European Union foreign ministers have given the final green light to establishing a system that would allow the 27-nation bloc to impose sanctions on human rights violators worldwide.
The ministers sealed the agreement on a sanctions regime at talks in Brussels on December 7, saying it underlines that “the promotion and protection of human rights remain a cornerstone and priority of EU external action and reflects the EU’s determination to address serious human rights violations and abuses.”
The move allows the bloc “to target individuals, entities and bodies — including state and nonstate actors — responsible for, involved in, or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide, no matter where they occurred,” the Council of the EU said in a statement.
The new mechanism, which envisages both asset freezes and visa bans, is expected to officially enter into force on Human Rights Day on December 10.
EU officials familiar with the matter have told RFE/RL that no individuals or entities will be sanctioned immediately, though names could be put on the blacklist as early as the beginning of 2021.
The punitive measures would apply for acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity, serious human rights violations, or abuses such as torture, slavery, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary arrests. Other acts could be punished if they are “widespread, systematic or are otherwise of serious concern.”
The EU mechanism will not replace existing sanctions programs, some of which already address human rights violations and abuses in Syria, Belarus, and Venezuela.
The mechanism is similar to the Magnitsky Act passed by the United States in 2012, which initially targeted Russian officials deemed complicit in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian whistle-blower who helped uncover the theft of nearly $230 million from Russia’s government through fraudulent tax refunds.
Magnitsky was later arrested, and died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after suffering from what his supporters say amounted to torture.
The U.S. law, which has infuriated the Kremlin, was later expanded into a similarly named measure that included individuals from other nations.