Use of Magnitsky Sanctions by U.S. Government Declines

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today released a report, Slow Progress: U.S. Global Magnitsky Sanctions in their Sixth Year, which finds a significant decline over the past year in the U.S. government’s use of Global Magnitsky sanctions against human rights abusers and corrupt actors.

“Global Magnitsky sanctions are one of the few foreign policy tools that can trigger immediate, tangible impacts on human rights abusers and corrupt actors, yet over the course of the Biden administration, we have seen their use diminish,” said Amanda Strayer, Supervising Staff Attorney for Accountability at Human Rights First. “Numbers don’t tell the whole story, and we commend the U.S. government for using this sanctions program for the first time on human traffickers. But the administration is passing up important opportunities to advance accountability – especially for abuses against marginalized groups.”

The U.S. government’s use of Global Magnitsky sanctions has ebbed and flowed, but the past year saw the lowest number of sanctions imposed under this program in four years. This year saw a 30 percent drop from the five-year annual average in persons sanctioned for their involvement in human rights abuse or corruption; the decline was even steeper when including persons sanctioned for ties to such actors.

The decline came despite a multi-year effort by Congress to ensure additional appropriations and staff capacity for the State, Treasury, and Justice Departments implementing the program, as well as advocacy by civil society groups that provided dozens of evidence-based recommendations for sanctions targets.

The new report provides an updated analysis of how the U.S. government has used its Global Magnitsky sanctions program in the past year. This report builds on the findings of Multilateral Magnitsky Sanctions at Five Years, released in November 2022 by Human Rights First and its partners. It also follows last month’s release as part of Human Rights First and partners’ “Magnitsky Month” campaign of a new report and case studies showing the impact Magnitsky-style sanctions can have.

Despite the diminished use of Global Magnitsky sanctions in the past year, the report welcomes several new precedents the U.S. government set with its imposed sanctions.

–        In response to the arbitrary arrest and detention of our senior advisor Vladimir Kara-Murza, the U.S. government imposed the first set of Global Magnitsky sanctions against a judge and prosecutor for serious human rights abuses, and made clear that a single case of arbitrary detention can trigger these sanctions.

–        For the first time, the U.S. government imposed sanctions to address alleged human trafficking abuses directly, in cases that focused on forced labor on China-flagged vessels and sex trafficking of girls and young women by a Filipino pastor.

On the other hand, the same lack of sanctions focusing on abuses against certain marginalized victim groups that we documented in last year’s report – including abuses against women, children, LGBTQIA+ persons, Indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities – persisted. By consistently failing to focus on marginalized groups, the United States is sending the wrong message and missing opportunities to bring public accountability for often overlooked abuses.


Published on December 7, 2023


Related Posts

Seeking asylum?

If you do not already have legal representation, cannot afford an attorney, and need help with a claim for asylum or other protection-based form of immigration status, we can help.