Human Rights First Welcomes Novel Uses of U.S. Global Magnitsky Sanctions

Washington, D.C. – To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and mark International Anticorruption Day, the United States government issued a tranche of Global Magnitsky and other targeted human rights and anticorruption sanctions.

In an otherwise slow year for U.S. sanctions, Human Rights First hailed the U.S. government for the first time recognizing certain abuses that have uniquely impacted marginalized victims as “serious human rights abuses” that can be sanctioned.

“The U.S. government’s actions are a welcome step in holding perpetrators accountable through targeted sanctions. They recognize the disparate ways marginalized victims are often targeted and deprived of their human rights and dignity,” said Amanda Strayer, Supervising Staff Attorney for Accountability at Human Rights First. “In issuing future sanctions, the United States should continue to focus on marginalized groups that often face the greatest risks from authoritarian and repressive governments.”

For more than a year, Human Rights First has urged the U.S. government to address serious gaps in the use of Global Magnitsky sanctions that had largely failed to respond to the ways certain marginalized and vulnerable victims – including women, children, LGBTQI+ persons, Indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities – are uniquely impacted by human rights abuses.

The new sanctions suggest the U.S. government is responsive to pressure from civil society groups like Human Rights First and its partners. For example, in Afghanistan, a Taliban official was designated for his role in pervasive discrimination against women and girls by denying them their right to education and enjoyment of equal protection. In Uganda, the head of the prison system was designated following reports of torture and mistreatment under his tenure, including forced anal examinations of LGBTQI+ persons.

Sanctions against the senior Ugandan prison official Johnson Byabashaija were particularly notable for being only the second Global Magnitsky case to put a considerable focus on abuses against LGBTQI+ persons. It is the first to recognize forced anal examinations as an abusive practice and call for a ban on it and other forms of abuse used to target LGBTQI+ persons. In a rare move, the U.S. government noted specific issues the designated official must address and remedy to be considered for delisting.

“We commend the Biden Administration for taking a stand against serious human rights abuses in Uganda with its Global Magnitsky sanctions designation of Johnson Byabashaija, the Commissioner General of the Uganda Prison Service,” said David Stacy, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Human Rights Campaign. “As Ugandan advocates challenge the country’s draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act in the courts amid a wave of violence and arrests, we urge the Biden Administration to issue further targeted sanctions in Uganda and in other countries that violate the rights of LGBTQ+ people.”

Over several days, the U.S. government sanctioned more than 101 persons involved in human rights abuses and corruption in 14 countries. These included 56 individuals and entities under the Global Magnitsky sanctions program and more than 36 officials and their family members under the related Section 7031(c) visa restriction program.

These sanctions come at a time of declining use of Global Magnitsky sanctions by the United States and its persistent reluctance to impose sanctions in certain security partner countries where their impact could be greatest, as Human Rights First has reported. Just two of the recent Global Magnitsky sanctions targeted officials in countries considered U.S. security partners – Liberia and Uganda.

“Targeted sanctions can be a particularly powerful tool to bring change in countries where the U.S. government has stronger ties,” said Adam Keith, Director of Accountability for Human Rights First. “As it did in the new Uganda sanction, the U.S. government should make clear that sustained behavior change and meaningful actions to hold perpetrators of abuse and corruption accountable are required to consider lifting Global Magnitsky sanctions.”


Published on December 20, 2023


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