Estonia last week became the first European country to pass a Magnitsky-style law to stop human rights abusers entering the country.
Named after Russian whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky – who was beaten to death in a Moscow jail in 2009 after exposing an alleged multi-billion dollar fraud by tax officials – the new legislation will allow Estonia to block individuals’ entry to the country if there is good reason to believe they took part in activities which resulted in the “death or serious damage to [the] health of a person” or their “unfounded conviction… for [a] criminal offence on political grounds”.
The new law, which was passed unanimously by the country’s parliament last Thursday, is an amendment to Estonia’s 1998 Obligation to Leave and Prohibition on Entry Act.
“We will finally have the ability to ban entry into Estonia for those types of people who beat Magnitsky to death in jail and those who tortured Nadiya Savchenko,” commented Eerik-Niiles Kross, an MP from Estonia’s Reform Party, who tabled the amendment.
Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot, was released in May after being sentenced to 22 years in a Russian jail for the murder of two journalists. Savchenko was pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin and swapped for two Russian intelligence workers – Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alexander Alexandrov – who were flown from Kiev to Moscow prior to her release.
Speaking at a public ceremony, Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid said: “The act was elaborated to consider the recommendations of the European Parliament and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly regarding the refusal of a visa to those persons who are guilty of violating the human rights of Sergei Magnitsky and causing his death, which could be imposed in future similar situations.”
Responding to the passing of the new law, Magnitsky’s former employer Bill Browder, a US businessman who leads the global Magnitsky justice campaign, commented: “President Kaljulaid has taken a quantum leap forward in the global fight against corruption and human rights. We expect other European countries to follow soon. In the future, there will be nowhere to hide for corrupt officials and human rights violators.”
The news came as legislators in the US passed a similar act, also named after Magnitsky. The US Magnitsky Act allows American officials to block visas and freeze assets belonging to any person suspected of “gross violations of human rights”.
In a similar move, British MPs last week called for the introduction of a UK Magnitsky amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill. The proposed law would allow British judges to freeze the assets of human rights abusers, in a move partly designed to help London shake off its reputation as the money laundering capital of the world.