What Are Sanctions and Human Rights?

Severe human rights violations and abuses are occurring in many regions of the world, far too often with no repercussions for the perpetrators. On December 7, 2020, inspired by the Global Magnitsky Act in the US, the European Union adopted a decision and a regulation establishing a global human rights sanctions framework that will allow it to target individuals, entities, and bodies - including state and non-state actors - who are responsible for, involved in, or associated with significant human rights crimes and abuses wherever in the world.

The Global Magnitsky Act, enacted in 2016, permits the US government to impose sanctions on human rights abusers on a global scale. Other countries, including some EU members, quickly followed the United States' lead and implemented similar measures to crack down on foreign human rights crimes. In 2016, Estonia passed legislation prohibiting foreigners convicted of human rights violations from entering the nation. Lithuania, Latvia, and the United Kingdom, all of which were members of the EU at the time, followed and enacted identical legislation. 

Additionally, the Dutch parliament has repeatedly demanded that the Dutch government pursue comparable legislation. However, the Dutch government rejected it, arguing that such legislation would be more effective if passed at the EU level, resulting in later discussions on an EU-level human rights sanction framework.

The definitions and differences between economic and political sanctions.

EU adopts the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime

Severe human rights violations and abuses occur in many places of the world, often with no consequences for the perpetrators. The EU will not stand by while major human rights violations and abuses occur. The introduction of the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime (EUGHRSR) represents a watershed moment in the EU's commitment to play a larger role in tackling major human rights violations and abuses around the world.

The major purpose of the new EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime is to allow the EU to advocate for human rights in a more tangible and direct way as one of the EU's and its foreign policy's fundamental values. The EU's external action is based on human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and human rights. Genocide, crimes against humanity, torture, enslavement, sexual and gender-based violence, enforced disappearances, and people trafficking are all reprehensible acts. The EU's top objective is to put an end to these human rights atrocities and abuses all around the world.

To address human rights violations and abuses, the EU has a set of powers at its disposal. This includes not only political discourse but also multilateral cooperation and sanctions.

Currently, the EU has identified over 200 individuals and organizations in its existing geographical sanctions regimes for human rights violations or abuses.

The current EUGHRSR empowers the EU to target major human rights violations and abuses everywhere in the world, whereas existing sanctions regimes only target specific nations.

Of course, sanctions are not an end in themselves. They are part of the EU's broader human rights strategy.

detecting and preventing human trafficking

Who is the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime targeting?

The EUGHRSR targets individuals and companies globally who are responsible for or complicit in severe human rights violations or abuses. It can also target people and organizations affiliated with criminals.

In terms of the targets' nature, they can be both state and non-state actors, regardless of where they are or whether they perpetrate the violations and abuses within their own state, other states, or across boundaries.

EU sanctions are always targeted and never affect civilians. The EUGHRSR has unique articles, including a dedicated humanitarian exemption, which allows Member States to authorize actions that would otherwise be prohibited if such measures serve humanitarian interests.

What are the acts that are sanctioned under the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime?

The EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime addresses significant transgressions and abuses of human rights.

Genocide, crimes against humanity, torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, enslavement, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests or detentions are all examples of acts covered under the EUGHRSR.

It also covers other acts, including but not limited to the following, in so far as those violations or abuses are widespread, systematic, or otherwise of serious concern in relation to the objectives of the common foreign and security policy outlined in Article 21 of the Treaty on European Union: human trafficking, as well as abuses of human rights by migrant smugglers, sexual and gender-based violence, violations or abuses of freedom of movement, violations or abuses of freedom of movement.

Other Sanction Regimes For Human Rights

Several countries, including Canada, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom, have enacted similar penalty systems targeting human rights infractions.

Following its exit from the EU, the United Kingdom approved the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulation in July 2020, allowing it to sanction "perpetrators of the greatest human rights crimes" around the world. The UK sanctions system was established by the UK Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2018, a new legislative framework put in place to allow the UK to continue applying pre-existing EU sanctions during the transition period of its leave from the Union. In contrast to the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, the scope of the UK's sanctions regime includes corruption, as it does with the Global Magnitsky Act.

Following the launch of a parliamentary inquiry in 2019 to determine whether to implement an autonomous sanctions regime in response to allegations of human rights violations, Australia established its own sanctions regime for serious violations or serious abuses of human rights on December 21, 2021. In contrast to a country-specific autonomous sanctions regime, this theme of autonomous sanctions regime applies to sanctionable behavior everywhere in the world. This regime will only be used in the most extreme cases of worldwide significance. Before making a designation, the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs must seek the Attorney-written General's approval and speak with any other ministers deemed necessary.

UK is one of the most influential global actors fighting against money laundering and terrorist financing.

Making sanctions regimes more effective

The decision-making procedures underlying sanctions regimes are currently opaque, with insufficient avenues for monitoring, accountability, and redress, as well as for business and civil society to advise on the necessity and appropriateness of proposed sanctions. Sanctions must be available to examination and input in order to be successful in drawing attention to human rights violations and preventing future abuses. 

To make sanctions regimes fit for purpose and reduce collateral damage, nations must abandon too broad measures that punish entire populations, hinder communities from accessing information, restrict civic space, or encourage firms to over-comply. Sanctions against criminals, governments, corporations and civil society must all work together to advance human rights and democratic values through sanctions regimes. Otherwise, they run the danger of causing more harm than benefit.

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