EU Urged to Support a Targeted, Global Human Rights Sanctions Program

Human Rights First, in partnership with 89 human rights and anti-corruption organizations from around the world, called on the European Union (EU) to establish a targeted, global sanctions program to hold individuals and entities accountable for serious human rights violations. The call came in a joint letter to EU member states’ ministers of foreign affairs in advance of the meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council, where the issue was to be discussed. December 10 also marked the 70th anniversary of the United Nation’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“At a time when it seems that dictators and human rights abusers can murder and steal with impunity, it’s vital that governments committed to the rule of law equip themselves with tools to fight back,” said Rob Berschinski, senior vice president for policy at Human Rights First, who recently traveled to The Hague to advise EU governments on sanctions-based human rights accountability programs. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights isn’t a historical artifact to be praised but not defended. The rights it enumerates—to criticize one’s government, to assemble and organize, to practice one’s religion, to be tried in a fair court of law—are under threat to a degree unseen in decades. Now is the time for the EU—a body established on the basis of respect for human rights and the rule of law—to take a definitive step toward the creation of a tool that can help protect not just the most vulnerable, but also the very basis of stability and prosperity.”

If established by the EU, a global, targeted sanctions program focused on human rights violations and acts of significant corruption would be similar to the United States’ Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2016, the most comprehensive human rights and anti-corruption sanctions tool in U.S. history. The United States has sanctioned over one hundred foreign individuals and entities found to have committed serious human rights abuses or to have engaged in significant acts of corruption by subjecting designees to asset freezes and visa restrictions. 

The proposal under discussion at the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council would, if fully realized, create a mechanism similar to the Global Magnitsky Act through which the EU could identify individuals responsible for heinous abuses worldwide and impose targeted sanctions against them.

Since the Global Magnitsky Act’s enactment, Human Rights First has coordinated the efforts of dozens of non-government organizations from around the world in assembling viable case files on potential sanctions designees.

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