Alexei Navalny, the most prominent Russian opposition leader to Vladimir Putin in recent memory, was returning to Moscow after campaigning against corruption in the Siberian city of Tomsk when he fell ill on the flight. After an emergency landing and a transfer to a German hospital, it was confirmed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that a Soviet-era chemical weapon was used on Navalny. This method of poisoning likely points to Russian Intelligence Agencies and Navalny who has since recovered from the attack believes the orders to have him poisoned came directly from Putin.
The Russian Government has denied these allegations.
Navalny rose to political prominence in Russia for opposing corruption under the Putin Regime and has run for elected office in the Moscow mayoral election of 2013 and was barred from running for Russian President in 2018 for his criminal record that many see as politically driven convictions to marginalize him.
Following events such as the Navalny case, one of the most significant challenges is holding guilty parties accountable. In situations where host countries are complacent or even promotional in the violations of human rights instead of justly punishing offenders, it can be difficult for the international community to respond appropriately.
A diplomatic tool in the United States that was created in the wake of gross human rights abuses seems to be suited for this situation: The Magnitsky Act.
Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer who unearthed a $230 million tax fraud executed by Russian Government officials. He was subsequently jailed, tortured, and died of an illness that doctors were aware of, but that went untreated for trying to expose corruption in Russia.
Magnitsky’s business associate and at one point the largest foreign investor in Russia, William Browder, championed legislation that established U.S. visa bans and the freezing of U.S. assets of those involved in the treatment of Magnitsky. This legislation inflicted real consequences for the individuals responsible and was passed into law in 2012.
The international community has slowly adopted similar legislation. Canada passed the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Officials Act in 2017. Britain announced in July of 2020 that it would pass a broader law targeting more officials from Russia and other countries, while the European Commission President spoke recently about seeking to implement similar sanctions. Australia is also in preliminary talks to implement such an act.
Having a wider international community embrace these sanctions inflicts pain on those who have benefited from corruption and abused the rights of citizens. The doors begin to close on them as more countries impose sanctions. Investor William Browder details in his book Red Notice how these corrupt officials were “traveling the world like global jet-setters” prior to any legislation being enacted. This international movement inhibits these official’s ability to commit atrocious acts and continue an exorbitant lifestyle.
It seems appropriate that after an investigation into the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, those who are responsible should face similar repercussions. After all, the Magnitsky Act has been broadened in the U.S and Canada to include other human rights abusers such as the illegitimate leader of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro and his co-conspirators for their human rights abuses, and there is a push to have the Saudi agents who killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi also be punished under the sanctions in both western countries.
With a renewed focus on the need to hold malicious actors to account, Canada should look to employ these sanctions in the Navalny case. And given this opportunity, why not highlight other international crises in the process? While the world has a renewed interest in Russian corruption, many current developments seem to get less recognition than they warrant.
Those responsible for the treatment of the Uyghur Muslim population of China in “re-education” prison camps could be one example where Magnitsky is applied. Or perhaps the Chinese officials who have detained two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, over unspecified security concerns many see as fabricated and retaliatory.
While repercussions from Canadian sanctions may not carry the same weight as those from an economic and military superpower like the United States, its symbolism broadcasts a strong message to the rest of the world. It is an acknowledgment that the Canadian Government condemns in the strongest form possible the unjust actions of those abroad. With a growing network of legislation, it is not hard to imagine that one country’s implementation of sanctions might encourage others to follow, why shouldn’t this be Canada?
- BBC News (2020).“Russia’s Navalny out of Coma after Poisoning.” Retrieved from: www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54061370.
- BBC News (2020). “Data Leak Reveals How China ‘Brainwashes’ Uighurs in Prison Camps.” Retrieved from: www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-50511063.
- Browder, Bill (2015). Red Notice. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.
- Daventry, Michael. “What Is the Magnitsky Act and Why Is the EU Planning One of Its Own?” Euronews, 17 Sept. 2020, www.euronews.com/2020/09/16/what-is-the-magnitsky-act-euronews-answers.
- Global Affairs Canada (2017). Canada Imposes Sanctions on Individuals Linked to Human Rights Violations and Corruption. Retrieved from: www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2017/11/canada_imposes_sanctionsonindividualslinkedtohumanrightsviolatio.html.
- Parliament of Australia (2020). “Targeted Sanctions Inquiry to Hear from Business and Industry Peak Bodies”.
- Smith, Ben, and Joanna Dawson. “Magnitsky Legislation.” House of Commons Library, 13 Oct. 2020, commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8374/.
- The Associated Press. “China Firm over Detention of 2 Canadians after FMs Meet.” CTVNews, Retrieved from: www.ctvnews.ca/canada/china-firm-over-detention-of-2-canadians-after-fms-meet-1.5079548.
- U.S. Department of State (2020). “Global Magnitsky Act – United States Department of State.” Retrieved from: www.state.gov/global-magnitsky-act/.