Arrest of Navalny shows need for Irish Magnitsky bill

18 January 2021
  • Ireland must lead on human rights abuses and use Security Council seat to make an impact.
  • Howlin’s Proceeds of Crime (Gross Human Rights Abuses) Bill, based on the Magnitsky Bill would allow for CAB to seize assets in Ireland that result from international human rights abuses.

The arrest today, and previous poisoning of the Russian opposition leader Alexi Navalny shows the urgent need for more action by Ireland to ensure human rights abuses are punished, said Labour Foreign Affairs spokesperson Brendan Howlin, adding that we need to do more than just speak out.

Deputy Howlin said:

“The arrest today of the Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, following his previous poisoning shows the impunity with which some are acting in Russia. After his poisoning last year the Minister for Foreign Affairs said Ireland ‘will not be silent in the face of such an incident’ but words alone are not enough after his arrest and jailing today for 30 days.

“Before Christmas I introduced in the Dáil the Proceeds of Crime (Gross Human Rights Abuses) Bill, based on the Magnitsky Bill which would have the potential to impose sanctions on those who perpetuate human rights abuses. 

“I hope that the Government will agree to support this legislation which is in place in many other countries including the UK and US. What the arrest shows once again is that we need a tool in our own armoury to tackle human rights abuses.

“Ireland is a hub for international financial services, and we need an effective sanction in law to allow for the identification and seizure of any money or assets that results from human rights abuses.

“These events in Russia follow the documentation of human rights abuses in China including the revelation of concentration camps for Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China, and the restriction of civil liberties in Hong Kong.

“If we are to stand for anything we must be vocal in condemning these crimes and abuses. With a seat now on the United Nations Security Council Ireland must be vocal and I hope that we can continue to stand up for the key tenets that were central to our campaign, and that gained us the respect of other Member States. Principled, consistent and courageous engagement on human rights and the multilateral system must be at the heart of our international engagement.”



The original Magnitsky Act was a bipartisan measure passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Obama in 2012, intending to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of a tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in 2009.

Mr Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison after investigating a $230 million fraud involving Russian tax officials. Magnitsky was accused of committing the fraud himself and detained. While in prison, he was refused medical treatment and, after almost a year, was allegedly beaten to death while in custody. His friends publicised the case and lobbied American officials to pass legislation sanctioning Russian individuals involved in corruption.

Since 2016 the Act, which applies globally, authorizes the US government to sanction those who it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the U.S.

More generally, Magnitsky legislation refers to laws providing for government sanctions against foreign individuals who have committed human rights abuses or been involved in significant corruption.

A number of countries have passed legislation similar to the US version, including Russia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

In February 2017 the UK House of Commons unanimously passed an amendment to the what became the Criminal Finances Act 2017 inspired by the Magnitsky Act that would allow the government to freeze the assets of international human rights violators in the UK.

The Howlin Bill is along similar lines. It amends and expands the definition of ‘criminal conduct’ that can trigger a CAB application under the Proceeds of Crime Acts.

At present, criminal conduct means either an offence in the State or conduct which occurs outside the State and which constitutes both an offence under the law of the State, if it had occurred here, and an offence under the law of the place where it occurred.

The expanded definition provides that conduct is criminal if it occurs outside the State, it would constitute an offence if it occurred within the State and it constitutes, or is connected with, a gross human rights abuse.

In order to trigger a CAB application, there must be property in the State that was obtained or received by or as a result of or in connection with the criminal conduct.

A gross human rights abuse is defined as conduct –

  • carried out by, or at the instigation or with the consent or acquiescence of, a public official, in the performance or purported performance of official duties,
  • involving the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, physical or mental, on, or the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of, a person who has sought to expose illegal activity carried out by a public official, or to obtain, exercise, defend or promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, and
  • it is carried out in consequence of that person having sought to expose illegal activities or to exercise human rights.

Conduct is ‘connected’ with a gross human rights abuse if it involves acting as an agent for another in connection with a gross human rights abuse, directing or sponsoring such an activity, profiting from such an activity, or providing material assistance in support of or in connection with the carrying out of such an activity, including by providing goods or services or financial or technological assistance.

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