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UK Uses Post-Brexit Sanctions Powers to impose Magnitsky-style sanctions

  • Legal Development 7 July 2020 7 July 2020
  • UK & Europe

  • Sanctions

The UK Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, has announced on 6 July 2020 that the UK will implement sanctions on 49 persons (47 individuals and two entities) whom the UK government view as having been involved in serious violations of human rights.

UK Uses Post-Brexit Sanctions Powers to impose Magnitsky-style sanctions

The UK shows willingness to Use Post-Brexit Powers to Impose Autonomous Sanctions

In the past, the UK has almost always imposed sanctions collectively, whether as a member of the United Nations or of the European Union (EU). However, these new sanctions, contained in the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 (the Regulations), have been introduced pursuant to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 (SAMLA). SAMLA allows for the UK to enact financial, trade, and travel sanctions of its own accord following its exit from the EU.

As explained in a previous post, the introduction by the UK of sanctions targeting persons involved in serious human rights violations (the so called Magnitsky-style sanctions) was one direction in which the UK sanctions regime was expected to diverge from the EU regime following Brexit. Sanctions targeting persons deemed to be involved in human rights abuses are typically referred as Magnitsky sanctions after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian national whose death resulted in the imposition of sanctions by the US on individuals involved in events leading to Mr Magnitsky's death. 

What Sanctions Have Been Imposed?

In summary, the Regulations impose asset freezes and travel restrictions on designated persons alleged to be involved in activities that would amount to serious violations of an individual's: 

  • Right to life;
  • Right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or
  • Right to be free from slavery, not to be held in servitude or required to perform forced or compulsory labour.

Designated individuals include:

  • Certain individuals alleged to be involved in events leading to the death of Sergei Magnitsky;
  • Certain individuals alleged to be involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi national;
  • Two individuals alleged to be involved in serious human rights violations against the Rohingya population in Myanmar; and
  • Two entities alleged to be involved in operating prison camps in North Korea.

Entities that are owned or controlled by these persons will also be subject to asset freezes.

Scope for Further Sanctions?

In enacting these sanctions, the UK has joined the US and Canada in imposing sanctions against individuals deemed to be involved in human rights abuses.

It is anticipated that the EU will follow this course in imposing its own Magnitsky-style sanctions[1] after calls to do so by MEPs last year.[2] However, it remains to be seen whether there will be divergence between the US, UK and EU in terms of the types of restrictive measures imposed and the individuals and entities targeted.

It is also interesting to note that the Foreign Secretary has not, at this stage, imposed sanctions on persons that are deemed to be involved in bribery & corruption. Earlier this year, members of the UK Houses of Commons and Lords sought to make a case for the UK to follow the US and Canada in imposing sanctions on persons deemed to be involved in corruption in addition to those deemed to be involved in human rights abuses.[3] Additional sanctions in this space may be forthcoming.

Taking a step back, what these new sanctions show is that the UK is willing to use its post-Brexit sanctions power to adopt autonomous sanctions that may result in divergence from US and EU sanctions regimes. Once again, this highlights the need for EU and UK operators to ensure their sanctions compliance programmes can adapt to such developments.

Written by Partners Nigel Brook, Patrick Murphy and Chris Hill, and Associate Qi Jiang.

[1] https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-to-prepare-magnitsky-style-human-rights-sanctions-regime/.

[2] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20190307IPR30748/meps-call-for-eu-magnitsky-act-to-impose-sanctions-on-human-rights-abusers.

[3] https://threader.app/thread/1241502461342502912

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