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Rights groups target police, spy chiefs globally under new US law

  • Published at 09:23 pm September 13th, 2017
Rights groups target police, spy chiefs globally under new US law

Police and spy chiefs from China to the Middle East, a Ukrainian oligarch and a former president of Panama are among the people a coalition of human rights groups wants targeted for sanctions under an expanded US law aimed at curbing rights abuses and corruption worldwide.

The coalition submitted 15 cases to the US State Department and US Treasury, urging them to investigate using the law, called the Global Magnitsky Act.

The law, which then-president Barack Obama signed in December 2016, expands the scope of 2012 legislation that froze the assets of Russian officials and banned them from travelling to the United States because of their links to the 2009 death in prison of a whistleblower, Sergey Magnitsky.

"The cases we have elected to highlight come from every region of the world, and involve horrific stories of torture, enforced disappearance, murder, sexual assault, extortion and bribery," the coalition of 23 groups said in a letter to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The groups said their information came from first-hand accounts of victims and their attorneys, investigative journalism and reports by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Police chiefs, public prosecutors and heads of security services in Bahrain, China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Central Asian countries where prisoners were tortured, executed or died in custody are on the list compiled by the groups, which are coordinated by Washington-based Human Rights First.

Among them are Chinese Deputy Minister of Public Security Fu Zhenghua and Beijing's Municipal Public Security Bureau deputy head Tao Jing. The groups accuse the two officials of bearing "command responsibility" for actions of forces under their control in the torture and 2014 death of human rights activist Cao Shunli.

Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch indicted by a US court in 2013 on bribery and other charges, is on the list. He denies wrongdoing and is fighting extradition from Austria.

Another target is former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli, who is jailed in Florida facing extradition to Panama on charges he conducted illegal surveillance and stole state funds while in office. Martinelli has repeatedly denied the charges.

Robust implementation?

US President Donald Trump, a Republican who did not stress global human rights as a foreign policy priority during his presidential campaign or early months in office, told Congress in April that he was committed to "robust and thorough implementation" of the Magnitsky law.

His administration has yet to impose sanctions or travel bans under it, but an official said the process of identifying potential targets "is both internal and external. We have received nominations from multiple sources including the United States Congress and NGOs."

Acting on the recommendations could pose risks for Trump if targeted governments retaliated. Washington needs Beijing's help in pressuring North Korea to halt its missile and nuclear tests, for example.

The original Magnitsky legislation strained relations between Moscow and Washington. Magnitsky, a tax accountant and lawyer, was arrested in 2008 shortly after accusing Russian officials of involvement in fraud, and died in prison nearly a year later while awaiting trial.

The human rights coalition also hopes that pressure from politicians such as Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, the authors of the original legislation and the update, will spur the Trump administration into action.