US sanctions individuals suspected of human rights abuses

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Tuesday imposed economic sanctions on more than a dozen individuals suspected of human rights violations in six countries and banned two others from entering the United States, including a former Saudi official in Turkey for his alleged role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Treasury Department’s announcement, made on International Human Rights Day, sanctioned individuals from Myanmar, Pakistan, Libya, Slovakia, South Sudan and the Congo. The action blocks all property and interests in property within U.S. jurisdiction that are owned or partially owned by those sanctioned.

In addition, the State Department restricted U.S. entry for Mohammed al-Otaibi, former consul general of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey, in connection with the killing of Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist living in the United States who had written critical articles about the Saudi royal family.

State also restricted U.S. entry for Aslan Iraskhanov, director of the interior affairs ministry for Chechnya’s provincial capital, Grozny, who the U.S. alleges was responsible for the execution of 27 men.

“The Russian government fails to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish officials involved in these abuses and violations,” the department said in a statement, which was issued on the same day that Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is visiting Washington.

The Treasury sanctions were imposed under an executive order implementing the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption.

“Treasury’s action focuses on those who have killed, or ordered the killing of innocents who stood up for human rights including journalists, opposition members, and lawyers,” said Justin Muzinich, deputy treasury secretary.

In Myanmar, Treasury sanctioned Min Aung Hlaing, commander of Myanmar military forces that have engaged in serious human rights abuses. His forces have been responsible for a brutal security operation, beginning in August 2017 in Rakhine, that caused more than 500,000 people to flee to Bangladesh. Deputy commander Soe Win and two other military leaders, Than Oo and Aung Aung, also were sanctioned.

“During this time, members of ethnic minority groups were killed or injured by gunshot, often while fleeing, or by soldiers using large-bladed weapons; others were burned to death in their own houses,”’ Treasury said. “‘There are credible claims of mass-scale rape and other forms of sexual violence committed by soldiers under Min Aung Hlaing’s command.”

John Sifton, Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said the sanctions were a welcome, but overdue step.

“It is unfortunate that the U.S. government took so long to make this decision,’' Sifton said. “The crimes in question were incredibly serious: forced deportations, mass arson, summary executions, systematic mass rape, and torture. ... Sanctions are meant to have impact, and it would have been better had the U.S. acted earlier.”

In Pakistan, Treasury sanctioned Rao Anwar Khan for his role in staging numerous fake police encounters where individuals were killed by police and was involved in more than 190 police encounters, resulting in the deaths of more than 400 people.

Libyan commander Mahmud al-Warfalli, who leads a militia known as the al-Saiqa Brigade, was sanctioned for carrying out or ordering the killings of 43 unarmed detainees in separate incidents since 2016, including many filmed and published on social media. On Jan. 24, 2018, al-Warfalli was filmed carrying out a mass execution of 10 unarmed detainees in Benghazi. After al-Warfalli shot each detainee in the head one by one, al-Warfalli fired freely at the group of those already executed, Treasury said.

In Slovakia, Treasury sanctioned Marian Kocner for threatening Jan Kuciak, a reporter who was investigating Kocner’s corrupt business dealings. Kocner allegedly also hired former Slovak intelligence officials to surveil Kuciak ahead of his killing. Slovak authorities charged Kocner with hiring a hit man to kill Kuciak and his fiancé, Martina Kusnirova. Six of his businesses also were sanctioned.

In Congo, Treasury targeted members of the Allied Democratic Forces, who are accused of committing mass rape, torture, killing and civilian abductions. Sanctioned was Musa Baluku, a leader of the forces and five key ADF members accused of supporting human rights abuses: Amigo Kibirige, Muhammed Lumisa, Elias Segujja, Kayiira Muhammad and Amisi Kasadha.

Treasury also sanctioned five people responsible for the abduction and believed death of two human rights activists in South Sudan in 2017. The two activists, Aggrey Idri, a member of the Sudanese opposition, and Doug Samuel Luak, a South Sudanese human rights lawyer, disappeared from Nairobi, Kenya, in January 2017, according to a United Nations’ report.