Multilateral Magnitsky Sanctions at Five Years
A report on the use of global targeted human rights and corruption sanctions programs in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union since 2017
It has been five years since the first Magnitsky-style sanctions programs were created to target human rights abusers and corrupt actors anywhere in the world. Named after Sergei Magnitsky – a Ukrainian-born lawyer who uncovered a vast corruption scheme in Russia that led to his own imprisonment, torture, and death in 2009 – these novel sanctions programs have targeted more than 760 murderous and torturous heads of state, oligarchs, war lords, vast corruption networks, violent military and security forces, and more.
Magnitsky-style sanctions are defined by a few key features. They apply to human rights abuses and corruption. They are targeted, meaning they are imposed on individuals and entities, rather than entire states or economic sectors. They can be applied to anyone, and are not limited to state actors. Finally, they can be used to respond to abuses anywhere in the world.
The consequences of these sanctions are also similar across jurisdictions. Sanctioned persons are unable to obtain visas to enter the sanctioning jurisdiction. Assets they own in the jurisdiction are frozen. They cannot transact with any people, banks, and entities in the jurisdiction. All of the sanctions are public, which names and shames the perpetrators. As powerful as it can be for one jurisdiction to impose Magnitsky sanctions against a human rights abuser or corrupt actor, the impact and legitimacy of those sanctions are multiplied as more jurisdictions join together to sanction the same persons.
These multilateral sanctions refer to cases where two or more jurisdictions have imposed targeted sanctions against the same individual or entity. Jurisdictions may jointly announce such sanctions, or they may sanction the same persons at different times; both are considered multilateral sanctions. At least 12 jurisdictions1 currently have some form of Magnitsky sanctions, the first four of which are the focus of this report.
The first of its kind, this report provides an in-depth, comparative analysis of how the U.S., Canada, UK, and EU use their Magnitsky-style sanctions programs. It identifies key trends and omissions among the different programs, drawing on a monthslong analysis of these jurisdictions’ public statements announcing each use of their Magnitsky-style authorities.3 Among the starkest findings:
• The jurisdictions are missing significant opportunities to ensure greater impact by multilateralizing Magnitsky sanctions targets.
• These four jurisdictions – and all those with Magnitsky sanctions – can do more to engage with civil society and to reflect their recommendations in sanctions decisions.
• The jurisdictions have focused disproportionately little attention on certain regions of the world, in particular South and Central Asia, despite a few impactful examples of sanctions in the region.
• The jurisdictions have shown little willingness to sanction perpetrators of corruption or human rights abuses in allied countries.
• The jurisdictions have overlooked certain types of human rights abuses that cause grave injury and harm, such as human trafficking.
• Similarly, the jurisdictions rarely if ever explicitly recognized certain marginalized and vulnerable victim groups through these sanctions, which undermines their access to accountability.
The authors of this report welcome greater engagement with the jurisdictions. We coordinate a global coalition of more than 330 NGOs that advocate for the effective use of Magnitsky-style sanctions. We partner with NGOs to prepare well-documented recommendation files that identify specific human rights abuses and corrupt acts, as well as the perpetrators who are eligible for sanctions. These files are submitted to the U.S., Canada, UK, and EU to review for possible sanctions action.
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