UK to impose sanctions on those failing to uphold human rights laws

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has called the sanctions imposed by the UK as "a clear message". Source: US Department of State (via Flickr)

By Hallum Cowell

The UK government has announced that they will be imposing sanctions on a number of individuals and groups who are deemed to be abusing human rights. 

In what Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab calls a “clear message”, persons implicated in breaking Human Rights law will have their assets frozen and are banned from entering the UK. The current list includes persons involved in the 2009 murder of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Also included Myanmar generals and two North Korean labour camp organisations involved in forced labour, torture, and the operation of the country’s labour camps. In total 49 people have been sanctioned. 

This diplomatic pressure is the first of its kind from the UK which does not involve the European Union or the United Nations. In his speech to the House of Commons Mr Raab said;

“Today this government and this house sends a very clear message on behalf of the British people that those with blood on their hands, the thugs of despots, the henchman of dictators will not be free to waltz into this country

Normally, sanctions are passed against nations rather than individuals as a way of exuding diplomatic pressure as a deterrent or a consequence of the behaviour seen by countries as threatening. 

Many Western nations continue to hold sanctions against Venezuela for alleged human rights abuse. 

In cases such as the murder of Sergei Magnitsky and Jamal Khashoggi, the UK government has continued to argue that these acts were taken outside of their respective government circles therefore, there is no reason to embargo countries like Russia or Saudi Arabia. 

This has led some to argue that these sanctions do not go far enough, however, these sanctions have been accepted universally by MPs at Westminster. 

These sanctions follow the 2018 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act which was implemented as part of the UK’s Brexit law changes. The 2018 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act means that the UK government no longer has to follow sanctions laid out by the EU or UN. 

While this does mean that the government is able to impose sanctions on their own, it also means that there is no legal obligation to support sanctions pressed by the EU or UN.

Many critics feel the government needs to go further; In September 2019 Oxfam revealed that the UK government has continued to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia to support the continued war with Yemen. The war has been considered one of the worst current humanitarian disasters globally. 

 The UK Government has allegedly continued to supply arms to the anti-Yemen coalition despite a UN resolution stating that all countries supplying arms to Saudi Arabia must cease. 

Others have questioned why officials from China have not been included on the sanctions list after it has been reported that the Chinese State is committing human rights abuse against the Muslim minority in parts of the country. 

Tensions have also risen between the two nations after China’s treatment of Hong Kong, recently banning protesting in the city after months of civil unrest

When questioned by the BBC as to whether Dominic Raab was avoiding another clash with China by excluding them from the list he said; 

“the regime that we have set out is evidence based. If we want a positive relationship with China… the real issue here is one of trust and whether China can be trusted to live up to its international obligations, and its international responsibilities. And that’s a message that we’re telegraphing, along with many of our allies and indeed, many international partners around the world to Beijing, particularly in relation to what we’ve seen in Hong Kong.”

There has also been speculation about how the home countries of those sanctioned will react to the news. Some fear that trade relations will be harmed by the sanctions and there could be retaliatory diplomatic maneuvers but nothing is certain and we will have to wait and see.

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Politics Hallum Cowell

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