In 2018, the UK Parliament introduced a so-called “Magnitsky amendment” to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The amendment equipped the UK Government with new powers to impose sanctions on individuals who commit gross human rights violations.
The UK Government is now looking to introduce further laws to build upon the “Magnitsky amendment.” The details are yet to be disclosed.
Sanctions of this type were also an express recommendation of the Bishop of Truro Review, an independent review into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) response to the persecution of Christians globally.
Recommendation 8 calls upon the Foreign Secretary to “be prepared to impose sanctions against perpetrators of freedom of religion or belief abuses.” Evidently, the recommendation was accepted by the UK Government and the FCO is looking to implement it.
At the end of March 2020, a group of more than 40 British Parliamentarians wrote to the UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, expressing their concern about the UK Government’s plans to introduce new laws which allow for sanctions against human rights violators.
The signatories to the recent letter call upon the UK Foreign Secretary to ensure that the new law is comprehensive and does not only focus on the main perpetrators, but also on the wide range of complicit actors, including those who, because of corruption, allow or facilitate such human rights abuses.
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 abuse of function, may create conditions conductive of, and so facilitate, human rights abuses.
This is clearly recognized in the US and Canada. Among others, in December 2017, US President Donald Trump issued Executive Order 13818 “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption”, which became the first implementation of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act in the US.
President Trump stressed that “human rights abuse and corruption undermine the values that form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies; have devastating impacts on individuals; weaken democratic institutions; degrade the rule of law; perpetuate violent conflicts; facilitate the activities of dangerous persons; and undermine economic markets.”
The Executive Order sanctioned 13 individuals , described as “human rights abusers, kleptocrats, and corrupt” from different parts of the world.
Similarly, in Canada, the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act gives Canadian authorities the power to, not only impose targeted sanctions against foreign nationals who are responsible for gross human rights violations, but also “a foreign national, who is a foreign public official or an associate of such an official, is responsible for or complicit in ordering, controlling or otherwise directing acts of corruption — including bribery, the misappropriation of private or public assets for personal gain, the transfer of the proceeds of corruption to foreign states or any act of corruption related to expropriation, government contracts or the extraction of natural resources — which amount to acts of significant corruption when taking into consideration, among other things, their impact, the amounts involved, the foreign national’s influence or position of authority or the complicity of the government of the foreign state in question in the acts.”
The issue of corruption and its entanglement with human rights violations cannot be forgotten in the laws that the UK Government seeks to introduce.
The examples set by the US and Canada show how the issue could be effectively addressed.
The UK needs to take a clear and strong stance that it would not tolerate corruption. The new law is a great place to indicate this.