UK imposes sanctions against human rights abusers

Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi consulate in IstanbulImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Saudi officials involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi are among those targeted

The UK is imposing sanctions on 49 people and organisations behind the most “notorious” human rights abuses of recent years.

Individuals implicated in the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 will have their UK assets frozen and banned from entering the country.

And Saudi Arabian officials involved in the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi are also being targeted.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the move sent a “strong message”.

Speaking in the Commons, the foreign secretary said the UK was taking action against the “thugs of despots and henchmen of dictators” as well as stopping as those trying to launder their “blood-drenched ill-gotten gains”.

The sanctions are the first taken independently by the UK outside the auspices of the UN and EU.

Those individuals and organisations subject to immediate sanctions are:

  • 25 Russian nationals involved in the mistreatment and death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered widespread corruption by a group of Russian tax and police officials
  • 20 Saudi nationals involved in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul
  • Two high-ranking Myanmar military generals involved in the systematic and brutal violence against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities
  • Two organisations involved in forced labour, torture and murder in North Korea’s gulags

Mr Raab said those targeted had been involved in extra-judicial killings, including political assassinations, torture, degrading treatment, forced labour and servitude.

Those on the list, which includes a former minister in the Russian interior department and the former deputy head of the Saudi intelligence services, will be stopped from entering the UK, channelling money into the country or profiting from the British economy, through property or other assets they own.

“Today this government and this house sends a very clear message on behalf of the British people that those with blood on their hands, the thugs of despots, the henchman of dictators will not be free to waltz into this country.”

“The powers enable us to target a wider network of perpetrators including those who facilitate, incite, promote or support any of these crimes and this extends beyond state officials to non-state actors as well.”

’10 year campaign’

Many MPs have long been pushing for a tougher domestic sanctions regime against foreign states accused of human rights abuses, based on the US Magnitsky Act.

The law was passed in response to the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Moscow lawyer and auditor who accused Russian tax officials of defrauding Hermitage Capital Management, a foreign investment firm he was advising.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Magnitsky’s widow and mother took up the human rights case initially filed by him in Strasbourg

Magnitsky spent 11 months in police custody after being arrested in 2008, during which he sustained injuries which human rights campaigners say were consistent with him being beaten and tortured.

His maltreatment has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, which found in 2019 that he had been deprived of important medical care and the authorities had not complied with their duty to protect life.


Mr Raab said he would be meeting Magnitsky’s widow Natalia and two children later on Monday to express the UK’s “solidarity” with them and the nightmare that they had been through.

Bill Browder, co-founder and chief executive of Hermitage Capital, said the action represented “a huge milestone in our 10 year campaign for justice”.

Mr Khashoggi, a prominent critic of the Saudi government, was killed by a team of Saudi agents in what the Saudi authorities described as a “rogue operation” that went wrong.

In December 2019, a court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death and jailed three others but the process was condemned by the foreign government and the UN, which said it represented “the antithesis of justice”.

The Foreign Office said its new regime, underpinned by legislation passed in 2018, could be extended in future to encompass individuals and governments guilty of corruption.

The 2018 Sanctions and Anti-money Laundering Act gave the UK government the powers to introduce some of the same sanctions that would have otherwise been decided by the EU.

The UK is required by law to enforce existing EU sanctions it is a party to until the end of the transition period on 1 January 2021. The government has said it will maintain these after that date and also existing UN sanctions.


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