On December 21, 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned 52 individuals and entities worldwide for their participation in human rights abuses or corruption. They have been listed as specially designated nationals (SDNs), and the individuals are subject to a visa ban. These sanctions are being imposed pursuant to a new sanctions regime, announced by President Trump in an executive order, which authorizes blocking sanctions against persons anywhere in the world involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption.

These are the first sanctions to be imposed under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which was enacted late last year. The Global Magnitsky Act targets human rights abusers and corrupt actors globally. It is a separate legal authority from the Magnitsky Act, a law that targets individuals responsible for the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and other human rights abusers in Russia. OFAC separately designated five Russian individuals pursuant to the Magnitsky Act and published the Magnitsky Act Sanctions Regulations on December 20, 2017. OFAC issued FAQs discussing the new sanctions and differentiating the Global Magnitsky Act, the Magnitsky Act, and the sanctions on human rights abusers and corrupt actors under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

The individuals and entities designated pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Act are a diverse group. They include persons responsible for human rights violations in Myanmar (Burma), the Gambia, Central America, China, Russia, and Ukraine. Additional sanctioned persons were involved in corruption in Uzbekistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Dominican Republic, and Brazil.

This new U.S. sanctions regime has worldwide implications for international companies and sanctions compliance. In addition to anti-corruption and corporate social responsibility concerns, dealings with persons involved in these activities now may also give rise to sanctions compliance concerns. Companies that do business with foreign governments, governmental officials, and politically exposed persons in countries that are high-risk for corruption should remain especially vigilant, and ensure that their sanctions compliance policies are up-to-date and screen against all U.S. sanctions lists. We also suggest paying increased attention to commercial screening software that includes negative news searches and law enforcement actions, since persons alleged to be involved in global human rights abuses or corruption now have an increased chance of being subject to OFAC sanctions in the future.