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NGOs call on US Senators to hold gross violators of human rights accountable

  • NGOs call for greater use of the Global Magnitsky Act against gross violators of religious freedom

  • NGOs raise concerns over proposed new legislative language as Congress assesses reauthorization of law allowing for targeted sanctions against human rights violators

Washington D.C. (29 March 2022) – Numerous international religious freedom NGOs have penned a public letter calling on US Senators to reauthorize legislation to hold gross violators of human rights accountable. The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which enables the US President to leverage targeted sanctions against gross human rights violators, is up for review this year.  

“No one should be persecuted on account of their faith. Because of the importance and success of the Global Magnitsky Act, it is vital that Congress takes the time to clearly express itself in order to hold the worst violators of human rights, including the fundamental right to religious freedom, accountable. Particularly as the world continues to respond to the atrocities being committed in Ukraine, we strongly support the reauthorization of the Global Magnitsky Act under the current ‘gross violations of internationally recognized human rights’ standard and Congressional accountability mechanisms, and call for the greater use of the Act against gross violators of religious freedom,” said Sean Nelson, Legal Counsel for ADF International.  

Gross violations of internationally recognized human rights 

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which was passed in 2016, provides the President of the United States with the authority to leverage economic and visa sanctions against any foreign person responsible for “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” against human rights defenders and individuals exercising fundamental rights. The Act also provides sanctions against corruption. The current authorization is set to expire in December 2022. 

In their public letter, 12 NGOs, including ADF International, Open Doors USA, the Global Peace Foundation and others have called for “the reauthorization of the Global Magnitsky Act” and “greater use of the Act against gross violators of religious freedom.” They argue that “the current Global Magnitsky Act, as well as other sanctions and humanitarian aid tools, continue to be vital as the world addresses the atrocities being committed in Ukraine.” 

Effective sanctions tool 

The Global Magnitsky Act has formed the basis for targeted sanctions against religious freedom violators. Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor based in Turkey, was held by Turkish authorities for over a year without charges based on spurious and discriminatory allegations of terrorism. When those officials who were responsible for his detention faced Global Magnitsky sanctions, he was finally released in 2018. 

In order to retain the Act’s effectiveness, the NGOs call for the retention of the Act’s current “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” standard. Others have argued that the current “gross violations” standard is insufficient for religious freedom cases and propose to replace it with a “serious human rights abuse” standard. The NGOs, however, highlight the sufficiency and effectiveness of the current language, along with the problems the “undefined and inherently unpredictable” proposed new language and permanent reauthorization raises. Instead, the NGOs argue that “the Act should be used more frequently to sanction gross violators of religious freedom, as unfortunately, individuals and communities are coming under increasing assaults because of their faith from persecutors around the world.” 

Numerous Senate and House members have raised similar concerns about the proposed new language while calling for the reauthorization of the Global Magnitsky Act under the current “gross violations” standard. 

Read the full letter here

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