On 7 December 2020, the EU adopted a global human rights sanctions regime. No individuals have been designated yet. Going forward, this means that companies should ensure that they conduct sanctions screening on all counterparties and business partners against the EU asset freeze list, even if those third parties are not located in a country specifically targeted by an EU sanctions programme.

On 7 December 2020, the EU adopted a decision and a regulation establishing a global human rights sanctions regime. The new regime is inspired by the 2012 Magnitsky Act in the U.S., named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died of mistreatment in a Russian prison. Similarly the UK introduced the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations in July 2020.

In contrast to the U.S. and UK, the EU did not previously have a non-country-based sanctions programme to address human rights violations.

Council Decision (CFSP) 2020/1999 sets out key policy and principles binding on the EU Member States and Council Regulation (EU) 2020/1998 sets out more detailed provisions that are directly binding on any person subject to EU jurisdiction. The accompanying Council press release states: “For the first time, the EU is equipping itself with a framework that will allow it to target individuals, entities and bodies – including state and non-state actors – responsible for, involved in or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide, no matter where they occurred.”

According to the Council press release, the decision to establish an EU global human rights sanctions regime “emphasises that the promotion and protection of human rights remain a cornerstone and priority of EU external action and reflects the EU’s determination to address serious human rights violations and abuses”.

The regime covers serious human rights violations and abuses, including:

  • genocide;
  • crimes against humanity;
  • torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • slavery; and
  • extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings.

The sanctions consist of:

  • an asset freeze for listed individuals/entities;
  • a prohibition to make funds or economic resources available to listed individuals and entities; and
  • a travel ban for listed individuals.

The regime targets:

  • individuals and entities responsible for or involved in serious human rights violations or abuses worldwide. It can also target individuals and entities associated with the perpetrators; and
  • it can target both state and non-state actors, regardless of where they are, and regardless of whether they commit violations and abuses in their own state, in other states or across borders.

The new regime will not replace existing geographic sanctions regimes, some of which already address human rights violations, but will enable the EU to target with greater flexibility and efficiency specific individuals responsible for human rights violations and abuses anywhere in the world.

As a result of these new measures, all funds and economic resources belonging to, owned, held or controlled by the targeted individuals and entities must be frozen, and no funds or economic resources can be made available, directly or indirectly, to or for the benefit of these individuals and entities. The measures can extend to non-designated entities that are more than 50% “owned” or “controlled” by the sanctions targets, and can also target individuals and entities “associated” with the sanctions targets. Going forward, this means that EU companies should ensure that they conduct sanctions screening on all counterparties and business partners against the EU asset freeze list, even if those third parties are not located in a country specifically targeted by an EU sanctions programme.

Next steps

Moving forward, it will be for the Council, acting upon a proposal from an EU Member State or from the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to establish, review and amend the sanctions list. At this stage, no individuals or entities have been designated or publicly identified for potential listing under the new EU sanctions programme.

You can read about the UK’s first sanctions designations under new global human rights sanctions regime here.