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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Lawmakers probe Magnitsky Act updates after Khashoggi fallout

Mar 25, 2021
In The News

Experts told the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a House body that focuses on human rights around the world, that the Global Magnitsky Act had been a game-changer since it was passed in 2016. The law provides sweeping human-rights and anti-corruption sanctions authorities to the executive branch, but it will expire in late 2022.

Trump signed an executive order expanding Global Magnitsky Act penalties in 2017, modifying the scope of sanctionable activity defined by the law. The order dropped the “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” standard in favor of a “serious human rights abuse” standard. The Human Rights Commission's Republican cochair, Rep. Chris Smith, said Wednesday that the “vague and amorphous” new standard undercut lawmakers’ intent.

“When we passed the Global Magnitsky Act, our intent was to anchor the act in internationally recognized standards, so that the United States could maintain global leadership on human rights,” Smith said. “By changing the standard to serious violations and by tying the application of the Global Magnitsky to the U.S. emergency determination, we have disassociated it from the global rights norms from which the global community has formed a consensus.”

House lawmakers are still working on their version of the bill.

The Commission's Democratic cochair, Rep. Jim McGovern, "is interested in trying to broaden the standard somewhat,” said an aide to the lawmaker, who spoke on background to discuss the unfinished legislation.

McGovern wants to “anchor” the definition in human-rights law, the aide said, and avoid giving the executive branch too much discretion.

“The second concern is that interpretation [of human-rights violations] in the absence of some kind of definition—it’s difficult to get consistent interpretation when you get out to the countries and embassies that actually have to implement this stuff,” the aide said.

117th Congress