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The EU Must Use Its New Magnitsky Powers

Last week, between the negotiations on Brexit, the Budget and the Rule of Law Mechanism, the EU did something commendable. They introduced the long awaited EU Magnitsky Act – something that the European Conservatives and Reformists have been calling for some time. These new powers, named after Russian tax lawyer and whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky who died in a Moscow prison, allow the European Union to introduce sanctions against human rights abusers. They can be anything from bank account freezes, to travel bans, to restrictions on access to goods and services from Europe.

Whilst many have been critical of these measures, the American example has shown them to be effective. The best example is that of Hong Kong Chief Executive (Prime Minister) Carrie Lam – who was sanctioned in early 2020 by the US Senate and President Trump. Since being added to the list of individuals under Magnitsky Sanctions she has been denied a bank account, refused travel on many major airlines and had several other day to day services denied from her. In an interview with a major news outlet earlier this autumn she expressed her frustration and claimed that she was now being paid her salary in cash, which she kept in bags at home.

Or equally the case of Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of the former President of Uzbekistan who was added to the list in 2017 for links to organised crime. She had previously lived a life of luxury, travelling around the world and mixing with celebrities and stars – whilst at the same time being involved in money laundering and defrauding the state of which her Father was ruler from independence until his death in 2016. Sanctions against her ultimately ended in her arrest and trail in Uzbekistan – after the United States had seized millions in stolen state assets.

Such sanctions have much more far reaching implications as well for some individuals. It stops them the ability to give their children a world class education in the West, it prevents their families from being able to shop exclusively in Europe, it denies them a higher quality of life than those people who are suffering under them.

The introduction of these powers at an EU level now means that the Council can start direction the Commission towards targeting various abusers.  Top of their list should be Chen Quanuo – the Communist Party Secretary of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region who has overseen the introduction of authoritarian policies in the area. He has forced millions of Uyghur people into internment camps and turned many of those people towards forced labour. A report this week found that the Chinese cotton industry was exploiting Uyghur labour, whilst another uncovered that face masks being shipped to Europe were also made by Uyghur workers in dire conditions. Secretary Chen’s cruelty doesn’t just stop in Xinjiang – prior to his rise in the Communist Party he was the Secretary of Tibet Autonomous Province where he oversaw a similar tyrannical implementation of policies against Tibetan Buddhists. He has become a loyal sidekick to President Xi in implementing the increasingly authoritarian measures across the ethnic minority regions of China. Many of these measures will likely now impact China’s Christians next.

Additionally the EU should look at introducing measures against Yury Gotsanyuk – the Prime Minister of the Council of Ministers in the Russian occupied Republic of Crimea. He took over from Sergei Axionov in 2019 as the Prime Minister of the Russian occupied territory and has continued the same repressive measures put in place by his predecessor – including the expulsion of Crimean Tatars from their homeland for refusing to adopt Russian citizenship and refusing to speak Russian. From 2018 onwards he was also directly responsible for the implementation of Russian federal directives in the peninsula, which included a tightening of security and increased suppression of the people who lived there. A man who since taking office has said: “democracy , in my opinion, with today's conditions, given that we have an external enemy - an unnecessary situation.” Introducing measures against him and his cabinet would be a useful start in helping the Ukrainian government winning back support for the return of their land.

Or perhaps Teresa Cheng – the Justice Secretary of Hong Kong who earlier this year introduced the authoritarian ‘national security act’ that saw mass protests break out. She was also responsible for introducing the Hong Kong extradition act which would allow people in Hong Kong to be arrested and deported to mainland China for crimes currently only applicable on the mainland. Both of these acts run directly in contravention to international law – in particular the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1985 that guaranteed the ‘one country, two systems’ principle. She has personally been responsible for the violent actions of Hong Kong’s police against the people and for the erosion of civil liberties in the region. She, just as Carrie Lam, should be made to pay for their authoritarianism.

The European Conservatives and Reformists have been at the front of calls for these measures to be introduced, and now that they are here the European Union should use them. It is not just a matter of political posturing, but a matter of using robust means to defend the dignity of human beings around the world. From Carrie Lam in Hong Kong for her suppression of the democratic movement to Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya for the executions of dissidents – the EU can come down on these people like a tonne of bricks, following the example already set by the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.

These new powers give us a golden opportunity to defend those without a voice. Form Uyghurs in Xinjiang, to Christians in the Middle East, and from Pro-Democracy fighters in Belarus, to the victims of totalitarian socialism in Venezuela.