Britain Imposes New Sanctions Over Human Rights Abuses


Britain imposed sanctions on a group of foreign nationals for alleged human rights abuses last week as part of a new post-Brexit rights regime that follows the 2012 U.S. Magnitsky Act. Following the U.K.’s withdrawal from the European Union in January, Downing Street regained the ability to individually impose sanctions, rather than collectively pursuing action with other EU countries. 

In a speech to Parliament, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab pressed for tough sanctions against 49 people and organizations, including a large number of Russians and Saudis, as part of the U.K.’s new human rights regulations. 

The Regulations, formally known as the “Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020,” were introduced into law the same day. 

From today, the ground-breaking global regime means the U.K. has new powers to stop those involved in serious human rights abuses and violations from entering the country, channeling money through U.K. banks, or profiting from our economy,” wrote Raab in a July 6 statement. 

The move follows the passing of the Magnitsky Act in 2012 in the United States. The Act imposed visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials linked to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer arrested in 2008 after alleging that Russian officials were involved in large-scale tax fraud. Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after complaining of mistreatment.

As part of the U.K.’s new agenda, the sanctions will target individuals and organizations, rather than nations, using asset freezes and visa bans. Furthermore, the new law will allow the U.K. to work independently with allies of its choosing outside of the European Union’s framework, however, the Union’s sanctions will remain in place alongside the U.K.’s until the end of the year. 

Among the list of names provided to Parliament by Raab were 20 Saudi nationals involved in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, 25 Russian nationals involved Magnitsky’s death and two high-ranking Myanmar military generals involved in the violence against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities.  

“This is a demonstration of Global Britain’s commitment to acting as a force for good in the world,” Raab said in his speech to Parliament. 

The Regulations can be used to impose sanctions for human rights violations in three areas: the right to life; the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and the right to freedom from slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour.

In their current format, the Regulations do not impose sanctions in respect of involvement in corruption. However, according to Raab’s statement, a special unit will consider the use of future sanctions, with teams across the Foreign Secretary’s office monitoring human rights issues.

“They will ensure targets under the landmark regime will have to meet stringent legal tests before the U.K. decides to designate, ensuring the sanctions are robust and powerful,” Raab’s statement said.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo complimented the regulations in a July 6 statement following Raab’s speech, praising the U.K. for its continued global leadership on the promotion and protection of human rights.

“This sanctions regime marks the beginning of a new era for U.K. sanctions policy and cooperation between our two democracies,” Pompeo wrote. “The U.K. Global Human Rights sanctions regime will give the U.K. a powerful new economic tool to promote accountability for human rights abuse on a global scale.” Pompeo added that the U.K.’s new powers will complement the efforts of the United States and Canada, further enhancing the nations’ abilities to act together.

According to Reuters, Russia said it would respond to the new measures. In contrast, the Saudi government media office and the Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Catherine Buchaniec