The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act

Updated October 28, 2020
The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act
The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act
consequence,” and is committed to not engaging in future
(Global Magnitsky Act, Title XII, Subtitle F of P.L. 114-
sanctionable activity. The President may also terminate the
328; 22 U.S.C. §2656 note) authorizes the President to
imposition of sanctions if he finds it in the U.S. national
impose economic sanctions and deny entry into the United
security interests to do so.
States to any foreign person identified as engaging in
human rights abuse or corruption.
Implementing the Act
On December 20, 2017, President Trump issued Executive
Order (E.O.) 13818, finding that “the prevalence and
The Global Magnitsky Act takes the terms of a prior
severity of human rights abuse and corruption ... have
Russia-focused law, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law
reached such scope and gravity that they threaten the
Accountability Act of 2012 (title IV of P.L. 112-208; 22
stability of international political and economic systems”
U.S.C. §5811 note), to the global stage. Sergei Magnitsky, a
and “constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the
tax lawyer and auditor in Russia, documented rampant tax
national security, foreign policy, and economy of the
fraud and other corruption by individuals associated with
United States,” invoking the Global Magnitsky Act and
the Russian government. Magnitsky was arrested in
emergency authorities stated in the National Emergencies
November 2008, reportedly for tax evasion, and denied
Act (NEA; P.L. 94-412; 50 U.S.C. §§1601 et seq.) and
medical care, family visits, and due legal process. While in
International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA;
custody, he was reportedly beaten and possibly tortured. He
P.L. 95-223; 50 U.S.C. §§1701 et seq.).
died in prison in November 2009. Congress passed the
E.O. 13818, which the Treasury Department describes as
Sergei Magnitsky Act to require the President to identify
building upon and implementing the Global Magnitsky Act,
the person(s) involved in the detention, abuse, or death of
includes differences in language that expand the scope
Magnitsky, and the ensuing cover-up, or those responsible
beyond that stated in the law. The E.O. broadens the
for gross human rights violations against persons in Russia.
standard of behavior for potentially sanctionable targets
Identified individuals are subject to blocking of assets under
from those responsible for statutorily defined “gross
U.S. jurisdiction, prohibited from U.S. transactions, and
violations of internationally recognized human rights”
denied entry into the United States.
against certain individuals (as described above), to those
Going Global
determined “to be responsible for or complicit in, or to have
directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights
The Global Magnitsky Act effectively globalizes the
abuse.” The E.O. does not define “serious human rights
authorities of the 2012 law by authorizing the President to
abuse.” Similarly, the E.O. refers simply to “corruption,”
deny entry into the United States, revoke any already-issued
rather than law’s “acts of significant corruption.” The E.O.
visa, and block property under U.S. jurisdiction of, and
additionally specifies additional categories of persons as
prohibit U.S. persons from entering into transactions with,
potential sanction targets, including, for example, any
any foreign person (individual or entity) that the President
person determined “to be or have been a leader or official
of” an entity “that has engaged in, or whose members have
 is “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other engaged in” serious human rights abuse or corruption.
gross violations of internationally recognized human
The E.O. delegates sanctions determinations to the
rights,” as defined at 22 U.S.C. §2304(d(1), against
Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary
those working (1) to expose illegal activities of
of State and the Attorney General. As is the case with
government officials or (2) to obtain, exercise, defend,
sanctions regimes generally, the Department of the
or promote human rights and freedoms, including rights
Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)
to a fair trial and democratic elections; or
administers the economic sanctions, while the State

Department implements visa sanctions. The Global
is a foreign government official responsible for acts of
Magnitsky Act sunsets on December 23, 2022. Because the
significant corruption, a senior associate of such an
President invoked national emergency authorities to target
official, or a facilitator of such acts, which include the
human rights abusers, sanctions could continue beyond the
expropriation of private or public assets for personal
expiration of the Global Magnitsky Act. The President has
gain, corruption in government contracts or natural
annually renewed the national emergency under E.O.
resource extraction, bribery, or the offshore sheltering of
13818, most recently in December 2019.
ill-gotten gains.
The act authorizes the President to terminate the application
To date, OFAC has publicly designated 107 individuals
of sanctions if the President determines that the designee
did not engage in the activity for which sanctions were
under E.O. 13818, with 105 currently active designations
imposed; has been prosecuted for the offense; or has
following two removals. In 2017, 15 individuals were
designated, followed by 28 in 2018, 52 in 2019, and 12 in
changed his or her behavior, “paid an appropriate

