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Heather Blake: If human rights is to be fundamental to foreign policy, the Government must seek justice over the death of Sergei Magnitsky

Heather Blake is a member of the Conservative Human Rights Commission.

Two years after the false arrest, torture while in police custody and death of tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, the United Nations is launching a formal investigation after a 100 page report was submitted by Redress, a leading UK NGO on torture.  UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture, Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions and the Independence of Judges and Lawyers will be carrying out formal investigations on the case.

Mr Magnitsky was a tax lawyer working for Hermitage Capital, a British company based in Russia at the time.  Magnitsky came under threat when revealing substantial tax fraud committed by Russian authorities against the British company.  After numerous death threats made to Hermitage founder William Browder, and his team of lawyers, the company was forced to flee Russia and move back to the UK for safety; Magnitisky, however, remained in Russia.  On the 24 November 2008 Magnitsky was arrested and placed in one of the most inhumane circumstances while in custody, where he was not allowed bail, denied any legal remedies, systematically tortured, denied medical care and died in 2009.

Hermitage Capital has made it a moral responsibility to bring to justice the inexcusable death of Magnitsky, not just in the name of the family who have lost a husband and father, but in the name of all those who suffer under the same injustices and go unnamed and unnoticed.

The UK government should be a strong voice in the international outcry of such violations against human rights and international law.  To date, the European Parliament is passing legislation, US Senators McCain and Cardin have put forward the Magnitsky bill to be voted on early this year, Irwin Cotler an MP for Canada has put forward legislation in the Canadian Parliament, and the UK Shadow Justice Minister and former Minister for Europe, Chris Bryant, has recently sent a 1,000 page dossier with evidence of the 60 Russian officials involved in the crime to the Home Secretary.

The Foreign Secretary has made significant efforts to place a sincere value on human rights in UK foreign policy, one example is the creation of the Human Rights Council, a small circle of leading human rights NGOs, lawyers and academics asked to meet with the Foreign Secretary and advise him on a plethora of international human rights issues.  The false arrest, torture while in custody and corrupt judiciary that lead to Magnitsky’s death represents a wider issue of numerous international human rights violations that take place daily, and should be high on the Council’s agenda.

It is the duty of the UK Government to be one of the voices heard, if not leading, on such a case due to the strong stance on human rights as part of foreign policy, and simply because within the UK it is safe to do so, and in many countries throughout the world - it is not. The victim of such unfathomable cruelty was an innocent hard working man; a tax lawyer doing his job, and doing it very well.  For his family’s peace and the peace of all those unnamed and unknown victims of torture, cruel and degrading treatment, the UK government should wholeheartedly advocate that justice be served for a lawyer working for a British company that fell victim to grave human rights violations.


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