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The Global Magnitsky Act: How Legislatures Can Prevent Atrocity

In Short: The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (Global Magnitsky Act) has shown demonstrable promise as a transnational human rights enforcement tool.

  • Introduced by the Obama administration, it has leveraged the capacities of legislative bodies to ensure adherence to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).
  • The Global Magnitsky Act has shown that through effective mobilization, legislative bodies around the world have an important role to play in efforts aimed at mass atrocity prevention.

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What stands out about the Global Magnitsky Act: The Global Magnitsky Act provides a mechanism through which human rights violators can be held accountable for their actions.

  • Parliaments and legislative bodies around the world are implementing Magnitsky style legislation as a tool to enforce human rights law.

The Magnitsky model is designed to circumvent the traditional barriers posed by state sovereignty through targeted sanctions directed towards individual violators of human rights and corrupt officials.

The Global Magnitsky Act in brief: The Global Magnitsky Act was a bipartisan bill signed into law to replace the Sergey Magnitsky Act. This bill gave the U.S. congress, vis-à-vis the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) the power to impose economic sanctions and visa restrictions on any individuals deemed to have acted in a manner consistent with mass atrocity and crimes against humanity as well as corruption including torture, extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance.

  • Individuals/entities connected to the U.S. found to be in violation of Magnitsky sanctions can receive steep fines of up to $250,000 as well as jail time.
  • Magnitsky sanctions can cause severe economic damage considering that U.S. companies and their subsidiaries account for 23.6% of total global commerce.
  • Executive Order 13818, signed by President Donald Trump, expanded the scope of the Global Magnitsky Act to include all officials implicitly involved in mass human rights violations.
  • The President of the U.S., individual senators, Non-Governmental Organizations, and other states are all permitted to propose sanctions through the Global Magnitsky Act, opening the policy network to both state and non-state actors.

The benefits of the Global Magnitsky Act can be seen in consideration of their utility sanctioning the following people and legislation:

  • The Saudi officials responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi.
  • Ramzan Kadyrov for his role in the systemic persecution of the LGBT community in Chechnya.
  • Yahya Jammeh for this wide scale corruption/ human rights violations in his former capacity as the President of The Gambia
  • Joseph Kabila for his corruption as former President of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • Legislation such as Uyghur Human Rights Act and Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act.

The commerce-centric nature of Magnitsky sanctions allow legislators to avoid the enforcement constraints posed by state sovereignty.

Furthermore, other countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the European Union are in the process of or have already established Global Magnitsky style legislation.

  • This demonstrates that legislative bodies around the world have a crucial role in aiding global efforts to prevent mass atrocity crimes and strengthening that policy network.

Inter-governmental organizations such as Parliamentarians for Global Action and the Inter-Parliamentary Union have been at the forefront of this push to provide lawmakers with the capacity to act and enforce human rights transnationally.

As a potential drawback, the Global Magnitsky Act is not immune from political manipulation as lawmakers are only incentivized to target mid-level officials rather than high level officials responsible for human rights violations. This is exemplified by the case of Jamal Khashoggi where U.S. government stopped short of targeting King Salman as this would have the potential to significantly disrupt U.S. – Saudi Arabia relations.

The Bottom Line: Legislative bodies are important venues in preventing mass atrocities.

  • The Global Magnitsky Act provides a significant example of effective legislative mobilization designed to target individuals responsible for mass atrocity crimes and corruption through economic and mobility alienation.
  • Furthermore, numerous jurisdictions have adopted this model to enhance R2P which demonstrates the growing relevance of legislative bodies in human rights enforcement.