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13th Apr 2024

Dutch flesh out proposal for EU human rights sanctions

  • Jamal Khashoggi: Dutch-proposed sanctions could target individuals who attack human rights activists (Photo: pomed.org)

A new EU sanctions regime should punish people who attack human rights activists, among other crimes, the Dutch foreign ministry has said.

"This new regime will enable the EU to ... act when human rights violations and abuses are committed against those who seek to obtain, exercise, defend or promote internationally recognised human rights and freedoms," it said in a "discussion paper" circulated to EU capitals last week and seen by EUobserver.

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  • Bill Browder met Stef Blok last week, but Dutch declined to name new law after Sergei Magnitsky (Photo: government.nl)

"It shall place restrictive measures on those individuals who commit serious human rights violations and abuses (including extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary executions, enforced disappearances, torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment)," it added.

It circulated the paper ahead of a meeting of EU diplomats in The Hague on Tuesday (20 November).

The diplomats, including US and Canadian visitors, will debate the introduction of a new EU sanctions law to impose visa bans and asset freezes on targeted individuals no matter where they come from.

Existing sanctions measures target whole states, such as Belarus, North Korea, or Myanmar.

They are imposed by a consensus of EU states and often get held up or watered down in political horse-trading in the EU Council.

But the new regime would be more "flexible", the Dutch said, and could operate on the model of the EU's counter-terrorism blacklist that is in place since 2001.

This works via six-monthly reviews in which low-ranking EU experts agree new listings via less formal, behind-closed-doors talks.

The Dutch paper said the move was needed because "human rights are under increasing pressure worldwide, authoritarian regimes are expanding their grip and even questioning the nature of the universality of human rights in itself".

The move would help EU efforts to take "pre-emptive" moves to help create "peace".

It would "put a real price on committing human rights violations and abuses and contribute to a change in behaviour," the Dutch said.

Khashoggi

The project comes as Western countries ponder how to deal with Saudi Arabia, a strategic ally in the Middle East which recently murdered a journalist - Jamal Khashoggi.

It also comes after the EU agreed to go ahead with targeted sanctions against chemical weapons abusers and cyber-attackers.

The UK, joined by France and Germany, are planning to propose listing the two Russian suspects involved in the chemical weapon attack on a Russian spy in the UK in March, as well as four other Russian spy chiefs from the GRU military intelligence service.

The US, last week, also listed 17 Saudis deemed guilty of the Khashoggi murder under its so-called Global Magnitsky Act.

The US named its law after Sergei Magnitsky - a Russian anti-corruption activist who was killed nine years ago.

The Dutch proposal stems from appeals by Dutch MPs and by Magnitsky's former employer, Bill Browder, to create an 'EU Magnitksy Act' in his name.

But Dutch diplomats have removed all references to Russia from their proposal for fear that Russia-friendly governments, such as those in Austria or Italy, could block the move to please Moscow.

The new law should be called an "EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime" instead, they suggested.

It was "inspired by the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights", a UN charter and not by Russia's persecution of Magnitsky, the discussion paper added.

Africa

The kinds of crimes that would merit listing could be limited to a list of themes, such as "slavery, human trafficking, sexual and gender-based violence", the paper also said, shifting focus to problems more readily associated with Africa and the Middle East than with Russia.

It could target "individuals belonging to non-state actors (i.e. rebel groups)", it noted.

It could also be "confined to violations and abuses that are widespread and/or systematic," instead of individual egregious acts, it said.

The paper asked the question whether EU states or the EU foreign service should be able "to propose listings at any moment in time" or "only once every period of time (six months, one year)".

With so many individuals around the world who could merit listing, it also voiced concern that "too much flexibility might result in overburdening of the policy process and exposing differences rather than joint resolve".

The sanctions would in most cases be imposed against people who had never been convicted of their crimes back home "as part of a broader fight against impunity," and in order to reinforce "accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims," the Dutch said.

But EU sanctions can be, and often are, challenged in the EU court in Luxembourg, meaning that any new measures must "set clear criteria to ensure the highest standards of due process", the Dutch paper noted.

Due process

"Which role should national or international criminal proceedings play in considerations on delisting?," the paper asked.

"Could a link with ICC arrest warrants be desirable?," it added, referring to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

"Could an independent commission play a role in proposing listings to the [EU] Council?," it also asked.

The Dutch said their five-hour long "seminar", on Tuesday, will "exchange ideas" on "the (dis)advantages" of the move, their invitation, also seen by EUobserver, noted.

They aimed to "circulate after the seminar an anonymised list of ideas, concerns, and other relevant elements to feed into further discussions on this topic".

It might also lead to a formal "proposal or package of proposals by a group of MS [member states] and/or EEAS [EU foreign service]", but only if there is a "critical mass" to go ahead, the Dutch said.

The Dutch foreign minister, Stef Blok, will speak at the event.

But if his EU proposal flops, then Dutch MPs, in a resolution earlier this year, have obliged The Netherlands to create a national-level law instead, joining Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the UK, Canada, and the US, which already have their own "Magnitsky Acts" in place.

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