FOREIGN Secretary Dominic Raab has named the first foreign citizens to face visa bans and asset freezes for alleged human rights abuses under the UK’s new post-Brexit sanctions regime.
It is an important day when Britain names and shames a host of individuals who have committed human rights abuses or large-scale criminal activity – the first time we have done this independently in decades, in what has been dubbed the UK’s own Magnitsky Act.Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer who died under suspicious circumstances in a Moscow jail in 2009 after alleging Russian state officials were involved in large-scale tax fraud against a foreign investment firm he was advising.
His treatment led to tough US legislation in 2012 condemning human rights violations and providing an arsenal of measures that could be imposed by the Government against those responsible.On Tuesday, Mr Raab named 25 Russians, two North Korean organisations involved in forced labour, two Myanmar generals over violence against the Rohingya people and 20 Saudis alleged to have been involved in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The announcement represents a major victory for Mr Raab, a former human rights lawyer, who invested significant political capital in pushing for a tough sanctions regime despite misgivings from some mandarins in Whitehall.
However if it is to meet its high ideals the new regime, a version of America’s Magnitsky Act, must be based on transparency and include regular Parliamentary oversight.
Those on the list must have the right to make representations to the Foreign Office about their inclusion and UK organisations – NGOs, charities etc, as well as British citizens, should be able to suggest those worthy of investigation and inclusion.
I am not suggesting a free-for-all where thousands of rabid Lefties try to get President Trump included on the list, but it should allow UK nationals who have been illegally detained, tortured, seen family members murdered or have suffered significant financial loss some form of redress and justice.
Cases might include those of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who has been illegally detained in Iran since early 2016 and was sentenced to five years imprisonment for plotting to topple the Iranian government. This is a risible charge that has been rejected by the international community, including the European Parliament which last year called for her immediate release unless she was retried using accepted international standards. The resolution was passed by 608 votes, with just seven against. Why should her family and legal team not be able to call for those behind this appalling treatment of a UK national to face justice?
Or the case of Peter Humphrey, an investigative journalist who was locked up in China for two years, collateral damage in a struggle between pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline and the communist state.
Other cases might include extending the sanctions to the leaders of those regimes behind any illegal action. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is claimed to have been authorised at the highest level in Saudi Government and yet neither the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, nor key members of the regime have featured on the list. This would seem iniquitous and why the reasoning behind the decision should be explained, if not publicly then at a minimum to a Parliamentary Select Committee such as the Intelligence and Security Committee.
Similarly, those who feel wronged must be allowed a mechanism for appeal, which is based on sound and widely accepted legal principles. Innuendo and supposition must never be enough to get a name added, hence the need for oversight.
Finally, an open and transparent system would boost confidence in the new sanctions regime and show how the UK and in particular the Foreign Secretary and FCO are putting the rights of UK citizens and the values we espouse at the heart of policymaking – something that many observers feel is sadly lacking in Whitehall.
If these measures are not included, then the hard work and considerable achievement of Mr Raab in securing a tough sanctions regime will be undermined and tainted by the suspicion that the FCO are playing their usual secretive games.