On 1 December 2022, the Czech parliament adopted Act No. 1/2023 Coll., on restrictive measures against certain serious acts in international affairs (Sanctions Act). The Sanctions Act, known also as “the Czech Magnitsky Act”, entered into force on 3 January 2023 and added the Czech Republic to the UN and EU sanctions regimes. It should serve as a national instrument for protecting human rights and freedoms, combating terrorism, and contributing to international peace and security. It applies to all perpetrators, regardless of their country of origin.
The Magnitsky case: the impetus to prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations
The impetus for the so-called Magnitsky Act was the death, or rather the circumstances surrounding it, of the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. He drew attention to corrupt officials in the Russian state administration, whom he accused of billions of dollars of fraud. The corrupt officials did not keep this money in Russia but instead invested it in the West. For example, they used it to buy houses in Karlovy Vary. After Sergei Magnitsky became actively involved in the investigation of these machinations, he was taken into custody, where he eventually died in 2009 after alleged torture committed by prison guards. After his death, a wave of activity was launched in society calling for the punishment of human rights violators, regardless of where they come from. They were led by Magnitsky's own client in the case, Bill Browder, who is considered to be the "spiritual father" of the Magnitsky Act.
Browder commented on the creation of the Magnitsky Act: "The Russian government absolutely refused to do justice in the case of Sergei Magnitsky. It wanted to cover up the murder. It valued the people who worked on it. It gave them state honors. Vladimir Putin himself was personally involved in the retelling of the case. So I said, if we can't get justice in Russia, we have to try outside Russia."
In 2012, the United States became the first country to pass the Magnitsky Act, which allowed for financial and visa sanctions on Russian officials responsible for human rights abuses. Subsequently, other states around the world have adopted it, including Canada, the UK, Norway, Estonia, and Australia. Today, a total of 34 countries around the world are applying this law, including the Czech Republic.
EU position on the Magnitsky Act
In 2017, the European Parliament called for the Magnitsky Act to be adopted at EU level as soon as possible. In 2020, the EU Foreign Affairs Council adopted the EU's global human rights sanctions regime, inspired, among other things, by the Magnitsky Act. In doing so, the EU has expressed that the promotion and protection of human rights remains a priority for its external action.
The EU sanction regime, however, does not have “The Magnitsky Act” as its title. Some were of the opinion that the legislation should not give the impression that it is primarily directed against Russia. Nevertheless, as Browder himself said, "everyone knows it is the Magnitsky Act. Journalists put it in the headlines, politicians call it that. I don't even remember the official bureaucratic name myself."
In a nutshell, there are currently uniform sanctions at the EU level in the form of the freezing of funds or denial of visas for people around the world who have committed crimes against humanity, such as unjustified imprisonment, forced kidnapping, or enslavement. To this end, the EU also maintains a list of persons subject to sanctions. It should be added, however, that decisions on sanctions policy are taken by the EU Council, in principle unanimously, which could be a lengthy process. Moreover, unanimity may not be achieved despite the fact that the human rights violations are obvious.
"One of the problems created by the unanimity condition is that the killers of Sergei Magnitsky have not yet been sanctioned in the European Union. They can no longer travel to Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia, but they are not facing any sanctions here in the Czech Republic," Browder previously said. For these reasons, the adoption of the Czech Magnitsky Act is an important message to the international community, and more importantly, to perpetrators of international crimes.
Sanctions law in the Czech Republic successfully passed the House of Commons
"When Russia detained Ukrainian sailors during the Kerch crisis in November 2018, I recapitulated what foreign policy tools the Czech Republic has at its disposal in such cases. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was also shocking to me. At least Canada applied sanctions in this case on the basis of the Magnitsky Act. I found out that we do not have any such sanction mechanisms. This led me to probe into this problem in more detail", said Jan Lipavský, a minister of foreign affairs of the Czech Republic.
However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine hastened these preparations, and therefore, the draft law was submitted in June 2022. "It will be a national sanction mechanism against persons who violate human rights or commit acts of terrorism. The law will also include cybercrimes, and after the Russian aggression, we have included the act of state aggression", Lipavsky explained.
In June 2022, the government approved the sanctions act, a Czech version of the Magnitsky Act. Subsequently, on 14 October 2022, the bill successfully passed the Chamber of Deputies and on 1 December 2022 was approved by the Senate. Upon the signature of the president on 7 December 2022, nothing stood in the way for the Czech Magnitsky Act to enter into force.
Thanks to the approval of the Magnitsky Act, the Czech Republic has succeeded in achieving the possibility of imposing sanctions on countries and other entities that commit illegal acts in the international arena.
How is the sanctions law applied in practice?
