanctions are inspired by Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in 2009 in a Moscow prison after accusing Russian officials of a massive tax fraud scheme. 

The common theme of the Magnitsky styled sanctions is that they introduce restrictive measures which enable the Sender of sanctions, e.g. UK, U.S. and Canada, to impose targeted sanctions and travel bans on foreign nationals complicit in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights”, as well as acts of “significant corruption.”

Further, common to other sanctions regimes, persons subject to the jurisdiction of the Sender are prohibited from facilitating any activities which would directly or indirectly circumvent the Magnitsky styled laws and regulations. In the case of Canada, the so-called Sergei Magnitsky Law also affords “whistle blower,” protection to individuals (irrespective of nationality or location) who expose illegal conduct of government officials or individuals. Time will tell how effective such protections are to foreign whistle-blowers located outside of Canada.

These types of sanctions can be classified under international law as retorsions, an unfriendly act – a signal of disapproval by the Sender of the Targets (of the restrictive measures) conduct. Although most of the targets of the Magnitsky styled sanctions are Russian officials, they are aimed against any human rights violators. For instance, Canada recently published the names of 52 individuals blacklisted under its Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, although most are Russian officials, more than ten are linked to either the Venezuelan Maduro Regime or the government of South Sudan.  

Bottom line is that the Magnitsky styled sanctions are here to stay and hopefully they will be another tool in the fight against human rights violations and corruption. 

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