On April 21, 2021, the EU General Court rendered a judgement on an appeal against the retention of Aisha Qaddafi, the daughter of the late Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, on EU sanctions lists. The judgment confirms the case law according to which the EU Council may, in certain cases, have to produce additional proof to justify the listing of a person, even where this person has been previously designated in a Resolution of the UN Security Council.
Aisha Qaddafi was first listed by the EU in March 2011, shortly after her designation by the UN Security Council. Since then, the EU sanctions lists have been updated several times without any amendments to the listing of Ms. Qaddafi. The contested acts by which the listing of Ms. Qaddafi was maintained and which were adopted in 2017 and 2020, did not mention any new factors other those which had been put forward for the initial listing of her name in 2011. The stated reason for listing her under EU sanctions was the simple fact that she had been designated by the UN Security Council in 2011.
The General Court held that merely referring to the UN listing does not make it possible to understand the individual, specific and concrete reasons for maintaining the name of a person on an EU sanctions list. Although the EU Council may refer to a designation under UN sanctions and to the statement of reasons set out in the UN Resolution, the EU Council is not relieved of its obligation to establish whether the continued retention of a person on the EU sanctions lists has a sufficiently solid factual basis.
Furthermore, the Court examined whether a 2015 letter sent by the EU Council to Ms. Qaddafi together with a set of documents could provide reasonable justification for her retention on the EU sanctions lists. In this letter, the EU Council noted that, in 2011 and 2013, Ms. Qaddafi had made public statements calling for the overthrow of the Libyan authorities established following the fall of her father’s regime, and for revenge for his death. However, as pointed out by the Court, the EU Council did not explain why the information was sufficient evidence of the alleged risk which Ms. Qaddafi posed at the time when the decision to maintain her on the EU sanctions list was adopted (i.e. in 2017 and 2020).
On the basis of the information that was provided to her, Ms. Qaddafi was not able to infer – even on a broad interpretation– what the EU Council assumed to be her individual, specific and concrete role in the events taking place in Libya. The Court confirmed that the EU Council was required to state the reasons why this information would still have been up to date in 2017 and 2020, so as to justify maintaining her name on the lists at issue. Although several years had elapsed since the above mentioned statements by Ms. Qaddafi had been reported in the press and brought to the attention of the Council, it did not give any indication as to why the content of those statements might have shown that Ms. Qaddafi still represented a threat of a nature to justify her continued listing within the framework of the objectives of the 2011 UN sanctions, notwithstanding the intervening changes in relation to her individual situation. In particular, the Court emphasized that Ms. Qaddafi had ceased to reside in Libya and that there were no indications of any participation on her part in Libyan political life or statements other than those attributed to her in 2011 and 2013. Despite those changes in Ms. Qaddafi’s individual situation, the Council did not explain why she represented a threat to international peace and security in the region in 2017 and 2020, when the contested decisions to maintain her on the EU sanctions lists were adopted.
For the above reasons, the Court came to the conclusion there was no factual basis that would justify the retention of Ms. Qaddafi’s name on the EU sanctions lists and annulled the contested acts to the extent that they concerned her, thus lifting EU sanctions against her.
According to settled EU case-law, the European courts may review the EU acts implementing UN sanctions although they have no jurisdiction to review the legality of UN Security Council Resolutions. The General Court’s judgement confirms that a designation under UN sanctions is not per se reason enough for the retention of a person under EU sanctions. Additionally, if the factual circumstances have changed considerably since the adoption of the Resolution by the UN Security Council, the EU Council is obliged to provide additional information. Simply referring to the UN sanctions listing as justification for the retention of a person under EU sanctions lists may not be sufficient.