On October 19 the European Commission and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy put forward a Joint Proposal for a Council Regulation concerning implementation of sanctions against serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide. The Joint Proposal for a Council Regulation together with the Council Decision proposed by High Representative Josep Borrell will, once adopted by the Council, establish the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime.
Similar to the 2012 Magnitsky Act in the US, the new sanctions regime will provide the EU with greater flexibility to target those responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses, regardless of where they occur or who is responsible. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently explained that there is a need for such framework in view of the EU’s recent difficulties to impose sanctions on Belarus, Turkey or Russia.
The drafts of the proposed sanctions regime are not yet available. However, the new framework is expected to provide for measures such as asset freezes and travel bans. On the latter, the Joint Proposal would also give, for the first time, the Commission oversight on the implementation of the travel bans. The new framework will not replace existing EU geographic sanctions regimes, some of which already address human rights violations and abuse. It should also be noted that some EU Member States, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, have already adopted restrictive measures, such as travel bans, targeting individuals involved in human rights violations.
The proposals respond to the political agreement by EU Foreign Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council in December 2019 and the High Representative’s announcement to launch preparatory works on a possible horizontal sanctions regime to address serious human rights violations. The EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime is also a key deliverable proposed in the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020 – 2024 as part of the Commission’s and the High Representative’s Joint Communication of March 25, 2020.
The Joint Proposal for a Council Regulation as well as the Council Decision proposed by the High Representative will soon be discussed by Member States in the Council. The German EU Presidency aims that the Council adopts the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime by the end of the year, with the new regime potentially entering into force by January 2021.
While we anticipate that the EU’s future tool will be used with restraint and any listings will be carefully assessed, the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime is an indication that human rights considerations are becoming an even more important goal of the EU’s foreign policy. The ongoing review of the EU Dual-use Regulation is another key area where the EU is likely to introduce new restrictions aiming to prevent human rights violations.