Sanctions: What it means to be caught in crosshairs

What you need to know:

  • A regime of targeted international sanctions has been imposed or is being imposed on more than 50 Ugandan businesses and persons, and the list is expanding as the move gains traction among major states and international organisations. In this explainer, Stephen Kafeero establishes why sanctions cannot be treated lightly.

Who are the latest entrants to the growing list?
This week, the Entebbe-based gold refinery owned by Uganda, the rebel leader of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), the spokesperson for the M23 rebel group, and five other individuals have all received sanctions from the European Union (EU) as a result of the unrest in the eastern DR Congo.
Mr Alain François Viviane Goetz, the beneficial owner and former director of the African Gold Refinery; Mr Meddie Nkalubo (aliases Mohammed Ali Nkalubo, Abul Jihad, Punny Boy), and Maj Willy Ngoma, the spokesperson for the M23 rebel group in the DRC, are among those who have been sanctioned.

Days later, Gen Kale Kayihura, the former Inspector General of Police (IGP), was also subject to sanctions from the United Kingdom (UK) because of his suspected involvement in “serious human rights crimes” while in charge of the Uganda Police Force.
Gen Kayihura, who was already subject to US sanctions, is accused of being in charge of several organisations that engaged in torture and other forms of cruel, brutal, or degrading treatment or punishment, among other abuses of human rights. Gen Kayihura received a travel ban and an asset freeze from UK.

Do sanctions matter?
On the surface, a large number of well-known sanctioned officials have discounted the significance of actions taken, primarily, by Western governments as having little significance. For instance, Gen Kayihura’s attorneys laughed off his blacklisting as meaningless because he neither owns nor conducts business in the UK.
The second point of contention is “unfairness”, with individuals who have been punished contending that they were not given a fair chance to defend themselves. The fact that those charged did not afford their alleged victims the same due process frequently refutes this reasoning.
As to the penalties, they hurt. In Uganda, most of the sanctioned officials have either resigned from their jobs or are now in less important roles than they once were as a result of the sanctions.

After the US government imposed sanctions on him in December of last year, Maj Gen Abel Kandiho, who was then in charge of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), said the measures were politically-driven and of little consequence.
After a month, Maj Gen Kandiho was fired and sent to South Sudan. President Museveni, however, reversed his decision three weeks later, citing what is thought to be administrative difficulties with negotiating the US sanction system. Maj Gen Kandiho was named the Uganda Police Force’s Chief of Joint Staff.

According to reports, government agencies and people are afraid to touch sanctioned persons—even with a long stick—for fear of consequences, including loss of funds. 
This is largely because of the enormous power sanctioning countries such as the United States, EU members, and the UK wield. To escape the consequences of such a decision, corporations and people that work with the sanctioning entities and nations likewise avoid dealing with the sanctioned people and businesses.
The power of the sanctioning entities wield has since extended to include the local sources of income for the affected individuals, including pension and mobile money.

Can someone be sanctioned tacitly?
Beyond the people who are officially and publicly sanctioned, sanctioning entities have also subjected other people to sanctions, such as visa restrictions.
According to sources with knowledge of the procedure, many Ugandan officials, who appear on such lists, learn about this when they try to travel to the US and other sanctioning countries or their partners.
For instance, in 2014—while responding to a Ugandan law that imposes severe punishments for homosexuality—the United States stopped aid to Uganda, imposed visa restrictions, and called off a regional military exercise. The late Andrew Felix Kaweesi, the commander of the Kampala Metropolitan Police at the time, would learn his lesson the hard way.

While he had not received a public censure, Kaweesi was barred from attending the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) junior academy’s intelligence course by the American government.
This newspaper is aware that several military personnel, notably those responsible for the 2016 atrocity in Kasese, are subject to a set of international penalties.

The US, for example, has many layers of sanctions. Some are disclosed publicly, and others—owing to US privacy laws—are disclosed to the individuals affected. The Treasury Department list, popularly known as the OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) list, is public, while the travel and other restrictions are private.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken ordered visa restrictions last year for Ugandan officials, who were thought to have harmed the nation’s democratic process. Mr Blinken omitted naming the authorities who were subject to travel restrictions, but many of them were military and police personnel because of their complicity in the violent violations of civilians’ human rights. The names are kept confidential, but those on the list would not be granted visas if they applied to visit the US.

Effect of sanctions
Sanctions make it more difficult for affected parties to use the sanctioning country as a haven for their resources or to launder their illicit riches or to continue conducting business in the US dollar.
Proponents say sanctions like those unleashed by the US’s Magnitsky Act, are an effective illustration of taking tangible action against the most egregious human rights violators and hitting them where it hurts the most—their pockets. A significant punishment is also the inconvenience of being refused admission to countries one used to easily visit as well as the enormous stigma associated with being punished.

The Magnitsky Act and similar laws enacted by other countries like the UK and Australia gives those countries the power to impose financial penalties on foreign nationals or organisations who engage in or perpetrate major human rights violations and corruption abroad. The law has extraterritorial effects and punishes people or organisations for actions taken outside the boundaries of the country enacting it, including freezing and seizing their assets and preventing them from travelling.
Sanctions, like in the case of Gen Kayihura, may be imposed on people (including members of their close family and direct beneficiaries), corporations, state-affiliated organisations, and non-state organisations.