Presentation of Magnitsky Awards shows strength of movement
The presentation of the Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Awards 2015, honouring nine prominent politicians, lawyers, and journalists for their support of the Magnitsky campaign, took place in London on 16 November, six years after the death of the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee and a range of civil society organizations, law firms and opposition media supported the Awards. – The presentation of the Awards manifested the increasing strength of the campaign, which is now developing into a movement, said Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “It attracts an increasing number and varied group of people.”
Among the nine persons honoured with the Awards were Canadian former MP and human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler, British human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, Thor Halvorsen, head of the Human Rights Foundation and the leader of the Oslo Freedom Forum, and a range of prominent politicians and investigative journalists. Zhanna Nemtsova, the daughter of Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition politician killed outside the Kremlin on 27 February this year, received the award posthumously on behalf of her father.
On 16 November 2009, Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died after 358 days in pre-trial detention. His death resulted from appalling prison conditions, torture and lack of medical treatment. – Magnitsky’s “crime” was that he exposed tax fraud worth 230 million US Dollar, the largest in Russia’s history, said Engesland. “He was a whistle-blower in the true sense of the word, and should have been thanked by the state. Not killed.”
Magnitsky, a renowned tax law expert, uncovered that a network of public officials, police and criminals defrauded the state using companies they had stolen from Hermitage Capital Management, an international investment fund founded and led by businessperson Bill Browder. They succeeded in getting Magnitsky arrested on 24 November 2008.
– The Magnitsky case has become a symbol of how corruption and abuse of power leads to violations of human rights. Whistle-blowers risk strong, even lethal, reactions when they inform the public about extensive crimes committed by government officials. They need our solidarity and support, said Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary General. “That is why the Magnitsky movement is so important. It has shown that democratic countries have a range of effective tools they can use to address serious human rights violations in authoritarian countries. The question is if they are willing to use them.”
Russian authorities have completely failed to bring any of those responsible for the tax fraud Magnitsky uncovered, or those who tortured and killed him, to justice. The Magnitsky campaign, led by Browder, has therefore focused on promoting prosecutions and targeted sanctions in Western countries against those involved.
The campaign succeeded in December 2012 in getting US authorities to introduce legislation, which prohibits entry into the country and freezes assets of persons who were responsible for the tax fraud and the human rights abuses against Magnitsky. The legislation also targets officials who were not involved in the Magnitsky case, but committed gross violations of human rights against other whistle-blowers or human rights defenders.
According to Cotler, one of the Award recipients, Canada is now likely to adopt Magnitsky sanctions. – It would be very important if Canada adopts a global Magnitsky law, said Engesland. “In a recent policy paper, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee argued that Norway and other democratic countries should establish global Magnitsky sanctions. We need countries to take a lead, such as the US has done and as the Canada now is likely to do. That will increase the likelihood of other countries following suit.”
About the Magnitsky Awards:
Norwegian Helsinki Committee Policy Paper: “Norway and other democratic states should establish global Magnitsky mechanisms”