The UK Should Support Innovative Solutions for Financing Reparations
By Natalia Kubesch, Legal Officer at REDRESS
Victims of human rights violations have the right to effective reparations for the suffering inflicted on them. However, such reparations are not always accessible in practice, leaving victims without redress. Meanwhile, those responsible for the harm inflicted continue to profit from their abuses. It is high time for legal and policy reforms to challenge the financial impunity enjoyed by perpetrators, and fund reparations for victims.
In a new briefing published today, REDRESS urges the UK Government to implement innovative solutions to ensure the confiscation and repurposing of profits derived from human rights abuses. The briefing’s launch coincides with the UK Government’s announcement today that it intends to introduce a Criminal Justice Bill, which provides an opportunity to strengthen the UK’s approach to tackling complex offences and pursue routes for repurposing illicit wealth.[
Among its key recommendations, the briefing argues that the UK Government must explore potential legal avenues for confiscating perpetrator assets frozen under sanctions. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK has frozen over £18 billion in Russian assets. However, current UK law does not allow for the confiscation of frozen assets. As a result, these assets can sit untouched in the UK indefinitely, preventing any potential benefits to victims. Other countries, such as the US and Canada, are developing laws and policies to make the confiscation and repurposing of assets frozen under sanctions possible. The UK Government has not yet put forward any such proposals.
The briefing further calls on the UK Government to introduce legislation that allows for the repurposing of monetary penalties imposed for sanction breaches related to human rights abuses as reparations for victims. The UK enforcement authorities can impose significant monetary penalties, , against those involved in breaching UK sanctions. However, there is currently no legal basis under English law allowing for the proceeds of such action to be repurposed as reparations for victims. Instead, the monies go to the UK Treasury, allowing the Government to inadvertently benefit from the human rights violations.
The briefing also urges the UK Government to establish transparent mechanisms by which sanctioned individuals can donate their illicit wealth and explore targeted taxation to make mass funds available to victims. Voluntary diversion of frozen assets can present a very practical, solution to finance reparations for victims.
In June 2023, the UK Government announced a new process whereby Russian sanctioned individuals may apply for frozen funds to be released to support Ukraine’s recovery. However, it is yet to announce further details about how this process will operate in practice. Meanwhile, the EU is advocating for a G-7 wide windfall tax on profits generated by frozen Russian assets – a proposal which has the potential to yield millions as reparations for victims of the conflict in Ukraine each year.
However, finding solutions for generating funds to finance reparations is only half the work done. Our briefing concludes that the UK Government must introduce new laws and regulatory procedures for earmarking funds – including fines, confiscation orders, donations, or other revenue – that are linked to human rights abuses and disbursing them as reparations in consultation with victim groups and affected communities.
Our recommendations show that innovative avenues are available for raising life-changing amounts of money for victims of international human rights abuses. The UK Government must now seize the opportunity to implement these solutions and fulfil victims’ rights to reparations.
Photo by Brent Flanders, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. A stalemate over where the £2.5bn from the sale of the Chelsea FC should be spent means a proposed charitable foundation is yet to be established and proceeds remain frozen in a UK bank account belonging to Roman Abramovich’s company Fordstam.