EU Adopts ‘Landmark’ Global Magnitsky Human Rights Sanctions Regime

December 7, 2020 Updated: December 7, 2020

The European Union decided on Monday to establish a global Magnitsky sanctions regime, enabling the bloc to target individuals and entities responsible for human rights abuses.

“Today we adopted the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime,” said Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

“This is a landmark agreement and the first of its kind. It will allow the European Union to target serious human rights abuses and violations worldwide,” he wrote on Twitter.

The decision, made at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday, will add to the EU’s “toolbox” in dealing with human rights violations around the world, including in China.

“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,” said the Council of the EU in a press release.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo congratulated the EU on its adoption of the new framework. “The EU’s new authorities will promote accountability for human rights abuse and complement the efforts of the U.S., UK, and Canada, further enabling us to act together,” he wrote on Twitter.

EU officials and parliamentarians have long called for a European version of the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law that punishes foreign officials suspected of human rights abuses through entry bans and asset freezes.

The calls have grown significantly louder this year due to the worsening human rights situation in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

There have also been calls for the EU to impose sanctions on those responsible for the brutal crackdown on protesters in Belarus and the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

In her first “State of the Union” speech in September, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed the importance of adopting an EU Magnitsky Act, mentioning specifically the Chinese regime’s human rights abuses.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives her first State of the Union speech during a plenary session of European Parliament in Brussels, on Sept. 16, 2020. (Olivier Hoslet/pool via Reuters)

“We must always call out human rights abuses whenever and wherever they occur—be it on Hong Kong or with the Uyghurs,” she said.

As the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy requires unanimity among all member states, EU policy on China has been repeatedly blocked by some small EU countries, such as Greece, Hungary, and Portugal, which can be easily swayed by Beijing’s influence.

In May, Josep Borrell Fontelles accused Beijing of “playing on” differences among EU member states.

Von der Leyen urged member states to adopt “qualified majority voting” on human rights and sanctions implementation, which will prevent a small number of member states from blocking EU action on human rights.

Nicole Hao contributed to this report.