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Foreign Secretary presents UK’s first sanctions against individuals committing human rights abuses globally

6 July 2020 the British Foreign Secretary has announced the first set of independent sanctions specifically targeting individuals accused of human rights abuses around the world.

Dominic Raab, UK Foreign Secretary and a former human rights lawyer, has stated the law will be expanded later in the year to encompass issues such as; corruption, oppression of journalists and religious persecution.

Speaking about the new legislation, Mr. Raab said:

“This is a clear example of how the UK will act as a force for good in the world, standing up for human rights. We will not let those who seek to inflict pain and destroy the lives of innocent victims benefit from what the UK has to offer.”

Britain’s Global sanction regime borne out of the Magnitsky Act

Britain’s new sanction regime is modelled on the U.S. Magnitsky Act, the flagship legislation that enables the United States to sanction individuals implicated in human rights abuses anywhere in the world.

The law is named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after he alleged the involvement of Russian officials in large-scale tax fraud. Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 and spent 11 months in police custody where he sustained injuries consistent with torture and was denied medical care. The European Court of Human Rights later found that there had been “multiple violations” of the European Convention of Human Rights during his detention.

Sergei Magnitsky had been hired by American financier Bill Browder to investigate the Russian authorities. Following Magnitsky’s death, Browder became instrumental in lobbying for the U.S. Congress to pass a legislation to allow the United States to punish Russian human rights violators by freezing visas and imposing financial sanctions which evolved into the Magnitsky Act today.

In 2016, Congress enacted the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, expanding the law to allow for sanctions to individuals globally.

Why now?

Following his success in lobbying the U.S. Congress, Bill Browder continued to advocate for the need for other countries to follow suit. His unwavering dedication to the cause has now seen Magnitsky-style legislation enacted in several countries across the globe.

Canada passed its own legislation in 2017, called The Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Bill (Sergei Magnitsky Law). Alongside 30 Russian individuals their first set of sanctions targeted 19 Venezuelan and 3 South Sudanese officials.

Similar acts can also be found in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Kosovo, while the EU, Australia, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia have all have Magnitsky-styled legislation working their way through their parliaments.

The UK’s announcement represents part of a bigger global push towards holding human rights abusers to account. Leading Bill Browder to tweet on the eve of the UK legislation:

“A huge milestone in our 10 year campaign for justice”

Dubbed by many as the Magnitsky amendment, Britain’s first set of sanctions includes Russian individuals believed to be implicated in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, although the framework is not specifically aimed at Russians.

Mr. Raab has a longstanding commitment to this issue, saying “this case is very close to my heart”. The Foreign Secretary first raised the Magnitsky case as a backbencher in the House of Commons in 2012, alongside former Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

At the time, Mr. Raab called Magnitsky the “Solzhenitsyn of his generation”, determined to expose the wrongdoing of his country. Since then, the Foreign Secretary has remained in touch with Natalia, the widow of the former Russian lawyer.

The sanctions come at a time when UK-Russian relations are significantly strained. In 2018 Russia was found to have carried out a nerve agent attack on British soil in an attempt to kill ex-spy, Sergei Skripal.

Britain’s sanction list

While the UK has always had the power to sanction individuals, it has previously almost always chosen to do so collectively; as a member of the United Nations or the European Union. The Foreign Secretary has lauded Britain’s exit from the EU as a new opportunity to cement Britain’s own sanctions framework in law, an aim that was achieved today as the final legislation passed through the House of Commons.

Several dozens of individuals will now have their assets in the UK frozen and be banned from entering the country. The list includes individuals from Russia, Saudi Arabia and North Korea.

Speaking in front of the House of Commons, Mr. Raab said:

“Those with blood on their hands won’t be free …. to waltz into this country, to buy up property on the Kings Road, do their Christmas shopping in Knightsbridge, or siphon dirty money through British banks,”

The Foreign Secretary went on to announce the full set of sanctions, which includes: those involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, the killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Khashoggi, Myanmar authorities responsible for the treatment of the Rohingya minorities, as well as two designations for North Koreans involved in the North Korean Gulag camps.

Some Conservative party Members of Parliament have objections to these sanctions as they may negatively impact relations with UK allies, particularly Saudi Arabia.

To Mr. Raab’s credit, while he admits there has been “some disquiet” he has remained steadfast that “it is morally the right thing to do”, adding:

“We will not let those who seek to inflict pain and destroy the lives of innocent victims benefit from what the UK has to offer.”

Due to the current tensions in Hong Kong it is perhaps somewhat surprising that the list is absent of any Chinese individuals. The release of these sanctions coincides with a crisis in Sino-British relations, following a new security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing on 1st July 2020. Boris Johnson, Britain’s Prime Minister, has criticised the new security law for breaking the terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and violating the freedoms of the former British colony.

To download the full list of designations click HERE

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