EU to launch new mechanism for human rights sanctions

It will cover violations including genocide, arbitrary arrests or detention and gender-based violence.

EU to launch new mechanism for human rights sanctions

The EU has adopted a mechanism for applying sanctions to individuals for human rights violations separately from their national government, according to two documents seen by POLITICO that will be formally presented next week.

The two documents, a Council decision and a Council regulation, were agreed by EU ambassadors on Wednesday and will be presented Monday during a meeting of EU foreign ministers, in time for Human Rights Day on December 10, diplomats say.

The agreement puts an end to years of discussions and means sanctions can be applied more flexibly. An EU official said that, for example, “we can sanction a Chinese official without sanctions on China.” The measures would require unanimity among EU countries, however.

The move puts the EU in line with countries such as the U.S. and the U.K that have already put in place so-called Magnitsky Acts, that allow states to punish foreign officials that transgress human rights. They are named after the lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a prison in Moscow in 2009. The EU version will not carry the same name though to avoid objections from countries that have a pro-Russian line.

The two documents provide a long list of violations that could be punished with travel bans and asset freezes. The list includes genocide, crimes against humanity, arbitrary arrests or detentions, torture, slavery, sexual and gender-based violence, “violations or abuses of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association” and human trafficking.

Unlike similar powers in other countries, however, the EU mechanism does not allow sanctions to be applied on the basis of corruption. That’s because “in international legislation there’s not a clear definition,” said an EU diplomat. One diplomat pointed out that corruption cases can already be targeted using existing geographical sanctions.

In September, Cyprus held up a decision to impose sanctions on Belarus officials involved in a crackdown on protesters after that country’s disputed election because of an unrelated disagreement about sanctions on Turkey.

To avoid such delays in future, the Netherlands had pushed for the new mechanism to allow sanctions decisions to be agreed by qualified majority, but that proposal was rejected.

The documents state that “the Council, acting by unanimity upon a proposal from a Member State or from the High Representative [the EU’s top diplomat]” will establish the listings. The phrase “by unanimity” was added following an earlier draft presented in October by the Commission and the External Action Service, the EU diplomatic body.

According to two diplomats, a majority of member states argued that unanimity, albeit more complicated, “gives a stronger message of political will.”

Diplomats say they hope that it will be “a matter of weeks” before the new mechanism is put in place.