We need an EU-wide Magnitsky Act to tackle human rights abuses

Sometimes a name means everything. In this case the name Sergei Magnitsky has been globally synonymous with how to fight human rights abuse in the 21st Century.

His sacrifice has resonated with victims of human rights abuse in every corner of the globe. Legislative acts bearing his name have been passed, creating serious consequences for human rights abusers around the world.

Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer who sacrificed his life at the age of 37 standing up to the corruption of the Putin regime. The way in which the Russian government tried to cover up his murder and exonerate the people involved became a symbol of impunity and kleptocracy worldwide.

That is why Magnitsky’s bold sacrifice crossed national borders and spoke to people everywhere.

The Magnitsky Acts, which impose visa sanctions and asset freezes on human rights violators, have become emblematic of fighting impunity and kleptocracy around the world. In the 21st Century, many human rights abuses are committed for financial gain.

Targeting those abusers’ money abroad and their travel is one of the most effective ways of creating consequences. There can be no impunity for generals in Myanmar who hunt down Rohingya, for arms dealers who breach the weapons embargo against South Sudan, for the rapists in the Central African Republic or the killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

That is why the idea of a Magnitsky Act started with a Russian atrocity but is now global in its scope. Human rights violators in Saudi Arabia, Nicaragua, South Sudan, Burma and many other countries are already being targeted with Magnitsky sanctions legislation in six countries: the US, Canada, the UK, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

We now need to take the next bold step. We need to establish an EU-wide Magnitsky Act. The European Parliament has already called for this many times and in 2014 even proposed visa bans and asset freezes against people responsible for Magnitsky’s murder. Only a few member states took up the proposal.

The EU Council failed to act but now this initiative is finally gaining momentum. Over the summer, the Dutch government formulated a concrete proposal which is now in consultation with all EU member states. The draft is exactly what is needed, the ability to apply global sanctions – with one glaring omission. The Dutch government has not yet named it a Magnitsky act.

Some would argue Magnitsky’s name would somehow make it harder for unanimous approval of the legislation. We do not believe our member states would veto a human rights bill simply because of its name, but will instead adopt it because of their support of human rights worldwide. Whatever the negotiations lead to, we will always call it the Magnitsky Act.

On Monday 10  December, European ministers of foreign affairs will meet to discuss the Dutch proposal. Just one vote against would mean the end of the legislation. That is why parliamentarians and lawmakers from 18 EU member states urge our governments to strengthen the EU’s position as a beacon for human rights and international law worldwide.

We urge our governments to vote for a European Magnitsky Act that is global in scope. We urge them to honour Magnitsky in name and fight impunity worldwide. We cannot think of any better way to celebrate Human Rights Day and the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Monday.

Sjoerd Sjoerdsma MP (Netherlands)

Michael Aastrup-Jensen MP (Denmark)

Boriana Aberg MP (Sweden)

Ian Austin MP (United Kingdom)

Petras Auštrevicius MEP (Lithuania)

Fernando Maura Barandiaran MP (Spain)

Janis Bordans MP (Latvia)

Tom Brake MP (United Kingdom)

Chris Bryant MP (United Kingdom)

Mireille Clapot MP (France)

Cristian Dan Preda MEP (Romania)

Esther de Lange MEP (Netherlands)

Mark Demesmaeker MEP (Belgium)

Anna Fotyga MEP (Poland)

Cristian Ghinea MP (Romania)

Ana Maria Gomes MEP (Portugal)

Helen Goodman MP (United Kingdom)

Rebecca Harms MEP (Germany)

Margaret Hodge MP (United Kingdom)

Gunnar Hokmark MEP (Sweden)

Eva Joly MEP (France)

Sandra Kalniete MEP (Latvia)

Tunne Kelam MEP (Estonia)

Stephen Kinnock MP (United Kingdom)

Dr. Stephanie Krisper MP (Austria)

Eerik-Niiles Kross MP (Estonia)

Catherine Murphy MP (Ireland)

Delphine O MP (France)

Pieter Omtzigt MP (Netherlands)

Lilianne Ploumen MP (Netherlands)

Adrian-Claudiu Prisnel MP (Romania)

Senator Roberto Rampi (Italy)

Dr Norbert Rottgen MP (Germany)

Bob Seely MP (United Kingdom)

Manuel Sarrazin MP (Germany)

Petri Sarvamaa MEP (Finland)

Marietje Schaake MEP (Netherlands)

Charles Tannock MEP (United Kingdom)

Indrek Tarand MEP (Estonia)

Bram van Ojik MP (Netherlands)

Guy Verhofstadt MEP (Belgium)

Joel Voordewind MP (Netherlands)

Manfred Weber MEP (Germany)

Emanuelis Zingeris MP (Lithuania)

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