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Sanctions Placed on Saudi Arabian Individuals Because of the Killing of Khashoggi

By: Jaime Rosenberg

On October 2, 2018, a well-known journalist and critic of the Saudi government, Jamal Khashoggi, was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish officials told The New York Times that they have audio evidence which proves Khashoggi was tortured, killed, and subsequently dismembered by a hit team of Saudi agents. The Trump administration, via the Treasury Department, placed sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act on 17 Saudis who Secretary Steven Mnuchin said “targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States.”

The Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 (“The Global Magnitsky Act”) is a law named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and auditor who in 2008 discovered a conspiracy of tax fraud and graft involving 23 companies and a total of $230 million linked to the Kremlin and individuals close to the government. Magnitsky was investigated, arrested by authorities, and kept in jail without charges. He was beaten and later died under mysterious circumstances in jail just days before his possible release.

The Global Magnitsky Act was signed by President Barack Obama in December 2012, blocking 18 Russian government officials and businessmen from entering the United States, freezing any assets held by U.S. banks, and banning their future use of U.S. banking systems. The Global Magnitsky Act was expanded in 2016, now applying globally, and authorized the U.S. government to sanction human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the United States.

The criteria set forth for persons designated under the Act is:

(1) is responsible for the detention, abuse, or death of Sergei Magnitsky, participated in efforts to conceal the legal liability for the detention, abuse, or death of Sergei Magnitsky, financially benefitted from the detention, abuse, or death of Sergei Magnitsky, or was involved in the criminal conspiracy uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky;

(2) is responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals seeking—

(a) to expose illegal activity carried out by officials of the Government of the Russian Federation; or

(b) to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms, such as the freedoms of religion, expression, association, and assembly, and the rights to a fair trial and democratic elections, in Russia; or

(3) acted as an agent of or on behalf of a person in a matter relating to an activity described in paragraph (1) or (2).

Although these individuals have been sanctioned, lawmakers have commented that more action needs to be taken to punish the individuals involved in this horrible crime. President Trump has been shy to point fingers at Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who the CIA concluded ordered the killing of Khashoggi. The Saudi government has denied the ruler was involved ever since the killing was discovered. With the investigation report that shows the Saudi government was indeed involved, Western governments, particularly the United States, are now under heightened pressure to punish the Saudis through mechanisms such as placing sanctions on weapon sales and on members of the royal family.

Punishing the Saudi government could have negative ramifications for the U.S. government. Under the Obama Administration, the Congressional Research Service reported that the Saudis purchased $65 billion in military equipment from the United States. President Trump has repeatedly talked about a $110 billion arms deal signed with the Saudis in May of 2017 as a major source for U.S. jobs and a key reason for maintaining the trade relationship between the two. The U.S.-Saudi relationship is also key to U.S. influence in the region.

Dave DesRoches, an associate professor and senior military fellow at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. stated that, “Saudi Arabia has been the prime ally of the West in the region. You take that out of the equation, then the Middle East looks very, very different. Especially at a time when the U.S. is trying to contain Iranian power, influence, oil exports altogether. How you do that without the Saudis is a big problem I think…. There is no doubt that the U.S.-Saudi relationship will be damaged,” he added, “the only question is to what extent.”

More needs to be done to punish the Saudis. The sanctions placed on the individuals who were said to have been involved in the brutal killing of Khashoggi under the Global Magnitsky Act is not enough. Punishing the Saudis has gained bi-partisan support in Congress, pressuring President Trump to take the necessary steps to show that extreme human rights violations ordered by the Saudi government will not be tolerated.

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