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18th May 2022

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First glimpse of new EU human rights sanctions

  • US named sanctions after Sergei Magnitsky, who exposed corruption in Russia and died in prison (Photo: Dmitry Rozhkov)

International perpetrators of genocide and torture, but not corruption, are to face new-model EU sanctions, a leaked document shows.

Those guilty of crimes against humanity, slavery, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests will also face EU asset-freezes and visa-bans.

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  • Journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul (Photo: pomed.org)

And those responsible for human-trafficking, sexual violence, and abuses of freedom of peaceful assembly, expression, or religion will likewise be targeted.

The 12 criteria appeared in a European Commission draft of the new regulation, dated one month ago and seen by EUobserver.

The sanctions are meant to end impunity for the minions of abusive regimes worldwide.

And by targeting individuals and entities, instead of foreign administrations, they are meant to end exemption even for the servants of powerful and strategically important states.

They could have been imposed on the poisoners of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, for instance, had they already been in force, one EU diplomat said.

They could also have been used against the murderers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, in another example, diplomats added.

But the 12 criteria did not include corruption, unlike similar legislation in the US, Canada, and the Baltic states by which the EU regulation was inspired, disappointing one prominent campaigner.

"Many people are being tortured and killed because they're exposing corruption," Bill Browder, a British hedge fund manager and rights activist, said.

"It's part and parcel of the whole 'Magnitsky law' concept," he said.

The EU measures were also crowned with an anodyne title.

The US, Canadian, and Baltic sanctions are called Magnitsky Acts after Sergei Magnitsky - Browder's former lawyer, who exposed corruption in Russia and died in prison for it.

EU states originally proposed to call their version a "global human rights sanctions regime", so that they did not look like they were taking aim at Russia.

And the EU commission called it "restrictive measures against serious human rights violations" in its draft regulation.

EU officials declined to comment for the time being.

But they previously said they would put forward the new bill in autumn for adoption by EU states.

Small print

The 12 headline criteria aside, the draft seen by EUobserver left room for creativity.

Any other "abuses of human rights" could also be eligible, so long as they were "widespread, systematic, or otherwise serious", the EU small print said.

And it left room for realpolitik: The listing decisions should "take into account" the "objectives of [Europe's] common foreign and security policy," the draft noted.

The EU measures are to cover foreign officials as well as "non-state actors", such as militia leaders.

Those to be named and shamed are, almost by definition, never convicted by the powers they serve.

But they will be free to challenge the EU in its courts in Luxembourg, the draft noted.

They can also get delisted by passing "new information" to the EU commission.

Names are to be added by EU states, who agree by consensus.

EU countries' banks will freeze assets and member states will enforce the visa bans.

But the commission will otherwise retain control as the "implementing authority", it proposed.

Transparency

Previous EU financial sanctions were marked by obscurity on who had frozen what, if any, assets at national level.

But member states "shall inform each other of funds frozen" under the new measures, the commission also suggested.

The human-rights move follows similar, targeted EU sanctions against people guilty of cyber crimes and abuse of chemical weapons.

The EU recently listed six individuals and three entities from China, North Korea, and Russia for cyber crimes.

It designated nine people and one entity from Russia and Syria under its chemical weapons regime last year.

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