Russian Sanctions Not Effective Enough, Law and Policy Reforms needed

By Natalia Kubesch, REDRESS Legal Officer

 In oral evidence presented to the Treasury Select Committee’s inquiry into the effectiveness of the UK’s financial sanctions on Russia,  REDRESS reiterated the need to develop new laws to repurpose profits derived from human rights violations, prioritise survivors’ rights to reparation and strengthen enforcement of UK sanctions. 

The oral submission draws on prior written evidence submitted to the Committee earlier this year, outlining how the UK Government could improve the effectiveness its Russia-related sanctions and facilitate the confiscation of Russian frozen assets for the benefit of survivors of human rights violations in Ukraine.

Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the UK has frozen over £22.7 billion in Russian assets. While a substantial portion of these funds could transform the lives of millions of survivors of human rights violations in Ukraine, REDRESS’ submission highlights how current UK law is not equipped to confiscate these assets.  

Existing legislation requires a link between the assets and criminal conduct, such as proof that the assets are the ‘proceeds of crime’. Yet, in the UK, where Russian oligarchs have acquired their wealth through widespread systems of corruption and abuse it may be impossible to link their wealth to a crime. This stands in contrast with  other countries, such as the US and Canada, which are developing laws and policies to make the confiscation and repurposing of assets frozen under sanctions possible.  

In the absence of new laws, the closest the UK Government has come to confiscating Russian frozen assets is the sale of Chelsea Football Club. However, despite repeated calls from survivor groups and civil society, the UK Government has still not managed to resolve the prevailing impasse over the release of its proceeds. Nearly two years after Roman Abramovich was sanctioned, the £2.5bn generated from Chelsea’s sale remains frozen in a UK bank account despite a commitment to use the proceeds for humanitarian purposes. 

Our submission also finds that UK’s response towards enforcing its Russia-related sanctions has been weak. Effective enforcement is crucial to protect the integrity of the UK’s sanctions regime. It could also provide a source of funding to ensure reparations to survivors of the conflict in Ukraine if mechanisms are in place to channel penalties for sanction violations to such purpose.    

Survivors of the conflict since 2014 require reparations to address the harm caused, restore their dignity and rebuild their lives. While the UK government has made  significant commitments to assist in the reconstruction and recovery efforts of Ukraine, support for the reconstruction of Ukraine must not overshadow reparations for victims.  

REDRESS’ submission urges the UK Government to use existing mechanisms to distribute funds to survivors, including the Register of Damage for Ukraine, the Trust Fund for Victims at the International Criminal Court, and the Global survivors Funds (who will be making reparation payments to survivors of wartime rape by Russian soldiers during the invasion in the next few weeks).  

Natalia Kubesch, legal officer and sanctions expert at REDRESS, told the Committee:

“We treat the right to property as almost absolute, privileging the interests of oligarchs over the urgent need for support for victims. There is a vast number of victims of human rights violations in Ukraine who need reparation to rebuild their lives. The UK Government should take it seriously that when it makes commitments to support Ukraine, funds should also go there to support victims”.

Photo by Ahmed Jadallah/REUTERS. Ukranians fleeing the conflict in Lviv.