On November 16, Lithuania became the third EU Member State to pass a law against human rights abuses in Russia in the name of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in Russian jail in 2009 after exposing fraud by Russian officials. Such a law was initially enacted in the United States in 2012 as the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, imposing travel and banking restrictions on Russian officials implicated in human rights abuses. Since then, the U.K., Estonia, and Canada have passed similar laws.
The Lithuanian Magnitsky Act, which members of the Lithuanian parliament approved unanimously, will enter into force in January and will include a list of approximately thirty Russian individuals generally also subject to the U.S. and Canadian acts. By comparison, implementation of the U.K. and Estonian equivalents, enacted in February and May of this year, respectively, appears to have been more gradual. However, there has also long been a source of support within the European Parliament for EU-wide measures. In fact, on November 30, parliament’s recommendation on the subject from April 2, 2014, was published. It recommended visa restrictions and asset freezing for 32 Russian officials who were part of the Sergei Magnitsky case.
Affected Russian interests are lobbying in the EU and U.S. to repeal or prevent Magnitsky Acts, arguing that such measures violate the principle of presumption of innocence that should be accorded to targeted Russian individuals. On the other hand, Magnitsky’s former employer, U.S. businessman turned human rights activist Bill Browder, leads the push for the British and Estonian governments to apply their measures in full and for other EU Member States to follow suit in implementing their own Magnitsky Acts.
Against the background of the continued imposition of sanctions on Russia for violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the scrutiny being brought to bear on allegations of Russian interference in the U.K. Brexit referendum and the recent elections in France and Germany, Browder’s campaign appears to be gaining momentum. As further evidence of fraud and abuses by certain Russian officials may still be revealed, other EU Member States and perhaps the EU itself may yet implement Magnitsky Acts.