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Magnitsky sanctions against officials misappropriating COVID-19 funds. Appeal to the U.S. government

ODF joined the appeal of other 23 leading international NGOs to U.S. Secretary of State, Michael R. Pompeo, and Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Terner Mnuchin, addressing human rights and corruption concerns in times of COVID-19 in authoritarian governments.

The letter, dated 9 July 2020, enlists a series of recommendations to the U.S. executive bodies implementing the Global Magnitsky Act and the Executive Order 13818 aimed at “counteracting efforts by authoritarian regimes and malign actors to use this crisis as an opportunity to curb fundamental freedoms, erode the rule of law, and steal public resources”.

Amid COVID-19 pandemic, the undersigned organisations highlighted that targeted individual sanctions are a “dual human rights and anti-corruption accountability tool” and that the U.S. authorities, making use of a proven leverage of foreign policy and human rights accountability instrument, should focus their efforts on targeting corrupt officials around the world who are misappropriating  pandemic-related resources. In the letter, human rights watchdogs emphasised that, over the years, the sanction program has proved to be “broad enough to encompass all forms of public corruption, it provides a strong role for Congress, and it contains mechanisms to leverage the knowledge of the NGO community and civil society organizations”. Moreover, they underlined that the bipartisan character of this instrument when accompanied by “clear, strong public messaging that this work will be resourced and prioritized” can substantially amplify the understanding of its scope and design in punishing human rights abusers around the globe and accomplishing foreign policy and national security goals. 

Specifically, human rights NGOs recommended:

  • the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to add language to its Frequently Asked Questions page pointing out that corruption related to the COVID-19 response is a priority area under the Global Magnitsky program;
  • the State Department to boost this message by taking advantage of existing tools, such as the ALDAC (All Diplomatic and Consular Posts) cable, to vet links between corruption and COVID-19 funds; 
  • the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to emphasise that the Global Magnitsky sanctions program intends to target corruption in the distribution of COVID-19 resources. Human rights groups also stressed that all financial institutions should acknowledge the COVID-related guidance issued by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

As a long-standing promoter of an EU human rights sanctions regime, ODF values this initiative and reiterates the importance of applying Global Magnitsky sanctions in the U.S. and adopting individual sanctions in other thriving democracies, such as Italy, Germany, France, Australia and others. This is a fundamental tool in the fight against impunity of corrupt officials and human rights abusers, particularly in authoritarian countries, where the COVID-19 pandemic has become yet another tool to repress fundamental freedoms. 

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