A young Moscow lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, could havebeen one of the nameless people who disappeared in countries where the discovery of a major theft of people’s money is declared a threat to national security. Today, no one would have remembered the man who had discovered the embezzlement of 230 million dollars at the top of the Russian tax authorities, even though he was arrested for that, and a year later he “died in the presence of the authorities”. He was 37 years old, had a family, a nice career as a representative of the largest foreign investor in Russia, but also an urge to prevent the theft of people’s money. In a corrupt system, such things are not forgiven.
He would have been forgotten and eternally ashamed had it not been for the persistence of another man, his friend and employer Bill Browder. He managed to incorporate Sergei’s name into a law that punishes anyone who thinks that by arresting, torturing and killing some future Sergei Magnitsky, they will be able to cover up millions in frauds. Bill Browder, once the largest foreign investor in Russia, driven by the desire for his friend’s sacrifice to never be forgotten, managed to convince both American parties to pass the famous Magnitsky Act in the Congress in 2012. According tothat law, anyone who grossly violates someone’s human rights in order to cover up major corruption can count on being prohibited from entering the United States, and his accounts, contracts, jobs, bank guarantees will be frozen.
Since then, the Magnitsky Act has begun to spread around the world, not only as an idea, but as an effective and just way to stand in the way of powerful and corrupt bullies from the top of the state apparatus, in any country in the world. After America, the Magnitsky Act was passed in Canada, Great Britain, the Baltic states, at the level of the European Union, and it is in the procedure in several other national parliaments, in Australia, Italy, Romania, for example.
The International Security Institute, of which I am the founder and director, has recently had the honor of being part of this global initiative and advocates the introduction of the Magnitsky Act in the legal system of Serbia. Bill Browder and his foundation provide full support to our Institute to prepare the best legal text, adapted to our legal and political system, and encourage Serbia and all Balkan countries to join this important global action.
Why is the Magnitsky Act important for Serbia? This law introduced a huge, almost revolutionary change in international relations and brought a simple solution to fight corrupt individuals and an effective way to protect human rights globally. The system of international sanctions that the world has known so far has often been unfair, and always ineffective. It always related to, and it still relates today, the punishment of entire nations, entire states, whereby the effects were usually small or non-existent. No corrupt and repressive regime has fallen or changed under the influence of international sanctions. In general, they became even stronger and more brutal, because through propaganda they managed to convince their people that they were all victims of collective sanctions. Of course, in international isolation, the enrichment of these elites is only growing, and their repression against their compatriots is also rising. In North Korea, generations live under sanctions, and the Kim dynasty does not change, in Cuba also, as well as in Venezuela. Western sanctions against Russia, imposed due to the annexation of Crimea, did not even touch Putin’s government, and they had that goal. The Russian economy has been declining for years, but the sanctions of the EU and the USA are “responsible” for only 10%, everything else is a consequence of the low oil price.
We do not have to go far, because Serbia also spent almost a whole decade under international sanctions, but they did not even scratch the then government of Slobodan Milošević. That is why we all remember that period as the dark years of smuggling, shortages, life in the dark and uncertainty.
And precisely because of those 90s, Serbia needs the Magnitsky Act. Precisely because it was a victim of a repressive and inefficient international mechanism, which did not bring happiness to its people. The Serbian Magnitsky Act will not be the law of avengers, but a law by which a state that remembers isolation well, will show that it is not good to punish entire nations for the corruption of some from the state leadership. Magnitsky Act works with the names and surnames of those bullies, it refers to them, not to the entire population, which is always innocent. That is the strength of Magnitsky, and that is why it is feared by tyrants all over the world for a reason. It punishes them where they are most sensitive – it blocks their money and forbids them to travel, and even to escape from the country they are robbing.
With the adoption of the Magnitsky Act, Serbia would become similar to some of the richest and most organized countries (economies) in the world. Serbia, like them, does not need to do business with notoriousrich people, who gained money through repression and state function, wherever they come from. Magnitsky Act is the only guarantee at this moment that such bullies will bypass you. It is also a guarantee that the number of “clean” investors will increase at your door, because they know that an abuser or a murderer under the mask of a high state function will not compete with their investment. That is why Magnitsky is welcome in Serbia. As proof that we know what sacrifice thousands of Sergei Magnitsky’s made around the world and that we are ready to prevent their fate from happening again anywhere in the world.