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act
2020 to date (see Table 1 below). Among active
Congressional Input on Designations
designations, 60 individuals are designated primarily for
In making sanctions determinations, the law requires the
human rights abuse, 42 are designated primarily for
President to consider information provided jointly by the
corruption, and 3 are designated for both human rights
chairperson and ranking member of certain committees—
abuse and corruption. Also currently designated are 105
Senate Banking and Foreign Relations, and House Financial
entities—many due to their being owned or controlled by a
Services and Foreign Affairs—as well as credible
designated individual. Countries with five or more
information obtained by foreign countries and
individuals designated include Saudi Arabia (17
nongovernmental human rights organizations. A separate
individuals), Uganda (11), Serbia (10), Burma (9), Iraq (8),
provision, Section 1263(d), requires the President to
South Sudan (8), China (7), and Cambodia (6). In some
respond within 120 days to requests from the
instances, the executive branch has designated numerous
aforementioned committee leadership to determine whether
individuals in relation to one case of human right abuse or
a foreign person has engaged in sanctionable activity under
corruption (for example, see “Section 1263(d) and Jamal
the law and whether or not the President intends to impose
Khashoggi” at right).
sanctions. When signing the bill into law, however,

President Barack Obama singled out this latter requirement
The Global Magnitsky Act requires the President to report
as a challenge to constitutional separation of powers and
to Congress annually, by December 10, on designations
indicated that he would “maintain [his] discretion to decline
made over the previous year. According to the December
to act on such requests when appropriate.”
2019 report, the United States prioritizes actions “that are
expected to produce a tangible and significant impact on the
sanctioned person and their affiliates, to prompt changes in
In October 2018, the then-chairman and ranking
behavior or disrupt the activities of malign actors.”
member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,
joined by other Senators, pursuant to Section 1263(d)
Table 1. Designations in 2020 to Date
requested a determination from the President
concerning Global Magnitsky sanctions with respect to
“any foreign person responsible” for gross human
First Vice President of South Sudan Taban Deng
rights violations against Saudi journalist Jamal
Gai sanctioned for reportedly arranging and
Khashoggi. In November 2018, the Trump
directing the disappearance and deaths of a human
Administration announced Global Magnitsky sanctions
rights lawyer and opposition figure.
against 17 Saudi officials “for having a role” in
Khsahoggi’s killing. The Administration ultimately
Six current or former Chinese government
declined, however, to provide a determination in
officials, including Communist Party Secretary of
response to the congressional request, prompting
the Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) Chen
criticism from some Members of Congress.
Quanguo, designated for serious human rights
abuse against ethnic minorities in XUAR. Also
Other Sanctions Authorities
designated were the Xinjiang Public Security
Bureau and the Xinjiang Production and
Congress has enacted other broad sanctions authorities to
Construction Corps.
target human rights abusers or individuals involved in other
nefarious activities, as well as country-specific laws that
Two Ugandan judges, a Ugandan lawyer, and the
aim to impose sanctions for these reasons. In addition, the
lawyer’s husband sanctioned for participating in a
President has used emergency authorities in the NEA and
corrupt adoption scheme involving Ugandan
IEEPA to impose economic sanctions on individuals in
children being taken from their families under
certain countries. Section 212 of the Immigration and
false promises of overseas education.
Nationality Act similarly provides the Secretary of State
A Chinese state-owned entity, Union
with broad authority to impose entry denials. A recurring
Development Group Co., Ltd., designated for
provision, Section 7031(c), in annual foreign operations
“seizure and demolition of local Cambodians’
appropriations requires the Secretary of State to deny visas
land” for the construction of a development
to enter the United States to foreign officials and their
project in Cambodia. The company was
immediate family members about whom the Secretary has
credible information that the individual is “invo
designated for acting for or behalf of a previously
lved in
sanctioned Cambodian general, Kun Kim.
significant corruption … or a gross violation of human
rights.” In some cases, the executive branch has publicly
Former First Lady of The Gambia, Zineb Souma
sanctioned individuals both pursuant to this appropriations
Yahya Jammeh, for having assisted, sponsored, or
provision as well as under E.O. 13818 or other economic
provided support to her husband, Yayha Jammeh,
sanctions programs.
who was previously designated for human rights
This In Focus updates a prior version authored by Dianne
abuse and corruption.
E. Rennack, Specialist in Foreign Policy Legislation.
Nabah Ltd., sanctioned due to being owned or
Michael A. Weber, Analyst in Foreign Affairs
control ed by Ashraf Seed Ahmed Al-Cardinal, a
Edward J. Collins-Chase, Research Assistant
Sudanese national previously designated for
Source: Department of the Treasury press releases.

The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act

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