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The EU’s Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime Comes into Force

The EU’s new global human rights sanctions regime came into force on December 8. Council Regulation (EU) 2020/1998 provides for the freezing of funds and economic resources and travel bans on those responsible for or involved in serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide. Individuals and entities who provide financial, technical or material support for, or are otherwise involved in or associated with, listed individuals or entities may also be targeted [1].

Article 2 of the new regulations establishes that they apply to:

  • genocide;
  • crimes against humanity;
  • serious human rights violations or abuses including torture, slavery, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance of persons and arbitrary arrests or detentions; and
  • other human rights violations or abuses, including human trafficking, abuses by migrant smugglers, sexual and gender-based violence, and abuses of freedom of peaceful assembly, association, opinion, expression, religion or belief.

The new global framework is a divergence from the EU’s typical country-specific sanctions regimes and reflects “the EU’s determination to address serious human rights violations and abuses.” In a blog post, the EU’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Josep Borrell, highlighted that a global regime is required to “gain more flexibility to go after the perpetrators regardless of where they are and dispenses us from having to set up a specific legal framework each time for each specific case.”

No individuals or entities have currently been designated under the new regime. It therefore remains to be seen what approach the EU will take towards designations. However, Borrell confirmed that the EU regulations will be more limited in scope than the equivalent U.S. regime (the Magnitsky Act). Whilst the Magnitsky Act aims to tackle issues of human rights violations and corruption, the EU system will only apply to the former.

The announcement is in line with the new EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020 – 2024 which was unveiled in November. It is also recognizes the increasing global effort to tackle these issues. Canada has had its Magnitsky laws in place since 2017. The UK implemented its own human rights sanctions regime in July this year (see post), and Australia recently released a report recommending the introduction of similar measures.

The new regulations will apply to all individuals and entities within the EU and all EU nationals and EU businesses. Affected companies will need to ensure that their compliance policies and procedures are up-to-date pending designations.

[1] Article 3(3)