EU launches preparatory work for global human rights sanctions regime

On 9 December 2019, the new European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell announced that EU foreign ministers have agreed to begin the preparatory work for an EU sanctions regime similar to the United States’ ‘Global Magnitsky Act’.


In March 2019, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for an “EU Global Magnitsky Act” following the Dutch Government’s proposal to establish a sanctions framework specifically targeting human rights violations. The resolution called for a sanctions framework covering both state and non-state actors who have contributed, physically, financially or through corruption, to serious human rights violations, worldwide.

The framework is inspired by the 2012 U.S. Magnitsky Act aimed at targeting human rights violations in Russia following the death of the Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. The 2016 ‘US Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act’ further extended the possibility to impose sanctions for human rights violations to such acts committed anywhere in the world. The latter, commonly referred to as the “Magnitsky Act” has prompted the push for a similar framework on an EU level. A number of countries have since implemented similar sanctions frameworks in their national legislation, such as Canada as well as some EU Member States, including the United Kingdom.

The proposed human rights sanctions framework

The proposed framework will aim at allowing the EU to impose sanctions, such as asset freezes and entry bans to the EU, against specific individuals deemed to have contributed to serious human rights violations. It would enable the EU to act more swiftly in response to violations that cannot be attributed to specific countries, by requiring a qualified majority instead of unanimity when imposing such sanctions against non-state actors.

Although the preparatory work has only just been launched, there is a clear consensus in the EU for a common human rights sanctions regime.

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