How the EU plans to take on human rights abusers

Amid a glob­al assault on human rights stretch­ing from Belarus to Hong Kong to Yemen, the European Union sig­naled yes­ter­day that it may act to deter cor­rupt klep­to­crats and state abusers by hit­ting them where it hurts: their assets.

Driving the news: Europe’s chief exec­u­tive Ursula von der Leyen revealed in her first-ever State of the Union speech that she will bring forth a European Magnitsky Act, a sanc­tions frame­work mod­eled after a U.S. law that restricts malign actors’ access to trav­el and the glob­al finan­cial system.

Why it mat­ters: For all the ridicule it’s earned as a bureau­cra­cy-addled bloc with a pen­chant for “strong­ly word­ed” state­ments, the EU is still the world’s largest sin­gle mar­ket area and a lead­ing pro­mot­er of demo­c­ra­t­ic values.

The big pic­ture: Getting the EU on board would be a major vic­to­ry for Bill Browder, an investor and activist who has spent the past 10 years lob­by­ing world gov­ern­ments to pass sanc­tions leg­is­la­tion in the name of his late tax advis­er, Sergei Magnitsky.

Browder’s Hermitage Capital was once the largest for­eign investor in Russia, where his broad­sides against cor­po­rate cor­rup­tion made him a thorn in the side of the oli­garchs.
His visa was revoked in 2005 and his offices were lat­er raid­ed by Russian author­i­ties as part of an appar­ent tax fraud inves­ti­ga­tion. Browder com­mis­sioned Magnitsky, then a 35-year-old lawyer, to fig­ure out what hap­pened.
Magnitsky went on to uncov­er a mas­sive fraud scheme alleged­ly involv­ing Russian offi­cials. His tes­ti­mo­ny against the Russian state result­ed in his 11-month deten­tion, tor­ture and even­tu­al death in prison in 2009.
Browder’s decade-long anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign in the wake of Magnitsky’s death yield­ed new sanc­tions frame­works in the U.S. (2012 and expand­ed in 2016), Canada (2015), the Baltic states (2016–2018), the U.K. (2018) and Kosovo (2020). He is like­ly the most want­ed man in Russia.

What they’re say­ing: Browder has called a European Magnitsky Act “prob­a­bly the most dev­as­tat­ing thing that could hap­pen to the Putin regime” giv­en the prop­er­ty and assets that key play­ers own in Europe.

He told me the leg­is­la­tion “has been held up for almost a decade by var­i­ous mem­ber states and politi­cians who want­ed to either please or appease Putin.“
But after the poi­son­ing last month of fel­low Putin crit­ic Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent known to be a call­ing card of the Russian secu­ri­ty ser­vices, Browder says those peo­ple have “dis­ap­peared into the wood­work.“
Note: Navalny is awake in a German hos­pi­tal and post­ing on Instagram after two weeks in a med­ical­ly induced coma. He plans to return to Russia.
Yes, but: Some experts warn that mon­ey laun­der­ing loop­holes in the inter­na­tion­al finan­cial sys­tem ren­der Magnitsky laws inef­fec­tive, espe­cial­ly in the U.K. And ques­tions still remain about the EU’s will­ing­ness to stand up to China, the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­o­my and one of its worst human rights abusers.

Between the lines: If the EU does move for­ward with an assets-focused sanc­tions law, Browder tells me the first tar­gets should be the peo­ple who killed Magnitsky — fol­lowed swift­ly by the per­pe­tra­tors of the Rohingya geno­cide in Myanmar, the oper­a­tors of mass deten­tion camps in Xinjiang, and the author­i­ties crack­ing down on protests in Hong Kong and Belarus.

What to watch: The EU’s chief diplo­mat has called for the sanc­tions law to be named the “Navalny Act.”

Author: Zachary Basu

Original source of arti­cle: AXIOS