Congress Passes Global Magnitsky Act; Legislation Includes Tools to Fight Human Rights Abuses Abroad

Yesterday, Congress passed the Global Magnitsky Act as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017. The Magnitsky Act gives the U.S. government the authority to deny U.S. visas and freeze the U.S. assets of anyone who has committed “gross violations of human rights” against anti-corruption activists or human rights defenders around the world. The bill was named for the anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison. HRC has long advocated for passage of the bill, which now awaits President Obama’s signature.

While the bill does not include language that explicitly protects LGBTQ people or any other discrete group, key leaders in Congress highlighted how it will benefit LGBTQ advocates around the world, sending a clear message abroad that the U.S. will not tolerate human rights abuses against LGBTQ people. The Magnitsky Act could be used in cases where LGBTQ activists have been tortured, killed or been subjected to other forms of human rights abuses at the hands of government officials.

“Passing this bill is a very positive step,” said HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy. “The more tools the U.S. has available to combat human rights abuses abroad, the more the U.S. can do to help to protect LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups.”

The final version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which contained the Magnitsky Act, also importantly did not include a House-passed provision that would have dramatically expanded religious discrimination with taxpayer funds and undermined President Obama’s executive order prohibiting LGBTQ discrimination in federal contracting. The provision — proposed by Representative Steve Russell (R-OK) under the guise of so-called “religious liberty” — had been previously included in the House version of the bill, but not in the Senate version. Conferees did not include it in the conference report.

Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and John McCain (R-AZ) co-sponsored The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act in the Senate and Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) in the House. In addition to the tools mentioned above, the bill also directs the U.S. government to consider information from civil society organizations and Members of Congress when deciding on these sanctions.