The Open Dialogue Foundation and 57 other NGOs urge the U.S. Congress to address Russian crimes in Ukraine by supporting a robust reauthorisation of the Global Magnitsky Act of 2016.
On 23 March 2022, a number of nongovernmental organisations wrote to leaders in the United States Congress urging a reauthorisation of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2016, permitting the U.S. president to impose sanctions on individuals involved in human rights abuses or corruption. The law’s namesake is Sergei Magnitsky, a Ukrainian-born Russian tax lawyer who died in Russian custody after exposing misconduct in the Russian government. It builds on previous U.S. laws, like the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012.
Human Rights First, alongside the Open Dialogue Foundation, Freedom House, the Italian Federation for Human Rights, and 54 other NGOs signed the letter addressed to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The NGOs outline several crimes of which they have received evidence since Russia began its invasion on 24 February, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians, kidnapping of local government officials, and disappearances and killings of journalists. In the letter, they point to the success of Global Magnitsky sanctions in U.S. responses to human rights crises abroad. “For more than four years,” the NGOs write, these measures “have been a key part of the U.S. government’s response to atrocities and serious human rights abuses around the world, including: Chinese abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang; military attacks on the Rohingya in Myanmar and on the people of Tigray; and violent militias in Iraq, Libya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
The NGOs also commend a 2017 executive order expanding the scope of abuses covered by the law to include violence and arbitrary detention, abuses by nonstate actors, and single acts of abuse, among others. “Each of the 420 total Global Magnitsky sanctions has been issued under these standards, and approximately [three] out of [four] Global Magnitsky sanctions for serious human rights abuse only became possible with these changes,” the letter reads. The NGOs encourage Congress to reauthorise the act with these improvements attached, for fear that Russia’s actions in Ukraine could only be punished properly by these additions.
“The U.S. cannot sanction Putin’s actions in Ukraine under current law,” reads one tweet from the Open Dialogue Foundation. “For Congress to insist on the original Global Magnitsky Act’s narrow standards at this moment of crisis would be an indisputable gift to Vladimir Putin and his henchmen,” the letter reads, “and would send the wrong signal to others like them.”