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U.K. sanctions Russians, Saudis under new Magnitsky Act powers

Britain on Monday announced economic sanctions against individuals and organizations from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and North Korea under new U.K. powers to punish human rights offenders.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the sanctions targeted those behind “some of the notorious human rights violations in recent years.”

They include senior Saudi intelligence officials accused of involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and Russian authorities implicated in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in a Moscow prison after exposing a tax fraud scheme involving Russian officials.

North Korean organizations — the Ministry of State Security Bureau and the Ministry of People’s Security Correctional Bureau — were sanctioned for running prison camps in the authoritarian Communist state.

Also on the list of 49 individuals and organizations is Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar armed forces, and Myanmar army commander Soe Win. They are accused of orchestrating systematic violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.

Britain had previously imposed human rights abuse sanctions as part of the European Union or under the auspices of the United Nations. But since leaving the European Union in January, it has implemented its own version of the Magnitsky Act.

The U.K. law authorizes the government to prevent sanctioned individuals from entering the country, channeling money through British banks, or profiting from the U.K. economy.

“You cannot set foot in this country, and we will seize your blood-drenched ill-gotten gains if you try,” Raab said as he announced the new sanctions.

Government and opposition lawmakers both welcomed the measures, though some questioned why no Chinese officials had been included, given Beijing’s new Hong Kong security law and repression in the western Xinjjang region. More than a million people in Xinjiang — from ethnic groups that include Uighurs, Kazakhs and Kyrgyz — have been held in a vast network of detention centers.

Conservative lawmaker Tom Tugendhat, who heads the Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee, said there had been a “remarkable silence on human rights violations in China.”

Raab said more people would be added to the sanctions list, but he wouldn’t “preempt what the next wave of designations will be.”

Leonid Slutsky, head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament, denounced the sanctions as “Russophobic nonsense” and said Moscow reserves the right to make a “well-balanced” retaliatory action.

“London has made another move toward degradation of Russia-U.K. relations,” he said, according to Russian news agencies.

A Rohingya refugee walks at a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh in March 2019. (Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters)

Canada has its own version of the Magnitsky Act — a law first adopted in the United States in 2012 after much lobbying by William Browder, once the largest foreign investor in Russia until 2005, who was also Sergei Magnitsky’s boss.

The Canadian version, which came into force in 2017, allows the government to impose financial and other restrictions on foreign nationals responsible for, or complicit in, violating internationally recognized human rights. The law also allows the government to freeze assets owned by foreign nationals and prohibit financial transactions by known human rights abusers.

Canada has used the legislation to sanction human rights abusers from Russia and Venezuela, preventing them from using the Canadian banking system. In November 2018, Canada sanctioned 17 Saudi nationals who were responsible for, or complicit in, the torture and death of Jamal Khashoggi.

WATCH | The long, hard struggle to get Magnitsky Act passed in Canada:

Bill Browder, who has led an international push for Magnitsky laws, joins Terry Milewski to discuss Canada’s push to pass the Magnitsky act 6:03

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