Global Magnitsky sanctions: Raising the human rights and anti-corruption bar

A demonstrator holds picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest in front of Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi thrust an otherwise little-known sanctions program into the spotlight—the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (or GloMag in sanctions parlance). On November 15, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control used the GloMag authority to designate seventeen Saudi citizens for their role in the Khashoggi killing.

In “Global Magnitsky Sanctions: Raising the Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Bar” author Samantha Sultoon, a visiting senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Business & Economics Program and Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, argues that the GloMag sanctions offer a targeted response to human rights violations and corruption. The author adds that this sanctions authority has far-reaching implications for international businesses because it creates the need for companies to shift to a proactive corporate risk and due diligence strategy to account for human rights and corruption issues. Sultoon points out that this sanctions authority opens the door for multilateral sanctions actions with US allies, partners, and international human rights groups seeking to raise awareness of human rights violations and corruption. Finally, the author provides specific recommendations of how to maintain the integrity and value of the GloMag authority:

Key Recommendations:

  • Maintain the global footprint: A shift toward one country or region risks undermining the global nature of the authority and minimizing the deterrent effect previous designations have had.
  • Use as part of a broader policy strategy: A broader, whole-of-government strategy that includes GloMag sanctions is most likely to achieve the policy objectives.
  • Do not overuse the tool: GloMag sanctions are not the only tool in the US government’s toolbox to combat human rights abuse and corruption and are unlikely to be the most appropriate tool for every scenario.
  • Support compliance: Increasing efforts to ensure that both US and international companies respect the GloMag sanctions will make the tool that much more effective.
  • GloMag sanctions should not be a replacement for a targeted sanctions program: The GloMag authority is robust, but its stature will decline if it becomes the default replacement for a thoughtful country-specific program.
  • Stay responsive: For GloMag sanctions to incentivize behavioral change, timely delistings must continue when appropriate.