Global Magnitsky Act Re-Introduced

Senators Bill Cardin (D-Md) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have re-introduced the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (S. 284) aimed at expanding the U.S.’s efforts to issue sanctions against certain human rights violators worldwide. Specifically, S284 would:

  • Direct the President to designate foreign nationals whom he determines—based on credible information—is responsible for 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.  Aliens on this list will be deemed ineligible to enter or be admitted to the United States; visas issued for persons on the list will be revoked.
  • Direct the President to freeze assets and prohibit U.S. property transactions of such individuals.

A prior version of this bill (S. 1933) was voted out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in June 2014, but got no farther at that time. Bipartisan cosponsors of the earlier legislation include U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Carl Levin (D-MI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Ed Markey (D-MA).  Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) has co-sponsored S. 284 along with most of the previous co-sponsors.

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (which has also been called the Global Human Rights Accountability Act) builds upon and expands the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 (the Magnitsky Act)—named for the Russian corruption whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky who died in Russian custody in 2009 and which was also authored by Sen. Cardin. No one was ever prosecuted for Magnitsky’s death and, in fact, Magnitsky himself was posthumously convicted of tax evasion.  The Magnitsky Act passed in 2012 with unprecedented bipartisan support (365-43 in the House and 92-4 in the Senate).  The new legislation applies the same sanctions to individuals who would target human rights defenders and whistleblowers anywhere in the world.

The executive branch’s implementation of the Magnitsky Act has been criticized as being insufficiently robust.  Originally, President Obama designated the names of 18 mid-level officials; later, 12 more names were added. (The full list of names and alter egos is here). Additional names have not been forthcoming, to Congress’s chagrin, amid concerns that extending the law would exacerbate an already tense bilateral relationship. (Apparently, a classified list imposing a travel ban (but not financial sanctions) includes additional names of higher-ranked individuals).

Following passage of the original Magnitsky legislation, Russia retaliated by barring U.S. parents from adopting children from Russia and also issuing a “proportionate” list of its own sanctions against 18 U.S. individuals.  Included in this list is U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who successfully prosecuted Russian arms dealer/embargo-buster Viktor Bout, widely considered to be a key “enabler” of violence in central Africa, Afghanistan, and Colombia, among other atrocity situations.

See here for the legislative history of the Magnitsky Act. 

About the Author(s)

Beth Van Schaack

Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor of Human Rights, Stanford Law School; Former Deputy to the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the U.S. State Department. All views are her own. Follow her on Twitter (@BethVanSchaack).