Brussels (dpa) – The EU has acquired a new sanctioning instrument in the fight against human rights violations. On Monday, the foreign ministers of the member states decided on a regulation that should make the political punishment of such crimes much easier.
The regulation makes it possible to freeze the assets of persons, companies and organizations involved in, for example, torture, slavery or systematic sexual violence. In addition, entry bans must be imposed on people.
“This is a clear announcement that the European Union is committed to meeting its responsibilities,” said Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) of the decision negotiated under the current German presidency of the EU Council. It is about upholding human rights standards worldwide.
Human rights violations could so far only be sanctioned in connection with sanctions against states or in the context of special sanction regimes set up by the EU, for example in the fight against cyber attacks and the use of chemical weapons. This has so far made it difficult or impossible for the EU to respond to human rights violations – for example, in the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.
The new sanctions regime will be especially relevant if human rights violations are not prosecuted in the country where they are committed – for example because the government supports or tolerates them as a means of intimidation. Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Maas (SPD) noted that anyone who tortures should in any case no longer be able to shop carefree in Europe in the future. The new regulation was a major concern of the current German Presidency of the EU Council.
The political agreement of the EU countries on the new regulation took place last week. The model is the so-called Global Magnitsky Act of the US. This was decided by the US Congress in 2016 to impose sanctions on those responsible for the death of Russian lawyer and auditor Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky died on remand in a Russian prison in 2009 after being assaulted and receiving inadequate medical care.
Proposals to name the planned EU sanctions mechanism after recently poisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was not adopted by EU states. Because of the attack on the opposition politician, they had already imposed an entry and property ban on people suspected of being responsible near President Vladimir Putin through the chemical weapons regime in October.
The proposal by the European Commission and the Foreign Service to relax the unanimity principle in sanction decisions also found insufficient support. Individual EU states can thus continue to avoid punitive measures with a simple veto.
The sanctions regime itself will also have to be extended unanimously after three years. The individual punitive measures against people, companies and organizations should even be checked and confirmed annually.
It was initially unclear whether sanctions could be imposed in a first round of sanctions. On Monday it was only said that the new system does not serve to come to terms with the past, but rather to respond to current developments.