Image: Peter Trimming [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Seven Members of Parliament, have sponsored an amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill that would permit individuals, entities and the Secretary of State to apply for a designation order to freeze the UK assets of those who were involved in or profited from human rights abuse.

This is a timely and long-needed initiative that complements all the decades-long efforts to internationalize accountability efforts for human rights violations. While the expansion of the principle of universal jurisdiction, the establishment of the International Criminal Court and the creation of mechanisms for human rights protection in the United Nations have helped limit the personal mobility of international criminals responsible for massive and widespread human rights violations, globalized financial markets permitted the free movement of these persons’ finances, frequently created as a consequence of oppressive practices.

As a matter of fact, accumulation of wealth and the fight to control national economic resources are common causes of gross human rights violations. There are clear links between elitist economic interests in multiple countries and the design and implementation of systems of violence and abuse aimed at silencing dissent. On numerous occasions, human rights violations have been motivated by economic tensions that demand a limitation of liberties to prolong inequality.

According to the text tabled, the proposed legislation targets the property, funds or economic resources owned, held or controlled by persons found to be responsible of torture and other gross human rights violations. More particularly, with this proposal the British MPs seek to protect the activities of whistleblowers, journalists or other individuals who “expose illegal activity carried out by foreign public officials” and human rights defenders that fight to “obtain, exercise, defend or promote human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

It is not a coincidence that this legislative proposal has been presented as the “Magnitskiy Amendment”. Sergey Magnitskiy was arbitrarily imprisoned after testifying about the involvement of members of the Russian Executive in corruption practices and in the massive theft of public funds. He died in November 2009 while being imprisoned at the orders of those he accused.

This proposal opens the possibility for new avenues for accountability and new forms of punishment that not only are more easily available to domestic institutions, but also cause serious disruptions in the lives of those responsible for human rights violations, who will not be longer able to bring their assets to the financial City and profit from the economic results of their abusive practices. Without any doubt, this legislation is a welcomed step for human rights advocates and widens the scope of justice.

The press release “British Parliament Moves to Impose Magnitsky Asset Freezes on the U.K. Property of Human Rights Violators” is available here.