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What is the Magnitsky Act?

The average American probably hadn’t heard of the Magnitsky Act until the term was thrust into the headlines in July 2017 when Donald Trump Jr. took a brief meeting with Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who purportedly wanted to speak about “the adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act.”  

More recently,  members of Congress from both parties have submitted a letter urging the Trump administration to apply the Magnitsky Act to Chinese officials and businessmen who are involved with the expansion of internment programs in China targeting religious groups.

What is the Magnitsky Act? 

S 284, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (2015-2016) is an executive order (passed by the US Senate with unanimous consent in December 2015) freezing the property transfer of particular persons involved in what the US considers unacceptable human rights abuses or corruption. 

Here is the official summary:

This bill authorizes the President to impose U.S. entry and property sanctions against any foreign person (or entity) who: 

  • is responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals in any foreign country seeking to expose illegal activity carried out by government officials, or to obtain, exercise, or promote human rights and freedoms; 
  • acted as an agent of or on behalf of a foreign person in such activities; 
  • is a government official or senior associate of such official responsible for, or complicit in, ordering or otherwise directing acts of significant corruption, including the expropriation of private or public assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, bribery, or the facilitation or transfer of the proceeds of corruption to foreign jurisdictions; or 
  • has materially assisted or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, such activities.

The authority to block and prohibit transactions in property and property interests shall not include the authority to impose sanctions on the importation of goods (any article, natural or man made substance, material, supply or manufactured product, including inspection and test equipment, excluding technical data).

The President shall, after receiving a request from the chairperson and ranking member of one of the appropriate congressional committees with respect to whether a foreign person has engaged in a prohibited activity: 

  • determine if the person has engaged in such an activity; and 
  • report to the chairperson and ranking member whether or not the President imposed or intends to impose specified sanctions against the person. 

Sanctions shall not apply to an individual as necessary for law enforcement purposes, or to comply with the Agreement between the United Nations (U.N.) and the United States regarding the U.N. Headquarters or other applicable international obligations of the United States. 

The President may terminate sanctions under specified conditions.

The Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor may submit to the Department of State the names of foreign persons who may meet the sanctions criteria.

(Sec. 4) The President shall report to Congress annually regarding each foreign person sanctioned, the type of sanctions imposed, and the reason for their imposition.

The Magnitsky Act serves as a legitimate tool for the United States to promote its interests and values while maintaining and respecting sovereignty of nations.