Dominic Raab – 2020 Statement on the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime

Below is the text of the statement made by Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, in the House of Commons on 6 July 2020.

Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a statement on the global human rights sanctions regulations. As we forge a dynamic new vision for a truly global Britain, this Government are absolutely committed to the United Kingdom becoming an even stronger force for good in the world: on climate change, as we host COP26; as we champion 12 years of education for every girl in the world, no matter how poor their background; and on human rights, where we will defend media freedoms and protect freedom of religious belief; and, with the measures we are enacting and announcing today, hold to account the perpetrators of the worst human rights abuses.

I first raised this issue in a 2012 Backbench Business debate. It was a cross-party issue then, as I hope it will be now. I recall co-sponsoring it with the former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband. I also would like to pay tribute to Members from across the House, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), who sponsored that debate, and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who joined me in that initial debate and who has been chivvying me along ever since, normally from a sedentary position.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

I’ve not stopped.

Mr Speaker

You better had.

Dominic Raab

The idea of taking targeted action against human rights violators has received further cross-party backing since then, from hon. Members in all parts of the House, including five former Foreign Secretaries and the current Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. In 2019, it was in the Conservative party’s manifesto as a clear commitment.

Today I am proud that under this Prime Minister and this Government, we make good on that pledge, bringing into force the United Kingdom’s first autonomous human rights sanctions regime, which gives us the power to impose sanctions on those involved in the very worst human rights abuses right around the world. These sanctions are a forensic tool, which allows us to target perpetrators without punishing the wider people of a country that may be affected. The regulations will enable us to impose travel bans and asset freezes against those involved in serious human rights violations. We are talking about, first, the right to life, where it is threatened by assassinations and extra-judicial killing; secondly, the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and, thirdly, the right to be free from slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour. The powers enable us to target a wider network of perpetrators, including those who facilitate, incite, promote or support these crimes. This extends beyond state officials to non-state actors as well. So if you’re a kleptocrat or an organised criminal, you will not be able to launder your blood money in this country. Today this Government and this House send a very clear message, on behalf of the British people: those with blood on ​their hands, the thugs of despots, the henchmen of dictators, will not be free to waltz into this country, to buy up property on the Kings Road, do their Christmas shopping in Knightsbridge or siphon dirty money through British banks or other financial institutions.

The regulations are just the latest next step forward in the long struggle against impunity for the worst human rights violations. We have deliberately focused on the worst crimes, so we have the clearest basis, to make sure we can operate the new system as effectively as we possibly can. That said, we will continue to explore expanding this regime to include other human rights, and I can tell the House that we are already considering how a corruption regime could be added to the armoury of legal weapons we have. In particular, hon. Members will be interested to know that I am looking at the UN convention against corruption, and practice already under way under the frameworks in jurisdictions such as the United States and Canada.

Today we have also published a policy note, which sets out how we will consider designations under these regulations, for maximum transparency. As the House would expect, the legislation will ensure that due process will be followed in relation to those designations, reflecting the process rights contained in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. In practice, those people designated will be able to request that a Minister review the decision. They will be able to challenge the decision in the court. And, just as a matter of due diligence, the Government will review all designations at least once every three years.

In addition to introducing this new legal regime, today we are proceeding directly to make the first designations under the regulations. We are imposing sanctions on individuals involved in some of the most notorious human rights violations in recent years. The first designations will cover those individuals involved in the torture and murder of Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer who disclosed the biggest known tax fraud in Russian history. The designations will also include those responsible for the brutal murder of the writer and journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and those who perpetrated the systematic and brutal violence against the Rohingya population in Myanmar. They will also include two organisations bearing responsibility for the enslavement, torture and murder that takes place in North Korea’s wretched gulags, in which it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of prisoners have perished over the past 50 years. With those first designations, the Government—and, I hope, the House and the country—make it crystal clear to those who abuse their power to inflict unimaginable suffering that we will not look the other way. You cannot set foot in this country and we will seize your blood-drenched ill-gotten gains if you try.

In practice, targeted sanctions are most effective when they are done through co-ordinated collective action, so we will be working closely with our Five Eyes partners, including in particular the US and Canada, which already have Magnitsky-style sanctions legislation, and Australia, which is considering similar legislation. We will also strongly support efforts to bring an EU human rights sanctions regime into effect and we stand ready to co-ordinate with our European partners on future measures. In fact, I discussed that in Berlin recently with our E3 partners.​
Mr Speaker, with your permission I would like to end by paying tribute to the man who inspired these sanctions, Sergei Magnitsky, a young Russian tax lawyer. Between 2007 and 2008, Magnitsky exposed the theft of $230 million committed by tax officials in Russia’s own interior ministry. While others left Russia, understandably fearing for their lives, Magnitsky stayed on to take a stand for the rule of law and to strike a blow against the breath-taking corruption that plagues Russia. That courage cost him his life. He was arrested in 2008 on trumped-up charges of tax evasion and, in a particularly Kafkaesque twist, the very tax investigators that Magnitsky had exposed were the ones who turned up to arrest him. The Public Oversight Commission, a Moscow-based non-governmental organisation, found that while in detention Magnitsky was subjected to physical and psychological abuse amounting to torture. Over the course of his time in prison he developed abdominal pain and acute bladder inflammation, but prison officers cruelly withheld the medical treatment he needed. Eventually, he was transferred to another facility ostensibly to receive medical care. Instead, he was handcuffed and beaten to death by riot police with truncheons. He died on 16 November 2009, aged 37.

The House will recall that the European Court of Human Rights found Russia had violated its most basic human rights, from the treatment of Magnitsky in prison to the lack of an effective investigation. None of those involved have ever been brought to justice. Perversely, some have been promoted or even decorated with medals. In fact, the only person ever prosecuted for this appalling crime was Sergei Magnitsky himself after his death; Russian’s first ever posthumous trial.

I pay tribute to Bill Browder, who employed Sergei Magnitsky and has campaigned for justice ever since his death. I hope that today we in this House show our solidarity with the family that Sergei Magnitsky left behind: his wife Natalia and his son Nikita. I can tell the House that they will be watching from my office in the Foreign Office as we speak. Amidst their enduring loss, they can be proud of Sergei’s courage, which inspires us to hold up a torch on behalf of all those who perished or suffered at the hands of those we designate today and to keep the flame of freedom alive for those brave souls still suffering in the very darkest corners of the world. I commend this statement to the House.