Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:31 pm on 29th July 2020.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State, The Minister of State, Department for International Development 5:31 pm, 29th July 2020

My Lords, the regulations before us were laid on Monday 6 July under the powers provided by the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The regulations were made on 5 July.

In his Statement to the House of Commons on 6 July, which was also debated in this House, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary set out the Government’s vision for a truly global Britain. He underlined our commitment to being an even stronger force for good in the world—on climate change, as we host COP 26; on gender equality, as we champion 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world; and on human rights, as we defend media freedoms and protect freedom of religion or belief.

These regulations demonstrate that the Government are acting on this commitment. They give the UK a powerful tool to hold to account those involved in the worst human rights violations and abuses around the world. As noble Lords know, the idea of taking targeted action against human rights violators and abusers originated as a cross-party initiative, and the Foreign Secretary has paid tribute to contributions of parliamentarians from all sides. My colleagues and I have been grateful for the strong words of support from all parties upon laying the regulations earlier this month. I am proud that this Government are bringing into force the UK’s first autonomous human rights sanctions regime. I add my personal thanks to Members of your Lordships’ House. We work on this agenda, and we have done so over not just many months but many years, and I am grateful to many noble Lords around the Chamber who I know support the steps the Government are taking and the important issue of standing up for human rights for all around the world. I pay tribute to each and every one of my fellow noble Lords.

I now turn to the purpose of these regulations. As the Foreign Secretary has stated, we have designed these sanctions as a forensic tool which will allow us to target perpetrators and abusers without punishing the wider population of a country. The regulations will enable us to impose travel bans and asset freezes against those involved in serious human rights violations and abuses. The rights in question include: the right to life; the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and the right to be free from slavery, servitude or forced or compulsory labour. The powers also enable us to target the larger network involved in such activities, including those who facilitate, incite, promote, support or profit from these crimes. This extends beyond state officials to include non-state actors.

These regulations are the next step forward in the long struggle against impunity for the very worst human rights violations, and we will continue to explore expanding this regime to include other human rights. We are already considering how a corruption regime could be added to our armoury of legal weapons. In particular, we will look at the UN Convention against Corruption and at practice under existing frameworks in jurisdictions such as the United States and Canada.

For maximum transparency, we have also published a policy note which sets out how we will consider designations under these regulations. The legislation will ensure that due process is followed in relation to designations, reflecting the rigorous process rights contained in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018.

In practice, those people designated will be able to request that a Minister reviews the decision and, as a matter of due diligence, the Government will review all designations at least once every three years. As the Foreign Secretary has said, we welcome the ongoing and rigorous engagement by parliamentarians on these important measures. We will continue to report to Parliament, as required under Sections 30 and 32 of the sanctions Act, in order to provide Parliament with regular opportunities to scrutinise the operation of the human rights sanctions. Parliamentarians can, of course, continue to engage with the Government by the usual means, including by writing directly to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary.

As your Lordships will be aware, in addition to introducing this new legal regime, the Foreign Secretary has announced the first set of designations under the regulations, targeting individuals and organisations involved in some of the most notorious human rights violations in recent years. These names are published online. Those sanctioned include individuals involved in the torture and murder of Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer who disclosed the biggest known tax fraud in Russian history. They also include those responsible for the brutal murder of the writer and journalist Jamal Khashoggi; those who are responsible for the systematic and brutal violence against the Rohingya population in Myanmar; and two organisations which bear responsibility for the enslavement, torture and murder that take place in North Korea’s gulags, in which it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of prisoners have perished over the past 50 years.

With these first designations, this Government and this country make it crystal clear to those who abuse their power to inflict unimaginable suffering that we will not look the other way. I will not speculate on who we may target in future, but rest assured that we continue to consider targets, guided by the human rights objectives of the regulations and, of course, the evidence.

In practice, targeted sanctions are most effective when they are backed by co-ordinated and collective international action, so we will work with our Five Eyes partners, in particular the US and Canadian Governments, who already have Magnitsky-style sanctions legislation, as well as the Australian Government, who are considering similar legislation, but we also strongly support efforts to bring into effect an EU human rights sanctions regime, and we stand ready to co-ordinate with our European partners on future measures. I beg to move.