Sanctions and Human Rights

Severe human rights violations and abuses continue to occur in various regions worldwide, often without consequences for those responsible. On December 7, 2020, the European Union adopted a decision and regulation inspired by the US Global Magnitsky Act. This framework enables the EU to target individuals, entities, and organizations, including both state and non-state actors, involved in significant human rights crimes and abuses, regardless of their location.

The US Global Magnitsky Act, enacted in 2016, empowers the US government to impose sanctions on human rights abusers globally. Several other countries, including certain EU member states, swiftly followed the US’s lead by implementing similar measures to address foreign human rights violations. For instance, in 2016, Estonia passed legislation prohibiting foreigners convicted of human rights violations from entering the country. Subsequently, Lithuania, Latvia, and the United Kingdom, all EU members at that time, enacted identical legislation.

Moreover, the Dutch parliament has repeatedly urged the Dutch government to enact similar legislation. However, the Dutch government declined, stating that such legislation would be more effective if implemented at the EU level. This led to subsequent discussions on establishing an EU-level human rights sanction framework.

Who is the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime targeting?

The EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime (EUGHRSR) targets individuals and companies worldwide who are responsible for or involved in severe human rights violations or abuses. It can also extend its reach to individuals and organizations associated with criminal activities.

The targets of the EUGHRSR can include both state and non-state actors, regardless of the location of the violations and abuses—whether occurring within their own state, in other states, or across borders.

It is essential to note that EU sanctions are always focused on specific targets and do not impact civilians. The EUGHRSR includes distinctive provisions, such as a dedicated humanitarian exemption, which permits Member States to authorize actions that would otherwise be prohibited if they serve humanitarian interests.

Under the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, the following acts are sanctioned:

1. Genocide
2. Crimes against humanity
3. Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment
4. Enslavement
5. Extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions and killings
6. Enforced disappearances
7. Arbitrary arrests or detentions

The EUGHRSR also covers other acts, provided they are widespread, systematic, or of serious concern in relation to the objectives of the EU’s common foreign and security policy, as outlined in Article 21 of the Treaty on European Union. These additional acts include human trafficking, abuses of human rights by migrant smugglers, sexual and gender-based violence, and violations or abuses of freedom of movement.

Other Sanction Regimes For Human Rights

Several countries, including Canada, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom, have put in place similar penalty systems to target human rights violations.

After leaving the EU, the United Kingdom authorized the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulation in July 2020. This regulation empowers the UK to sanction individuals involved in the most severe human rights crimes worldwide. The UK sanctions system was established through the UK Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2018, a new legislative framework designed to enable the UK to continue applying pre-existing EU sanctions during its transition period after leaving the Union. Unlike the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, the UK’s sanctions regime includes corruption, following the model of the Global Magnitsky Act.

In response to allegations of human rights violations, Australia initiated a parliamentary inquiry in 2019 to explore the implementation of an autonomous sanctions regime. On December 21, 2021, Australia established its own sanctions regime targeting serious violations or abuses of human rights. Unlike a country-specific autonomous sanctions regime, this theme of autonomous sanctions applies to sanctionable behavior worldwide. The regime will only be employed in the most extreme cases of global significance. Before designating individuals under this regime, the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs must seek approval from the Attorney-General and consult with other relevant ministers as necessary.