Japan must update its sanctions laws to face future challenges

Justyna Gudzowska is director of illicit finance policy at The Sentry, an investigative and policy organization that seeks to disable multinational predatory networks that profit from violent conflict, repression and kleptocracy. Akira Igata is a project professor at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Tokyo.

As the leaders of the Group of Seven nations meet in the Bavarian Alps this weekend, the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting sanctions against Russia will undoubtedly dominate the discussion.

Never before have such severe sanctions been imposed in such a short time on a large economy so deeply integrated into world markets.

The Kremlin was probably surprised that the coordinated response to sanctions was not limited to Western countries, as the invasion galvanized countries that had previously shown reluctance to impose sanctions outside the framework of the United Nations, namely the Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore.

This united and powerful response to sanctions against Russia, which notably did not happen after the annexation of Crimea in 2014, sent a critical message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he had finally crossed the proverbial red line.

Despite the oft-repeated claims that sanctions don’t work, the Japanese government’s decision to join these multilateral sanctions is a tacit admission that it believes sanctions can work. But it shouldn’t take the invasion of a sovereign country for Japan to take a stand against the atrocities.

Japan remains the only G-7 country that does not have the legal authority to trigger sanctions for gross human rights abuses, and this is where the country continues to fail to meet both the G-7 standards and its own constitutional ideals that “all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want.”

Prior to the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions, a different type of sanction targeting human rights abusers and corrupt actors galvanized democracies around the world.

The United States was the first, in 2016, to adopt the so-called Magnitsky Global Sanctions, which are named after a Moscow-based Ukrainian-born lawyer who was tortured to death by the Russian state for denouncing public corruption. Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Australia, among other countries, have since adopted their own versions.

A Japanese version of the law, after two years of cross-party discussions among Diet members that failed to reach consensus and the government showing no real interest in seriously considering the law, has finally been submitted as a draft. by members of the main opposition party in early June. Now is the time for Japan to pass the law, a move that would have significant benefits and few downsides.

Sanctions can be a versatile foreign policy tool, and Magnitsky-style global sanctions are a particularly nimble instrument because they target specific individuals or entities and can be used to respond to situations anywhere in the world.

They have been employed to target nefarious actors from countries as diverse as Angola, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Guatemala, Israel, Myanmar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.

Unlike the more controversial unilateral embargoes imposed by the United States on countries like Iran or Cuba, these smart targeted sanctions do not prohibit transactions with an entire country and therefore generally do not have the same type of commercial impact. negative or unintended humanitarian consequences. More importantly, when used correctly, they work.

In The Sentry’s experience, Magnitsky’s global sanctions, along with diplomacy and clear and precisely targeted policy objectives to focus on bad actors and their networks of front companies, proxies and enablers, helped to avoid full-scale war and new atrocities.

For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the sanctions were part of a concerted effort that convinced then-President Joseph Kabila not to seek an unconstitutional third term in 2018, resulting in the first peaceful transition of power in the country’s history, even if the electoral process was marred by irregularities.

Incumbent President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa in January 2019: The sanctions were part of a concerted effort that convinced Kabila not to seek an unconstitutional third term. © PA

In South Sudan, a multi-year effort launched in 2017 has used sanctions and other tools of financial pressure to defuse a long-running civil war by creating financial consequences for the country’s kleptocratic rulers.

By adopting its own Global Magnitsky-type sanctions, Japan would be able to act according to its own national interests, and the mere fact of having the possibility to sanction would have a deterrent effect, even if sanctions were not ultimately not imposed. Moreover, Japan would not be required to impose sanctions every time the United States or another ally did.

However, if Japan does not adopt this important and effective tool, it will find itself increasingly marginalized as the multilateralization of human rights-based sanctions continues and the US, EU , the UK and Canada are acting together to impose consequences on perpetrators of atrocities, as they have done by targeting Chinese officials responsible for abuses against the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.

More problematically, as the world’s major economies exclude these evildoers from their financial systems, Japan, the world’s third-largest economy and a major financial hub, would risk becoming a destination for their dirty money.

As recent events have caused the international community to think more seriously and intelligently about the types of behavior that can be tolerated or must be resisted, Japan’s willingness to join a strong coalition of nations in expressing uniform opposition to the Russian aggression through the use of sanctions is an important step.

Creating a Japanese version of Magnitsky-style global sanctions would be a critical and indisputable next step in cementing Japan’s role as a global leader in Asia committed to human rights and responsible economic management. world.

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