Tania Nguyen, Vietnam, APMA 2019

On August 27, 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had ruled that the Russian government was guilty of human rights violations in the case of Sergei Magnitsky, who died in Moscow in November 2009 while in pretrial detention. Due to the decision, people believed more in the power of justice, and the legitimacy of the Magnitsky Act was consolidated.

Magnitsky was a lawyer and a tax auditor. He had been consulting the foreign investment corporation in Russia, a London-based Hermitage Capital Management, when he was charged with tax evasion of $230 million by Russian officials. His detention was extended several times without reason. He died aged 37 in jail due to inadequate medical care and mistreatment. The ECHR found Magnitsky’s human rights were gravely violated; he was tortured, unjustly imprisoned, and he didn’t receive a fair trial. His death attained international attention and widespread universal condemnation of the human rights abuse by the Russian government which led to the United States and other countries to pass the Magnitsky Act – an act targeting people, organizations, or states accused of human rights violations.

Having held the Russian government accountable for the murder of Sergei Magnitsky in detention implied much significance.

On the one hand, it shows that justice prevails. With the strong support of barrister Rupert Skilbeck and lawyer James Goldston of the Justice Initiative who had worked fearlessly and tirelessly for seven years, the family had been successful in holding the Russian government responsible for Magnitsky’s death. According to Bill Browder, who persevered in advocating in the international community for the adoption of the Magnitsky Act, the ECHR final decision also utterly defeats the propaganda and slanders about Sergei Magnitsky perpetrated by the Russian regime. Browder claims that paid smear campaigners in the West have been damaging his reputation for many years. The final decision of the ECHR is a grand triumph for the Magnitsky’s family in their legal battle against the Russian regime, which lasted a little over a decade. The Russian government ultimately has to compensate Magnitsky’s family with an amount of 34,000 Euros (equal to $38,000). Without question, once a state has convicted a criminal, the punishment will be severe.

On the other hand, this resounding victory indicates that the United States and other states are thorough in implementing the Magnitsky Act, which acts as a deterrent to rising human rights violations all over the world. The fundamental rights under the European Convention of Human Rights of the individual concerned have not only been recognized directly at the national or regional level, but also at the international level. Strict measures, like the Magnitsky Act, must be introduced by governments to punish wrongdoers.

The Magnitsky Act was signed by former President Barack Obama on December 14, 2012, to punish Russian officials responsible for the murder of Sergei Magnitsky. It is a policy of zero tolerance, which would impose an official travel ban within the premises of the United States and freezes one’s assets in America to ensure the official’s cooperation when found guilty of committing severe offenses of human rights abuses. It has been internationalized since 2016 with the succeeding ratifications to the act in other countries, such as Estonia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Lithuania, European Union, Australia, and Ukraine. The United States proclaims 18 Russian officials and almost 50 other foreign individuals who have been sanctioned, including political leaders from Dominican Republic, Myanmar, Iraq, The Gambia, etc.

The Magnitsky Act is not only targeting Russian officials but any persons, organizations, or states that breached the human rights conventions or violated the act. However, ironically, the Russian government accuses the United States and the western democracies for allegedly violating the policy of non-intervention in Russia’s internal affairs by enacting the Magnitsky Act. Regardless of this accusation, the Magnitsky legislation exemplifies respect for human rights on a global scale. No state nor entity is an exception to this.

Photo from DW.

*The contents of this opinion piece are solely those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the view of the either Global Campus of Human Rights Asia Pacific, the universities under it, or the APMA program.

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