The Government of the Czech Republic is entitled to decide whether to submit a proposal to include a person on the EU sanctions list or the national sanctions list. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs prepares and submits said proposal for inclusion of a person on the aforementioned lists, which is available on the Ministry's website. However, this procedure applies only in cases where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has actual verified information that the person has committed an act sanctioned by EU law.
The above mechanism does not lack the guarantees of a fair trial. If a person disagrees to be included in the sanction list, he or she may appeal against this decision and even ask the court for a judicial review.
The actual implementation of the Sanctions Act in practice does not have a significant impact on the state budget of the Czech Republic. Even though a new department has been established within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to deal with the inclusion of persons on the sanction list, it does not require a substantial increase of public funds.
An opportunity for the Czech Republic to confirm its reputation as a human rights defender
One of the reasons the Czech Foreign Ministry decided to take the step of adopting the Magnitsky Act is that it will give it more power to place certain individuals and entities on its own sanctions list; hence, to better respond to various threats to international security.
The adoption of the Magnitsky Act and its implementation into the Czech legal system is certainly a welcome message to human rights defenders worldwide. It is also be a good reminder of the former Czech President Václav Havel’s human rights oriented policy. Additionally, it is important to reaffirm the Czech policy of defending human rights and freedoms globally.
 Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. Available at https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/284/text
Explanatory Report to the Government Bill on Restrictive Measures against Certain Serious Acts in International Relations (Sanctions Act), 2022
CTK. Ban torturers and killers from entering the Czech Republic. The government is preparing to implement the sanctions law. iRozhlas, 25 June 2022 (https://www.irozhlas.cz/zpravy-domov/sankcni-zakon-cesko-mezinarodni-pr…)
Confress.gov. Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th- congress/senate-bill/284/text).
Horňáčková, K. Magnitsky Act. Bulletin of the Center for Human Rights and Democratization No. 6, vol. IV, 2012, p. 18. (https://www.centrumlidskaprava.cz/sites/default/files/attachement/bulle…)
Kundra, O. BROWDER'S WAR. RESPEKT, May 19, 2013 (https://www.respekt.cz/tydenik/2013/21/browderova-valka)
Martinovský, M. The European Union plans to create its own version of the Magnitsky Act. It may encounter resistance from Hungary. Investigace.cz, December 11, 2019 (https://www.investigace.cz/evropska-unie-planuje-vytvorit-vlastni-verzi…)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic. Press release. On the proposal of Foreign Minister Lipavsky, the government approved a groundbreaking sanctions law. 22 June 2022 (https://www.mzv.cz/jnp/cz/udalosti_a_media/tiskove_zpravy/na_navrh_mini…)
Novák, P. Passage of law sanctioning Russian killers pisses off Putin, says human rights campaigner Browder. iResponse, 4 July 2022 (https://www.irozhlas.cz/zpravy-svet/bill-browder-magnitskeho-zakon-puti…)
Nováková, B. EU approves unified sanctions regime. It will punish human rights violations. List News, 8 December 2020 (https://www.seznamzpravy.cz/clanek/eu-schvalila-jednotny-sankcni-rezim-…)
Parliamentary Assembly. Resolution 2252 (2019). Sergei Magnitsky and beyond - fighting impunity by targeted sanctions. (https://www.europarl.europa.eu/cmsdata/161079/6%20-%2006%20Resolution%2…)
Petrů, S. Congressional Research Report. Revisions to the Magnitsky Act. 2021 (https://cdn.americkykongres.cz/wp-content/uploads/FINAL-VJ-Revize-Magni…).
Council of the EU. Press Release. EU adopts global human rights sanctions regime. 7 December 2020 (https://www.consilium.europa.eu/cs/press/press-releases/2020/12/07/eu-a…)
Šimák, J. Can't you behave? You are not welcome here: Magnitsky's bill goes to the House. Investigace.cz 7 September 2020 (https://www.investigace.cz/neumis-se-chovat-nejsi-u-nas-vitan-magnitske…)
Government Bill on Restrictive Measures against Certain Serious Acts in International Relations (Sanctions Act), 2022
irozhlas.cz, Přijetí zákona, který postihuje ruské zabijáky, Putina namíchlo, říká bojovník za lidská práva Browder, 4 July 2022 (https://www.irozhlas.cz/zpravy-svet/bill-browder-magnitskeho-zakon-putin-rusko_2207041600_ako)
Seznamzpravy.cz, EU schválila jednotný sankční režim. Bude trestat porušování lidských práv, 8 December 2020 (https://www.seznamzpravy.cz/clanek/eu-schvalila-jednotny-sankcni-rezim-bude-trestat-porusovani-lidskych-prav-132919)
 Senators in Ottawa, Canada, passed the Magnitsky Act. Raynell Andreychuk, Andrew Scheer and James Bezan in Ottawa, Andrew Scheer and James Bezan in Ottawa – 2018 (26222749617), autor: Andre Forget. 28 March 2018. Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC0 1.0.