The new Global Human Rights Sanctions regime in the UK

On 6 July foreign secretary Dominic Raab announced the implementation of the long-awaited Global Human Rights (or ?Magnitsky?) sanctions and revealed the list of initial designations. In his statement to the Commons, Mr Raab stated the UK was determined to ?hold to account the perpetrators of the worst human rights abuses?.

The sanctions focus on the 2009 killing of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who revealed mass tax fraud with ties to Russian officials and died in prison; the 2017 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey;  the ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas in Myanmar; and forced labour and ill treatment of prisoners in North Korea's detention camps.

The Regulation

The Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 came into force at 1pm on 6 July. It imposes financial sanctions and travel bans on those designated under the regime.

According to the foreign secretary, speaking in the Commons:

?Those with blood on 'their hands, the thugs of despots, the henchmen of dictators, will not be free to waltz into this country, to buy up property on the Kings Road, do their Christmas shopping in Knightsbridge or siphon dirty money through British banks or other financial institutions.?

The stated aim of the new regime is to ?deter and provide accountability? for those involved in violations of human rights. The choice to include only activities which amount to a 'serious violation? of selected human rights (namely the right to life, the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the right to be free from slavery, not to be held in servitude or required to perform forced or compulsory labour) could place a high threshold on crimes to be included in the regime. As Gloria Perez Torres noted in our blog series back in March, 'serious human rights abuse? instead of ?violation? would have lowered that threshold. The foreign secretary indicated in his statement that other human rights and corruption were being considered by the government, and a policy paper published on the same day points at the following priorities: media freedom, combatting modern slavery, preventing sexual violence in or related to conflict, freedom of religion or belief, torture prevention and the protection of human rights defenders.

In accordance with the government's obligation under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act (SAMLA), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has published guidance on the regime which can be found here. See also the Explanatory Memorandum for the Regulations.

The designations

The designations target Russian officials linked to the murder of Magnitsky; Saudi officials linked with the ?hit squad? suspected of Khashoggi's murder; two officials of Myanmar's military responsible of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population; and two North Korean government entities linked to the country's secret ?gulag's. According to the Regulation, the sanctions also apply to persons owned or controlled by or associated with designated persons or who acts on their behalf[1].

The box below sets out a snapshot of the designations, and the links with the US and Canada Magnitsky regimes in the context of the Five Eyes Alliance.

The targets, as well as the timing of the announcement shortly after the expiry of the deadline for an extension of the transition period for the UK's departure from the EU, have been identified as a stance taken by the UK to enhance ties with allies across the Atlantic. It can be expected that future sanctions will coordinate further with designations from the US and Canada.

With the US last week announcing sanctions against four high-ranking Chinese officials under the Global Magnitsky regime for "serious human rights abuse" against Uyghur populations, British foreign policy is likely to be under increased pressure to issue similar designations.

Also making the headlines last week, the government resumed licences for arms sale to Saudi Arabia the day after sanctioning high-ranking officials for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Combined with the absence of  Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the designations list, this is likely to soften the ?diplomatic collision? predicted by the media.


[1] Details of each designation can be found in the new UK Sanctions List (see the Text format which includes a ?UK Statement of Reasons?). The Guardian also published a detailed piece on the different targets of the new regime.


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