On 9 December 2019, High Representative/Vice-President of the European Union Josep Borrell announced that the Foreign Affairs Council has agreed with strong consensus to start the preparatory work for a global sanctions regime to address serious human rights violations.

The framework is expected to closely mirror the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which was signed into law in 2012 under the Obama Administration and imposes asset freezes and travel bans on Russian officials accused of being responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax advisor and lawyer, in a prison in Moscow. In 2016, U.S. Congress enacted the Global Magnitsky Act, allowing the U.S. Government to sanctions foreign government officials involved in human rights abuses anywhere in the world.

During the press conference, HRVP Borrell stated that “to have a tool like this that gives across the board a method of reacting with an approval by the Council in general terms, gives us much more strength and much more capacity to react in front of serious human rights violations.”

It is likely that under the new European framework, the EU would have a similar power to identify human rights abusers and to sanction them with an asset freeze and visa ban. It however remains to be seen whether the new framework will receive sufficient support as in the past several EU Member States have opposed the attempt to implement a European version of the Magnitstky Act.