On December 10, 2019, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated 18 individuals under the authority of the Global Magnitsky Act. Those designated hail from Burma, Pakistan, Libya, Slovakia, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and South Sudan, and have committed or presided over a range of human rights abuses in their respective countries.
Examining Individual Targets of the Sanctions
The new sanctions reflect the severity of recent developments in Myanmar, as well as threats to ethnic minorities, journalists, and more in several other states.
All four persons from Myanmar who were sanctioned on December 10th were military commanders complicit in recent human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in the country. Min Aung Hlaing and Soe Win, who are both sanctioned, are the Commander and Deputy Commander respectively of the Burmese military forces. Than Oo and Aung Aung, also sanctioned, are respectively the commanders of the 99th and 33rd Light Infantry Divisions, both of which were deployed to the Rakhine State, where some of the most serious human rights abuses have occurred.
OFAC writes concerning Oo’s 99th Division, “In one operation in Tula Toli, hundreds of men, women, and children were reportedly forced to the nearby riverbank where the 99th LID opened fire, executing many of the men, and forced women and girls to nearby houses where they were sexually assaulted. A number of these women and children were later stabbed and beaten, with the houses set fire while they were inside.”
The Democratic Republic of the Congo accounted for the most individuals from a single country—six of the eighteen—sanctioned by OFAC on December 10th. All six persons from the DRC who were listed are members of the Allied Democratic Forces, an armed group that the United Nations designated in 2014 for “targeting children in situations of armed conflict, including through killing, rape, abduction, and forced displacement impacting the Great Lakes region.”
Musa Baluku, who is the leader of the ADF, was among these six. OFAC writes that each of the remaining five “has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, the ADF, an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse.”
Marian Kocner from Slovakia was designated on December 10th for threatening journalist Jan Kucias, who was investigating Kocner’s corrupt practices and fraudulent tax returns to Slovakia. OFAC also designated six entities owned or controlled by Kocner in Slovakia. Kocner was the only individual against whom OFAC took action, whose holdings were also designated.
Origins and Future of the Global Magnitsky Act
The “Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act” was signed into law on December 23, 2016 as part of the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act. It is named for the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was tortured and killed by officers of the Ministry of the Interior of the Russian Federation in 2009 and its earliest forms focused on sanctioning Russia.
In its initial form, the Act targeted those who have committed “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” against those working either to “expose illegal activity carried out by government officials” or to “obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms.”
However, Executive Order 13818, issued on December 20, 2017, has recently broadened the scope of the Act; this has enabled OFAC to make some of the designations imposed on December 10th. It changed the requirement of “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” to “serious human rights abuses.” Human Rights First explains, ‘In practice, this change allows the USG greater latitude in making designations.”
Furthermore, E.O. 13818 eliminated the requirement that victims must have been working to expose illegal activity by the government or exercise other human rights and freedoms. It is probably that the civilian victims of Myanmar’s military forces would not have met this standard. Therefore, E.O. 13818 accounts for OFAC’s action against Min Aung Hlaing, Soe Win, Than Oo, and Aung Aung.
Since its conception, the Global Magnitsky Act has set a global precedent for combatting human rights abuses. Estonia was the first country to adopt its own version of the Global Magnitsky Act, in imitation of the U.S. legislation. However, the U.K., Canada, Latvia, and Lithuania have also followed suit.
The European Union is also progressing, albeit slowly, towards its own version of the Act, despite hesitation from Hungary and other states with close ties to Russia. The Act originated in the U.S. and elsewhere as a means to combat Russia’s human rights abuses, which makes Russia’s close allies in the EU concerned about the possible consequences of sanctioning officials close tot heir own government.