Sanctions policy and Ukraine: improve the domestic and get involved in working out the European one

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union was the only human rights NGO that held a side event during the Kyiv Security Forum attended by dozens of Ukrainian and foreign experts. The discussion was devoted to Ukraine’s strategy on advocating for sanctions to be imposed by the Western countries against persons involved into violations of Ukrainian citizens’ rights. This is of particular importance since protection of human rights, which are an integral part of security issue, – is too often left behind when talking about security.

The discussion entitled “Is the Global Sentsov Act possible? Ukrainian strategy in order to make life of human rights abusers more complicated” was joined by Bill Browder (albeit online, as he considers visiting Ukraine in person dangerous). He is being an initiator of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act adopted by the United States in 2012. Mr. Browder provided updates as regard perspectives of adoption of the EU Global Human Rights Act, which, unfortunately, were disappointing. The Act definitely won’t be adopted before the European Parliament elections in May 2019, and even after, at best, the decision will be made no sooner that the end of the year. The good news is that the idea of this Act has the support of such powerful states as Germany and France, while Hungary, for instance, has a divergent position. Mr. Browder also expressed his surprise and regret at the fact that Ukraine still had not implemented the Magnitsky Act in its own legislation, as well as that Ukrainian law enforcement is in no hurry to investigate Ukraine’s involvement in the money laundering scheme linked to the murder of Sergei Magnitsky.

“While actively advocating for the sanctions to be imposed by other countries on Russia for committed gross human rights violations, Ukraine itself has not yet adopted the Magnitsky Act. Following my participation in diverse discussions concerning Oleg Sentsov with government officials in various countries, I think that Ukraine should not wait for the EU to adopt the Global Human Rights Act and instead follow the example of the US, Canada, UK, Estonia, and Latvia,” commented Bill Browder (links are in Ukrainian).

Head of the Ukrainian Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, MP Hanna Hopko mentioned the recent developments at the PACE in the context of attempted unconditional reinstatement of the RF’s delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly. In her opinion, this course of events could turn out to be a Pandora’s box and could pave the way for further lifting of sanctions at the level of other institutions, specifically in the European Union.

The speech of Yevhen Pikalov, Director of the Department of International Legal Cooperation of the Prosecutor General’s Office, touched not only upon the capacities of political tools, such as sanctions, but also upon that of criminal prosecution tools. Unfortunately, the options here are currently limited. Thus, the Interpol (which is actually a mechanism for a person’s arrest, not imposing liability) is very precautious about requests from Ukraine and considers each of them for a long while, also arguing that the persons whom Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies intend to put on the wanted list may be regarded as war criminals or as those prosecuted for political reasons. Both of these categories are outside Interpol’s purview. Nevertheless, the international Joint Investigation Team has almost completed its investigation of the very publicized case of shooting down flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014. The case file contains a hundred suspects and soon the trial in the Netherlands will begin. Those who will be found guilty in absentia[1] will be arrested and taken to the place of serving their sentence as soon as they leave the territory of the Russian Federation, since the latter is unlikely to cooperate with the international community considering the current situation. There are citizens of Ukraine as well as of Russia among the above-mentioned hundred suspects. As for the sanctions policy, the representative of the Prosecutor General’s Office stressed the need to introduce penalties for violating sanctions, which the Ukrainian legislation still lacks.

Oleksandr Pavlichenko, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, who also took part in the discussion, outlined the position of human rights community. In particular, he mentioned that Ukrainian legislation on sanctions does not meet international standards and does not properly regulate the general issues of the sanction policy or imposing sanctions against human rights violators. This does not allow to apply to the partner states (which have adopted the Magnitsky Act in different ways) with well-reasoned requests to impose sanctions against the offenders identified by the Government of Ukraine.

“Civil society of Ukraine, and the government as well sometimes, do not understand that the sanctions are not a form of punishment for a specific perpetrator, but rather a form of pressure on those in a position to change the human rights situation, to stop the violations. This makes Ukraine’s sanction policy ineffective and lacking a clearly established goal (requirement) to impose sanctions, achievement of which would result in the lifting of sanctions,” said Oleksandr Pavlichenko.

According to the human rights defender, Ukraine should get involved into shaping of the European agenda relating to development of regulatory acts aimed at imposing sanctions against human rights violators; take steps to increase the effectiveness of its own sanctions; appoint the state body that will be responsible for and coordinating implementation of the national sanctions policy; as well as ensure monitoring of the sanctions’ application.


For reference:

The Kyiv Security Forumis an annual event that acts as a platform for high-level discussion on relevant matters of national security as well as security in the Black Sea region, Europe and globally. Every year over 600 international and Ukrainian leaders, representatives of political, business and civil society circles from more than 35 countries of the world gather to discuss global security trends and challenges in the present-day international relations.

Imposition of personal sanctions has become one of the key ways of reaction of the Western countries to the Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine, as well as hostile activities towards the EU and the US. Sanctions as an instrument, which was invented back in the previous century in the UN, become even more popular under circumstances of the globalization, impunity and inaccessibility of offenders for the justice system. In parallel, the very principle of imposing the sanctions becomes more precise and narrows to the personal restrictive measures, but also become wiser and sophisticated in terms of the attempts of EU to protect themselves from the arguing in the courts.

One of the triggers for personal sanctions imposing the are gross human rights violations against Ukrainians, which also became one of the significant features of the Russia’s aggression. The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 adopted by the US (which, among others, introduced sanctions against the RF’s officials) has become an example for some of other countries. Hence, recently the Dutch Foreign Office proposed to adopt Magnitsky Act-like legislation at the level of EU, not just particular countries. EU Global Human Rights Act should provide the possibility of a consolidated reaction to the human rights abuses around the world.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s sanctions legislation remains far from being perfect, in particular, as regard human rights abusers in occupied Crimea. That makes Ukraine vulnerable, when it comes to advocating of imposing the sanctions against these people at the international level.

[1] Default (special, in absentia) criminal proceeding, takes place in the absence of the defendant.

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