Atrocities in Ukraine Underscore Need To Reauthorize Strengthened Global Magnitsky Act

WASHINGTON D.C.  – Human Rights First, Freedom House, and 56 other civil society groups issued a joint letter today calling on the U.S. Congress to reauthorize and strengthen the expiring Global Magnitsky Act to ensure the U.S. government can quickly respond to atrocities with targeted sanctions to help hold the perpetrators accountable.

Congress is considering legislation that would codify important improvements to the Global Magnitsky sanctions program. With these improvements to the Global Magnitsky Act, it would be possible for the United States to sanction Russians for abuses committed during the invasion of Ukraine.

“Reauthorizing the Global Magnitsky Act without these improvements will send a terrible message that Congress only encourages the use of this vital sanctions program in defense of an extraordinarily narrow set of victims,” said Adam Keith, Director of Accountability at Human Rights First. “With nearly 1,000 Ukrainian civilians killed in less than a month, we urge Congress to make clear to leaders like Vladimir Putin and his henchmen that the U.S. government can and will use all the tools at its disposal to hold them accountable.”

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2016 is a landmark law that gives the U.S. government a mandate to sanction human rights violators and corrupt actors anywhere in the world. Much of what makes Global Magnitsky such a powerful and effective tool stems from the Trump Administration’s Executive Order 13818, which introduced workable standards to implement the Act.

Under the Executive Order, it became possible to sanction “serious human rights abuse,” which ensured the sanctions could cover: 1) All acts of violence and arbitrary detention; 2) Abuses by non-state actors; 3) Abuses committed outside of the territory of the perpetrators’ home country; 4) Single acts of abuse; and 5) Abuses not committed by people acting in their official capacity.

The Executive Order filled the gap left by the law’s arbitrary requirement that victims must be whistleblowers or human rights defenders, and also allowed for sanctions against those who aid and abet abuses. These improvements from the Executive Order had a significant impact, making possible approximately 3 out of every 4 of the Global Magnitsky sanctions for serious human rights abuse issued to date.

“Most of the atrocities we see today in Ukraine would not be sanctionable under the Global Magnitsky Act without the Executive Order’s improvements,” said Amanda Strayer, Associate Attorney for Human Rights Accountability. “Russian forces are targeting Ukrainian civilians and children, not just human rights defenders, and their abuses aren’t happening on Russian territory. We urge Congress to codify these improvements, because who victims are and where they are killed shouldn’t shield perpetrators from sanctions.”

In the joint letter, the 58 civil society signatories call on Congress to stand with the victims of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and victims of similar abuses around the world, and to fully support a reauthorization of the Global Magnitsky Act that codifies the Executive Order’s workable standards.

A link to the joint letter:  https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/sites/default/files/Final%20Sign%20on%20Letter%20for%20Global%20Magnitsky%20Reauthorization.pdf

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Published on September 19, 2022

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