Advocates have been pushing for a European Union version of the Magnitsky Act for a number of years now (see, for example, here and here). Such legislation for targeted sanctions (including visa restrictions and asset freezes) against alleged human rights abusers in Russia would be much more powerful in Europe than it is in the U.S. Yet, despite support from some member states, proposals in the European Parliament have met with opposition. Much of the concern is, doubtless, geopolitical. Dependent upon Russia for oil, the EU is likely loath to instigate retaliation from its imposing neighbor (as the Magnitsky Act has). Yet, as a previous post on this blog has argued, the EU also objects to the US approach on more principled grounds: namely, the Magnitsky Act runs afoul of due process and presumption of innocence principles in the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. However, while the EU is busy debating what the right hand should do with respect to targeted sanctions, it may have ignored the left hand’s effect on due process in anticorruption enforcement, as in reflected other areas of EU efforts against graft.
Anton Moiseienko, PhD candidate at the Criminal Justice Centre, Queen Mary University of London, contributes the following guest post:
So-called targeted sanctions—imposing travel restrictions on, or freezing the assets of, a select group of people—remain in vogue as an instrument of foreign policy and as a supplement to criminal justice in many areas, such as counterterrorism, and yet targeted sanctions have not been widely used in counteracting corruption. The United States, however, is a notable exception, with its Presidential Proclamation 7750, which authorizes the US Secretary of State to issue entry bans against corrupt foreign officials (subject to a caveat that such determinations must be informed by US national interests), and the Magnitsky Act of 2012, enacted by the US Congress in response to the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer-turned-whistleblower, in a Moscow prison after he reported the embezzlement of US$230 million by high-ranked law enforcement officers. Strictly speaking, the Magnitsky Act is a human rights law rather than an anticorruption law. It authorizes the US President to blacklist (1) the individuals responsible for the prosecution and death of Mr. Magnitsky, and (2) those responsible for “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” if committed against the persons trying to expose the illegal activity of Russian officials or against human rights activists. Yet pervasive corruption is at the heart of Magnitsky’s case, as it appears that a ring of corrupt officials was complicit in his death.
The European reaction to the Magnitsky Act was ambivalent. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution in 2012 calling upon member states to deny entry to, and freeze the assets of, the individuals on the US Magnitsky List––but to little effect. In contrast, a report by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (CoE) deemed US-style sanctions to be “a means of last resort” and advised against them. But despite the lack of governmental action, the public debate in Europe is not over (see, for example, here and here). With EU sanctions against Russia expanding continuously, it may be time to revisit the European debate on whether the EU should draw up its own Magnitsky List, or perhaps adopt a more general policy on targeted anticorruption sanctions.
If the EU or its individual member states proceed with Magnitsky List-style sanctions, they will have to reckon with their human rights laws—including the EU Charger of Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. The most important potential legal difficulties are as follows: Continue reading