By Hannah Torregoza
Opposition Senator Leila de Lima welcomed on Monday Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s directive to support victims of human rights abuses globally by building on the US Magnitsky Act against rights violators and oppressors in different parts of the world.
Trudeau, in his Mandate Letter for Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne, recently called for the imposition of sanctions against rights violators, not only a travel ban and freezing of assets, but also seized assets transfer to their victims as compensation.
“The recent move of PM Trudeau to propose hefty sanctions for perpetrators of human rights abuses globally is a step in the right direction which reminds the world that rights violations should and never be tolerated by all countries and its leaders,” de Lima said.
“The plight of victims of human rights abuses across the world should not be forgotten as it requires serious attention from leaders who are expected to help them seek justice and improve their plight after enduring unimaginable sufferings brought about by horrific abuses by their perpetrators,” stressed the senator, who is a vocal critic of the Duterte administration.
The Magnitsky Act, or the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, authorizes the US government to sanction human rights offenders by banning entry into the US and freezing the assets of those involved in his persecution and death.
It was enacted by the Obama administration after Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who experienced reprisal after uncovering a tax fraud scheme that linked Russian officials. He was imprisoned in Russia and later died in jail.
Later on, it became a powerful tool for countries to enforce accountability for human rights abuses perpetrated by repressive regimes
It has even inspired other jurisdictions, such as the European Union, to consider adopting similar sanctions for combating impunity, de Lima noted.
Last Dec. 13, Trudeau directed Champagne “to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory and Cabinet processes to deliver on top priorities,” such as an increase to Canadian support abroad for democracy and human rights.
Trudeau also directed that Champagne’s top priorities include building “on the Magnitsky sanctions regime to ensure increased support for victims of human rights violations by developing a framework to transfer seized assets from those who commit grave human rights abuses to their victims, with appropriate judicial oversight.”
Among the perpetrators of serious human rights abuses sanctioned under the US Magnitsky Act were the Commander-in-Chief and Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Burmese security forces, namely, Min Aung Hlaing and Soe Win, respectively, and former senior General in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Kun Kim, among others.
The detained senator said Trudeau’s call to sanction human rights violators across the world should remind oppressive regimes that they cannot escape the consequences of their crimes under international laws.
“Authoritarian and abusive leaders who have no qualms killing people for their own gains are not forever free from accountability. Justice will surely catch up on them no matter what,” said de Lima.
De Lima, who is currently detained at the Philippine National Police (PNP) over drug charges, earlier received support from the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee which unanimously approved a bipartisan resolution calling on the Philippine government to free her from detention and drop all charges against her.
The resolution, authored by US Senators Marco Rubio and Edward Markey, adopted amendments introduced by US Sen. Benjamin Cardin that involved the call for President Donald Trump to impose sanctions under the Magnitsky Act to government officials responsible for “orchestrating” De Lima’s arrest and prolonged detention.
President Duterte and some of his allies have rejected the US resolution and called on the US not to interfere with the country’s justice system.