Canadian-led movement aims to seize assets from dictators to remedy refugee crisis

The proposal will be one of the main recommendations of the World Refugee Council, a self-appointed body of two dozen global political figures, academics and civil-society representatives led by former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy.

“We’ve put forward a proposition that where there are frozen assets they should be unfrozen through a proper legal process and reallocated to help the victims of the crime and corruption and instability that the bad guys create,” said Axworthy. “It’s a morality play. The bad guys have to pay to help their victims.”

The World Bank estimates the pool of cash to be worth $10 billion to $20 billion per year, Axworthy said in an interview.

The council was established last year by a Canadian think-tank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, to find new ways to deal with the 21st century’s record-setting migration crisis — the 68.5 million displaced people driven from their homes by war, famine and disaster.

The United Nations will turn its attention to solving the problem at a special session later this fall, and the council plans to offer its input, using the weight of the last Canadian foreign minister to chair a Security Council meeting.

The UN has acknowledged in stark terms that as the number of homeless and stateless people continues to grow around the globe, their suffering is increased by the shrinking pool of money available to help them.

‘Proceeds put for the public good’

Axworthy says there are fundamental structural flaws in how the world’s institutions are set up to cope with the unprecedented forced migration of people, and a big one is how the bills are paid. The system is based on charity — the benevolent donations of people, countries and businesses — and is not sustainable, Axworthy said.

An October report by the United Nations refugee agency said it expected to raise 55 per cent of the $8 billion it needs to support refugees and internally displaced people this year.

Axworthy said the courts in several countries can be used to seize funds that have been frozen there. Canada, the United States and Britain have all passed legislation allowing them to impose sanctions on individual human-rights abusers. These “Magnitsky laws” are named after a Russian tax accountant who died in prison after exposing a massive fraud by state officials there.

The world could start spending the “tens of billions of dollars moulding away in a variety of banks and other places, purloined money from the warlords, from the bad guys, the dictators, the authoritarians,” Axworthy said.

Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal justice minister and human-rights lawyer who has championed Magnitsky-style legislation, said in a separate interview that these laws can allow to go beyond freezing funds, because once the assets are seized, there’s no point to returning them to their corrupt owners.

“What you want to do is have the proceeds put for the public good,” said Cotler, the founder of the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.

Legal precedent

Canada’s first round of sanctions under its Magnitsky Act targeted people in Russia, South Sudan and Venezuela, including Nicolas Maduro, the South American country’s president.

The refugee council’s most recent report, released last month, focused on the displacement of millions of people from Venezuela. That report urged the United States to take a leading role in seizing billions of “ill-gotten” assets in the country, including the $2 billion that the U.S. Treasury Department estimates has been stolen from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.

Fen Hampson, who co-wrote the report and is head of the global security program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, suggested governments need to go beyond their various Magnitsky laws to repurpose the seized assets of “Maduro and some of his henchmen … to help victims and the host countries that are reeling under this growing refugee and migration crisis.”

The Magnitsky Act, named after a Russian lawyer and auditor who was arrested on trumped-up charges and died in prison, has Russia threatening retaliation against Canada. The proposed law targets those responsible for human rights abuses and corruption. 2:15

The report said there is legal precedent to do this: a civil case against the son of the dictatorial leader of Equatorial Guinea resulted in a $30-million judgement, $20 million of which was later used by a charity to help the country’s people.

In Yemen, where most of the inhabitants of the port city of Hodeida were forced to flee Friday as Saudi Arabia’s three-year war on Shiite rebels continued, the UN World Food Program’s country director said a massive cash influx is needed to repair the battered economy and feed a population on the verge of starvation.

Stephen Anderson said it’s up to others, higher up in the UN, to decide whether that money should be siphoned from a warlord’s frozen bank account.

“We’re 100-per-cent voluntary funded,” Anderson said. “The economic issues need to be addressed urgently because that’s affecting the entire population of Yemen. They were the poorest in the Middle East before the conflict so there’s no safety net.”

Source: Canadian-led movement aims to seize assets from dictators to remedy refugee crisis

Magnitsky bill advances with a strongly Ukrainian flavour

Diaspora politics have always been part of modern Canadian politics.

The Ukrainian Canadian community, given its numbers and long history in Canada, has played a major role in recent history (e.g., former PM Mulroney recognizing an independent Ukraine in 1991).

So it is less about the personalities involved than the fundamentals about the history, size and influence of a particular community:

The “Magnitsky Law” is a piece of Canadian legislation, not yet enacted, that seeks to hold governments and individuals to account for human rights abuses.

It’s named after Russian businessman Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow jail in 2009 after accusing officials of tax fraud. It could help to bring sanctions to other rights abusers in other countries.

In late 2012, the United States adopted the so-called Magnitsky Act, which imposes travel bans and financial sanctions on Russian officials and other individuals believed to have been involved in Magnitsky’s death.

But there’s something about the way the bill is moving forward in Canada that should perhaps give pause to legislators.

Two versions exist: a Commons version written by Conservative James Bezan, and a Senate version written by Raynell Andreychuk. That second version yesterday obtained the support of Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who says the Trudeau government will help to push it through the House.

What do Bezan, Andreychuk, and Freeland all have in common?

All three are active members of Canada’s Ukrainian community. And all three happen to be among the 13 Canadians sanctioned by Russia for their supposed hostility to the country.

Diaspora politics

The situation may allow the Kremlin to tell its citizens that the bill is not really about rights abuses, but rather part of a campaign motivated by ethnic animus towards Russia.

Pro-Kremlin news media and bloggers often portray Canada’s Ukrainians as this country’s version of Miami Cubans, a community calling the shots of Canada’s foreign policy on the one issue that obsesses it.

Last year Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the Canadian government of “blindly following the demands of rabid representatives of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada.”

Canada’s response perhaps did little to defuse that Russian suspicion.

“We will not tolerate from a Russian minister any insult against the community of Ukrainians in Canada,” then-Global Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion responded in the House of Commons. “Ukrainian Canadians, we owe so much to them. We will always support them.”

Magnitsky Bill not just about Russia

Human rights groups have welcomed the Magnitsky Bill, and it has enjoyed support from Russian dissidents Gary Kasparov and Zhanna Nemtsova, the daughter of murdered opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

It’s also intended to reach far beyond Russia, says MP Bezan.

“This will apply to all countries, whether it’s organ-harvesters in China who are falsely imprisoning Falun Gong practitioners to harvest their organs and tissues for sale around the world, whether it’s people in the Iranian regime that are denying justice and freedom to their own citizens, or even in the case of Saudi Arabia, where they’re targeting people who’ve tried to speak out against the government, this law has global application.”

Source: Magnitsky bill advances with a strongly Ukrainian flavour – Politics – CBC News

Globe editorial on the what they see as the overly broad reach of the Bill: Globe editorial: Senate’s proposed Magnitsky bill needs a rethink