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Human Rights Abusers, Others Would Be Banned from US, New Law Proposed

Two senior Senators introduced legislation that would block entry to the United States of persons found to have violated human rights or engaged in corrupt practices in foreign countries. It would also block access to U.S. financial systems. The proposal would expand the Russia-specific sanctions of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act (“the Magnitsky Law”).

The equivalent of a whistleblower, Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer who took on Russian corruption and paid the price. For some background on this case, visit Stop the Untouchables; Justice for Sergei Magnitsky.

Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) issued a joint statement last week:

This bipartisan bill gives us the tools to deter future abuses throughout the world, while also protecting our strategic financial infrastructure from those who would use it to launder or shelter ill-gotten gains. Gross violators of human rights from Zimbabwe to Ukraine, and Honduras to Papua New Guinea, are put on notice that they cannot escape the consequences of their actions even when their home country fails to act, Senator Cardin said.

Standing up for the rule of law and establishing clear consequences for abuses of fundamental human rights serves our nation’s interests and reflects of deepest values, and I am proud to join Senator Cardin in this effort,” Sen. McCain added.

As I penned in April 2013 in the Word Export Control Journal (embedded below):

Partisanship and ideological disagreements seem to melt away when it comes to human rights issues. These and other factors are a powerful force in policy and law-making. As governments, NGOs, and civic-minded corporations seek solutions to matters such as human rights abuses, sex trafficking, child labour, and other challenges, measures such as the Magnitsky law could become more common.

With the passage of this new law, maybe Russia will stop taking things so personally …

One interesting side note, the 2013 Magnitsky law was not the first time individuals have been targeted for exclusion from the United States on foreign policy grounds other than the more traditional exclusion lists such as terrorism or drug trafficking.

For example, in 1996 President Bill Clinton signed the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. This law allows the President to ban foreign nationals, and family members, from entering the U.S. if the company they worked for was trafficking in confiscated property in Cuban belonging to U.S. nationals. While it is not known if the Obama Administration has tried to use it, prior administrations have. As Cuba transitions from a Communist and command economy, the potential will increase for Title IV actions.

In this increasingly interconnected world, technology and more openness has made it easier to expose human rights abuses by governments. As I wrote last year when the Magnitsky list was first published, I think we will see many more efforts by the Congress, and other governments, to isolate human rights abusers from international travel as well as financial systems.

For more details about the proposed law, visit this Senate website. Here is the journal article detailing the Magnitsky law:

The Magnitsky List: a trend-setter process in global human rights and compliance law? by Jason Poblete

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