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UTokyo Law Hub To Host Symposium With Human Rights Watch on the Global Magnitsky Movement and Japan

Updated: Mar 7, 2021

by Paul Namkoong

The UTokyo International Law Training and Research Hub has partnered with Human Rights Watch on a joint symposium to discuss the global Magnitsky movement and its development in Japan.

The virtual event — to be hosted on March 12 and 13, 2021 — aims to generate awareness and discussion about a Japanese implementation of the Magnitsky Act, which sanctions foreign entities complicit in human rights violations or corruption.

The symposium is headlined by leading figures behind the creation and implementation of Magnitsky-style laws in the US, UK, and Canada, respectively. Bill Browder, Head of the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign, Lady Helena Kennedy QC, Director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, and Professor Irwin Cotler, President of the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights, are scheduled to deliver keynote speeches.

Magnitsky Acts Emerge as Viable Tools

Since its first rendition in 2012, Magnitsky-style laws become increasingly popular as a method to deter human rights violations outside of a state’s jurisdiction.

The Magnitsky movement is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who uncovered the largest case of fraud ever committed by the Russian government (US $320 million). He was imprisoned by state officials and allegedly tortured to recant his testimony. Sergei died in prison on Nov. 16, 2009. However, the government found no one responsible.

As a result, the US Congress passed the Sergei Magnitsky Accountability Act in 2012 to prevent corrupt officials in Russia from storing money in safer and more reliable American financial institutions. It would then be followed by the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act in 2017 and US Executive Order 13818, significantly expanding its purview beyond Russia and human rights violations.

While sanctionable offenses under various states’ Magnitsky acts may differ, they generally encompass both serious human rights violations and acts of corruption. Instituting an asset freeze and entry ban, the Act does not overstep territorial boundaries, but rather enforces them for the target of sanctions. More than 275 designations have been made by the US since, including 114 against corporate entities.

In light of this legal innovation, other countries have adopted similar acts, from Canada in 2017, the United Kingdom (UK) in 2020, and the European Union (EU) in the same year. These acts received wide bipartisan support in the countries they were enacted.

The Magnitsky Act in Japan, So Far

The joint symposium is a substantial step for the development of a Japanese version of the Magnitsky law.

Prominent calls to action were first made by the Japan Parliamentary Alliance on China (JPAC), a multi-partisan organization. Bill Browder delivered a video address at a JPAC General Assembly meeting on November 9, 2020.

On January 27, 2021, members from a range of political parties in Japan, from Nakatani Gen of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to Yamao Shiori of the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), met to discuss the establishment of a Japanese Magnitsky Act. “Only Japan among the Group of Seven (leading industrial nations) has not set up the legislation,” said Yamao.

By combining renowned international expertise and a comprehensive understanding of the Japanese political context, the symposium aims to demystify the ideas behind the Magnitsky movement, its current situation, and its future implications for human rights law.

Symposium Details

The joint symposium consists of two parts: the first covers the international background of the movement–the keynote speakers will share their experiences on how they enacted Magnitsky laws, detailing which kinds of discussions and objections took place in the legislative process, prominent characteristics of their country’s Magnitsky law, the involvement of civil society groups, the “fit” of Magnitsky laws in their country’s existing sanctions regimes, who the primary intended targets of Magnitsky sanctions were, the efficacy of Magnitsky sanctions, and so forth.

Professor Ai Kihara-Hunt, director of the UTokyo Law Hub, will then moderate a panel discussion about the newest Magnitsky law movements in various states, such as in Australia and Switzerland. The panelists will analyze their respective laws through a comparative lens, observing differences and similarities between Magnitsky acts.

- Simon Henderson, Head of Policy at Save the Children Australia,

- Fabian Molina, Swiss National Council member (video message)

- Paul Namkoong, Editor at UTokyo Law Hub

The second part, conducted in Japanese, delves into the possible Japanese implementation of the Magnitsky movement by applying insights gained from the aforementioned speakers. Jun Hori, journalist at 8bitNews, will moderate the conversation between lawmakers and legal experts.

- MP Gen Nakatani, Liberal Democratic Party

- MP Shiori Yamao, Constitutional Democratic Party

- Akira Igata, Advisor for IPAC

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