What is the EU Human Rights Sanctions Regime?
The EU has penalized numerous human rights abuses around the world as part of its existing sanctions regime, with examples including actions against China for the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and against Iran for the torture of human rights activists. The EU implements economic sanctions in response to the conduct of other countries, organizations, and individuals, and does so in line with the principles of the CFSP. In addition to punishing human rights abuses, EU sanctions are adopted in order to:
- Protect EU values, interests, and security
- Preserve international peace
- Support democracy and the rule of law
- Avoid conflicts and preserve international security
EU human rights policy is based on the principles of both protecting and promoting fundamental human rights. The EU puts human rights ‘at the heart’ of its relationships with other countries and works in partnership with other countries and international organizations to achieve a number of specific human rights objectives including:
- The promotion of rights for women, children, minorities, and refugees
- Opposition to the death penalty and torture
- Opposition to human trafficking
- Opposition to discrimination
- The inclusion of human rights clauses in international agreements
EU human rights sanctions are issued by the European Council: members of council must agree unanimously to impose sanctions before the relevant legislation is drafted and enforced. Human rights sanctions that are issued by the EU may involve the following measures:
- Asset freezes
- Arms embargoes
- Travel bans
- Trade, investment, and travel restrictions
When implementing sanctions as a consequence of human rights abuses (or for other reasons), the EU seeks to minimize adverse consequences for civilian populations.
Penalties: Violations of EU human rights sanctions are serious criminal offences and may result in financial penalties and prison sentences. Individual EU member states may determine the severity of the penalties they impose for sanctions violations but must ensure they are sufficient to deter future transgressions. In February 2020, for example, the Netherlands imposed a fine of over €4.5 million on Euroturbine for violating an EU export ban on Iran, while in March 2020 the UK imposed a £20.5 million fine on Standard Chartered Bank for a series of loans that violated EU sanctions.