On 6 July, the UK Government announced the imposition of sanctions against certain individuals and companies involved in a number of high-profile international cases concerning human rights abuse. One of them is the infamous case of the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, and the new sanctions list unofficially bears his name – in parallel with the US Magnitsky Act of 2012, which banned 18 Russian officials from entering the US and accessing US banking facilities.
This is the first time that the UK will publicly impose individual sanctions whilst acting independently of the European Union and the United Nations. Even though certain persons could previously be banned from entering the UK on human rights grounds, this was always done on a case-by-case basis and their identity was always kept secret.
By contrast, the new sanctions list expressly and publicly names 47 individuals and 2 organisations, who will now have their assets frozen and – in case of individuals – will be banned from entering the country. The sanctions primarily concern four countries (Russia, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and North Korea) and are aimed against:
- 25 persons accused of being involved in the maltreatment and death of Sergei Magnitsky whilst he remained in custody after he implicated Russian tax officials of defrauding a British investment firm;
- 20 individuals presumed to be closely related to the murder of Mr Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi dissident;
- 2 senior generals accused of being involved in the military operations against ethnic minorities in Myanmar; and
- 2 North Korean state bureaus running camps for political prisoners.
These measures have been long awaited and the UK government has been criticised by human rights organisations and activists for not adopting these sanctions sooner. The published list is expected to be just the beginning of a new regime. Human rights campaigners have called for a further sanctions list to be published in the near future, expanding to cover more countries, including China, as well as corruption cases as has been done by similar sanctions regimes in the US and Canada.
It is evident that the imposition of such sanctions can lead to serious diplomatic conflicts. Russia has already announced that it ‘reserves the right’ to respond with reciprocal measures.
However, UK officials remain optimistic: it has been repeatedly stressed that the sanctions ‘must not be seen as punishment’ and can potentially be suspended. The ‘sanction challenge form’ that allows the designated persons to apply to be removed from the list has appeared on the UK Government’s website at the same time as the sanctions list itself. However, only time will tell whether this remedy will be used by those on the list, and whether it will be meritorious.
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