Congress to Approve Global Human Rights Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives will weigh a Senate-passed proposed law, The Global Magnisky Act, that would give the president new, broader authority to impose sanctions on human rights abusers worldwide—including those who target LGBTQ people.

After passing the Senate last year, a critical proposed law that would give the federal government authority to freeze the U.S. assets of, and deny U.S. visas to, any person who has committed “gross violations of human rights” against anti-corruption advocates or human rights defenders, is currently moving through the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill, known as the Global Magnitsky Act, was named after the anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old whistleblower who died in a Russian prison. His supporters, Western governments, and international rights groups say he was tortured and denied medical treatment.

Since legislators have yet to attach any language to the bill that would specifically safeguard LGBTQ persons, LGBTQ equality advocates and organizations pressed Congress to clarify that the proposed law’s protections would still cover LGBTQ people. And, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), “[I]n a colloquy, or prepared dialogue, in the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week, lawmakers clarified that the bill would indeed cover LGBTQ people, which would send a clear message abroad that the U.S. will not tolerate human rights abuses against LGBTQ people. Should the bill become law, those who persecute people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity abroad may be blocked from entering the U.S. or from using U.S. financial institutions.”

“Gross violators of human rights and those who engage in serious acts of corruption cannot escape the consequences of their actions even when their home country fails to act,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) said in a statement. “Visiting the United States and using our financial institutions are privileges that should not be extended to the worst actors in the international system.”

Since the bill passed the Senate last December and was approved unanimously by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, it will now go to the full House of Representatives for approval. It would then President Obama’s signature to become law.

If the measure does pass into law, it remains unclear whether President Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, will use the authority it grants once he assumes office on January 20.

Trump has signaled he wants to take a softer line with Russia—whose government fiercely opposes the Global Magnitsky Act—and he has so far expressed little to no interest in global human rights issues.

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