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A New Way To Fight Human Rights Violations


Obama’s failed Syria policy has brought renewed attention to the Russian-US relationship, and Putin’s headline grabbing NYT op-ed on the Syria situation has only increased that attention. In light of that, American Interest publisher Charles Davidson’s interview with Hermitage Capital co-founder and CEO William Browder is particularly timely.

In the interview, Davidson and Browder discuss the Magnitsky Act, which denies visas to and freezes any US assets of Russians involved in the imprisonment and death of Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky was a lawyer who died because he uncovered fraud by Russian tax officials, and he worked for Browder.  The interview is a fascinating look at the origins, effects, and future of the act. The also discuss whether it could become a model for broader US policy:

CD: Now, if we look at this more broadly, is the Magnitsky Act replicable to deal with similar situations in other countries where gross human rights violations have become systemic? In other words, is this the basis of a new politics of humanitarian interventionism? And if so, is that desirable?

WB: In my opinion, this is the new technology for dealing with human rights abuses throughout the world. It’s like the iPad for human rights advocacy. The reason is that the world has become very globalized in the past twenty years, and people who commit human rights abuses in their countries increasingly do it for economic gain. It used to be that the only tool human rights advocates and activists had was to be had through the voice of a Western government condemning an atrocity. What we found was that, if autocrats and dictators want to commit human rights abuses, they don’t care what the U.S. government or the European Union says. But if they’re not able to travel, if their children aren’t able to attend Western schools, if their bank accounts are getting frozen, there are personal consequences that make them very scared.

Read the whole thing to get a full picture of the promise of the act, and the future of similar measures.

[Photo courtesy of Getty Images.]

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  • Corlyss

    Human rights as a topic of policy is best left to NGOs, not to governments. It’s a quixotic dalliance with misplaced emphasis and short-sighted interests and unproductive pursuits that have little or nothing to do with a nation’s strategic interests. It has no place in a nation’s foreign policy. If the US would just focus on spreading prosperity (assuming we can ever wrest the policy-making tools away from Boomer utopians) thru globalization, human rights will take care of themselves thru the rise of the middle class everywhere.

    • Fred

      I wish that were true, but I think it’s a bit naive. Cultural differences are much deeper and more difficult to overcome than many Westerners, particularly Americans, would like to admit. Our ideals of freedom and prosperity are not, despite our fondest wishes, universal. There is not, as the Marine colonel in Full Metal Jacket put it, in everyone in the world “an American struggling to get out.”

      • Corlyss

        ? Don’t understand what you’re disagreeing with me about.

        • Fred

          That human rights will take care of themselves through the rise of the middle class everywhere. Human rights by our lights means individual rights. The individual is not as important in every culture as s/he is in ours. Hierarchy is still considered natural and necessary in many cultures, making development of a middle class unlikely even if productivity and overall wealth increase. Stability is still seen as conflicting with freedom in some cultures, and those cultures tend to value stability over freedom. In such cultures, even where a middle class arises, it is not necessarily a harbinger of political liberalization.

          • Corlyss

            It’s worked a lot of places we didn’t think possible. But I take your point. I remain optimistic, although I don’t expect to see it in my lifetime.

  • bpuharic

    Failed Syria policy?

    Oh…that’s right. No Americans have died there. THe right calls that a failure

  • lukelea

    But if they’re not able to travel, if their children aren’t able to attend Western schools, if their bank accounts are getting frozen, there are personal consequences that make them very scared.

    Or even use a credit card. This is the way to go.

    • Kevin

      I think I agree, but…
      Are sanctions against the (largely innocent) children of human rights violators ethical? We have a long tradition of not assigning the sins of the father to the son. The Constitution prevents corruption of the blood even for the grossest treason. The taking of hostages to ensure political deals are honored is reviled. On the other hand we have an even longer tradition of using or threatening violence and sanctions against innocents to influence leaders’ behavior.

      • lukelea

        I was thinking here of sanctions targeting the elite, not the general populace, though perhaps that is not a distinction that can be easily maintained.

  • Alexander Scipio

    Always interesting to read criticisms of what basically are minimal Western violations of human rights as the entire world adamantly refuses to deal with the gross & ongoing violations of human rights by a barbaric culture stuck in the Dark Ages – about which no one in a position of power across the entire West is willing to do anything at all – other than apologize for it.

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