On July 6, 2020, the U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab introduced the long awaited Magnitsky sanctions regime, the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020, “to deter, and provide accountability for, activities which, if carried out by or on behalf of a State within the territory of that State, would amount to a serious violation by that State of an individual’s right to life, right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, right to be free from slavery, not to be held in servitude or required to perform forced or compulsory labor.” The regulations follows the 2018 “Magnitsky amendment” to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The amendment equipped the U.K. Government with abnew powers to impose sanctions on individuals who commit gross human rights violations. The regulations must be now approved by resolution of both Houses within 28 days, beginning on the day on which it is made.
When unveiling the new sanction regime, the U.K. Foreign Secretary indicated that he will be naming foreign citizens to face visa bans and asset freezes for alleged human rights abuses, including against those responsible for the murder of Sergei Magnitsky and Jamal Khashoggi. Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax advisor, uncovered tax fraud perpetrated on a vast-scale and implicating Russian officials. In 2008, Magnitsky was imprisoned in Russia and later died in jail as a result of the mistreatment he suffered there. Jamal Khashoggi was a Saudi Arabian journalist who had been covering human rights violations perpetrated by the Saudi Arabian government. He disappeared after walking into Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, to collect his divorce papers. After an international outcry, Saudi Arabian officials confirmed that Jamal Khashoggi was killed.
While a great step forward, some Parliamentarians raised the issue that corruption is not included in the regulations. As Lisa Nandy MP emphasized, “corruption and human rights abuses go hand in hand.” What has corruption got to do with human rights abuses? As the UN stresses, “corruption both drives human rights abuses and hinders the effective discharge of human rights obligations. It can be closely connected to the maintenance and proliferation of violent and discriminatory social orders which disproportionately impact on persons who are marginalized or in otherwise vulnerable or precarious situations.” Corruption in all its forms, whether embezzlement, trading in influence, illicit enrichment, laundering proceeds of crime, concealment, obstruction of justice, bribery or abuse of function, may create conditions conductive of, and so facilitate, human rights abuses.
Others as Tom Tugendhat MP, while praised the regulations, condemned the British Government’s silence concerning sanctions against China. Indeed, only last week, British Parliamentarians debated the dire human rights situation in China and the evidence of China preventing births among the persecuted Uighur Muslim communities among other atrocities.
The U.K. must be applauded for making a strong stance that human rights abusers will not enjoy impunity but will face some consequences. As Bill Browder, the force behind the initiative that has seen Magnitsky laws being enacted all over the world, said: “This is a key milestone in the Magnitsky justice campaign. The U.K. is a prime spot for dictators and kleptocrats to keep their money and buy property. By denying them access it sends a powerful message and one that hurts them. The key now is in robust and regular implementation by the British government.”