Over the last few years a worrying global trend can be seen: the protection of human rights is under a lot of pressure. Human rights, civil liberties, the rule of law and democracies are actively undermined by an increasing number of authoritarian and populist driven governments.
In the post World War 2 order the major powers United States, Western Europe, Soviet Union and China founded the United Nations to maintain peace on earth. Despite prolonged internal divisions due to the Cold War the UN has set global standards through various human rights conventions. These standards are not always lived up to by the signatories of the human rights conventions, even when they are called upon through resolutions in the General Assembly or Security Council. Often this has to do with the lack of leverage over the offenders or lack of UN consensus to sanction. Meanwhile, violations can continue unsanctioned and reducing the credibility of human rights conventions and platforms meant to uphold them.
In a globalized world, it has become very easy and convenient for corrupt government officials and other people related to these regimes to hide overseas their unaccounted for money and other assets. Often through legal constructions and laws, but with illegally obtained money, for example government money or other corruptly obtained money. The transfer of this money and assets is legally facilitated by foreign countries, also in the EU.
High level officials in authoritarian and corrupt regimes often are involved in systematic human rights offences, for example through the abuse of the legal system having people locked up on bogus charges, without any prove. Removing inconvenient opposition, human rights activists, or journalists from the public eye. Or assassination of opponents without any accountability of the people ordering the crime, for example in the case of the murder of Russian former deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov.
As we speak, Ukrainian film maker Oleg Sentsov is serving a 20 year prison sentence in Russia after having been arrested in Crimea in 2014. The charges against him include “organizing a terrorist organisation” and “terrorist acts committed by an organized group”. No proof was presented. Sentsov is now in hunger strike for 6 weeks, and in a deteriorating health condition. He is just one out of many examples inside and outside of Russia.
The two phenomena, corrupt enrichment stored away in foreign (western) countries and human rights offences, are related: the powerful elite and oligarchy. With their foreign assets they use our western liberties, freedom, and privileges based on their (often) criminally obtained riches. The liberties, freedoms and privileges they are involved in denying to their citizens. Not only is that their own double morale, it takes western complicity to accommodate that double morale within our borders. That should stop.
When UN conventions and resolutions, EU resolutions or verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights don’t help, other measures are necessary.
Human Rights Accountability Law
The European Union is a (human rights and democracy) values based union, as stipulated clearly in its Charter. The EU sets standards on human rights, civil liberties, fighting corruption, and underscores the importance of promoting that globally, and living up to them. Words are not enough, when conventions, verdicts and resolutions can be freely ignored by corrupt governments or their officials.
Therefore, it is entirely logical to introduce in line with Canada and the United States, a global Human Rights Accountability Law inspired on the original Magnitsky Act. This would set a standard enabling the EU to put human rights offenders and other corrupt officials on a sanction list, disallowing them entry into the EU, blocking access to their bank accounts and their assets. This is the way to live up to our “moral high ground”: to put money where our mouth is. It would be hypocritical to facilitate human rights offenders with our privileges and services and accommodating their theft of public money.
In another parallel development, increasing numbers of foreign riches legally obtain passports of EU states bypassing the regular immigration procedures when they invest a certain amount of money in that country, called a “golden passport” procedure. This does not always have to be investing in a business, but can also be buying (expensive) property. Apart from this legal inequality compared to “ordinary immigrants”, much of this happens with dirty money. It is in other words a whitewash of money, and it buys these people legal protection from their original country by having (literally buying) a foreign passport. Popular countries are Cyprus, Malta and the UK, among a few others.
Within the EU there are different rules for this “golden immigration”. In most countries this would only result in a residence permit, with the standard right to apply for a citizenship after a number of years through the ordinary procedure. In a handful EU member states it is possible to directly obtain a passport which immediately gives freedom of residence, work etc. within the entire EU. The latter option needs to be addressed in the EU, especially in combination with a Human Rights Accountability Law, as otherwise offenders can buy themselves into the EU easily to anticipate on and bypass sanctions.
The EU as a values based union should not tolerate foreign human rights offenders to abuse our facilities and privileges. It should sanction instead of facilitate enrichment of human rights offenders and corrupt government officials. It should disallow them acces here, disallow them stashing away illegally obtained money, or properties bought with that money, and it should put an end to immigration and naturalization privileges through financially driven legal inequality and programs.
This is doing our own homework, directly related to upholding our own standards within our own borders.
Text: Jelger Groeneveld;
top banner © European Union 2015 – European Parliament;
middle: Oleg Kuznetsov;
bottom: Jelger Groeneveld