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Human rights accountability – the UK considers its own ‘Magnitsky Act’

Posted: 07/02/2017


One of the final acts of the outgoing President Obama was the setting of the 2017 budget for the US Department of Defense in which he expanded the use of the controversial Magnitsky Act. In 2012 the US Congress passed the Act, which imposed sanctions on a number of Russian citizens implicated in the death of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, which at the time sent US and Russian relations to a new post-Cold War low.

In December 2016, the US Congress passed the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act which gives the US Government the authority to deny US visas and freeze the US assets of anyone who has committed ‘gross violations of human rights’ against anti-corruption activists or human rights defenders around the world. The law also applies to those deemed responsible for corruption and embezzlement, amongst other crimes.

In addition, human rights violators may soon face having their assets frozen in the UK, as MPs will be voting on proposals similar to the Act when they consider an amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill, which aims to strengthen the UK’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist finance legislative framework. The amendment has already attracted deep, multi-political party and cross-stakeholder support. Should the amendment be passed, it would enable the UK Government and private parties to apply to the UK High Court for the UK assets of individuals involved in or profiting from human rights abuses around the world to be frozen. That includes individuals who have targeted say whistle blowers, journalists or human rights activists after they discovered human rights corruption.

Dominic Raab, the Conservative MP who tabled the amendment, is on record as stating that the proposal would prevent Britain from being a ‘safe place for despots and dictators’ to hide their money. In a July 2016 report, the Commons home affairs committee estimated that more than £100 billion is laundered through the UK every year.

A new Global Magnitsky law is also being considered in Canada.


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