Global Magnitsky Act is a human rights paradigm shift
by Joseph K. Grieboski, published on The Hill, on September 10, 2015
In a recent Forbes article, Doug Bandow commented that, “Sanctions have become a tool of choice for Washington to coerce governments short of war. Yet severing commercial relations rarely has promoted America’s ends. Nothing obvious has been achieved in Sudan, where the U.S. stands alone.”
Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and at the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, rightly argues that blanket sanctions imposed on states do not achieve the ends intended. Instead, sanctions — particularly those imposed for human rights purposes — only serve to harm the general population of the country while the leadership remains both unchanged and unaffected.Attempting to seek a more effective and meaningful mechanism by which to punish perpetrators of human rights violations around the globe, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, representing a paradigm shift in the American approach to addressing corruption and human rights abuses globally.
The Global Magnitsky Act is a worldwide extension of the 2012 Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, inspired by the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who blew the whistle on the largest known tax fraud in Russian history. He was arrested for “tax fraud” in 2008 by the very police department and officials whom he had accused. While in prison, he was tortured and denied access to medical care until he died in 2009. No one responsible in Magnitsky’s death or imprisonment was ever brought to justice.
The universal nature of human rights dictates that those who carry out violations of fundamental rights must be held accountable. The Global Magnitsky Act guarantees that those directly responsible for the torture and death of innocent people cannot have the benefits of access to the United States and to American financial institutions.
The Global Magnitsky Act directs the president to single out foreign nationals about whom credible evidence exists to indicate their direct role in “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other human rights violations committed against individuals seeking to promote human rights or to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials,” or government officials responsible for or complicit in significant acts of corruption. These designated individuals face multiple sanctions, including the revocation of any issued visas and the banning of their entrance to the United States. Any assets held in American financial institutions or on American soil could also be frozen and future transactions prohibited.
The paradigm shift of the Global Magnitsky Act is simple yet striking. Instead of introducing blanket sanctions against countries, which often harm civilians more than they weaken an oppressive regime, the legislation directs the president to target directly those agents who benefit from their endemic corruption and oppression.
Such a mechanism allows an administration to hold accountable bad actors in places like Burma, Sudan, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia and elsewhere without disrupting strategic interests on issues such as democracy-building, counter-extremism, counterterrorism, trade and economic development, and other areas.
Furthermore, the Global Magnitsky Act provides leverage and political cover globally to leaders attempting to improve conditions. By cooperating with U.S. authorities and institutions through the Global Magnitsky Act, governments around the world can provide greater confidence to their own people and ferret out those who are directly responsible for corruption and persecution.
The Global Magnitsky Act recognizes that the importance of public and private U.S.-based financial institutions to the world financial system, as well as the common practice of using Western financial institutions to legitimize illicit funds, can be leveraged to grant the United States considerable influence over corrupt actors, regimes and their financial interests.
The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act would fundamentally overhaul how the United States addresses government complicity in human rights violations and corruption around the world. By directing the president to enact targeted sanctions against individual rights abusers, the Global Magnitsky Act — if implemented aggressively — would serve to closer align U.S. foreign policy with U.S. values concerning human rights and fundamental freedoms, simultaneously restoring much-needed credibility to the actions of the United States, harnessing its global position to advance the cause of human rights around the world, and holding accountable those individuals responsible for human rights violations without punishing entire nations and peoples.
Grieboski is the chairman and CEO of Grieboski Global Strategies, founder and chairman of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, and founder and secretary-general of the Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom.