Can the EU sanction individuals and entities anywhere in the world?

Did you know of the existence of a sanctioning mechanism that allows the EU to impose sanctions on individuals and entities on a worldwide level when they commit serious human rights violations?


Very few of us knew about the existence of this mechanism. For us, the mechanism of article 7, Treaty of the European Union (TEU) and the possibility of the EU to suspend its economic relations with certain countries if they violate agreements or binding laws are the most popular and commonly known. However, the possibility of the EU imposing sanctions on a global level is new for all of us.


Last year on December 7 2020. For the first time, this mechanism was introduced by a decision and a regulation that established a global human rights sanctions regime. This new tool of Common Foreign and Security Policy was completely newfangled and unique. 


This Regulation allows the EU to target individuals, entities, and bodies involved in or associated with severe human rights violations and abuses worldwide, no matter where they occurred.


The Council of the EU adopted this week on December 6 a decision to prolong the sanctions against any natural or legal person, entity or body responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses in various countries worldwide until December 8, 2022.


Scope of this Regulation


Although this Regulation applies within the territory of the Union, it affects any natural person, inside or outside the territory of the Union who is a national of a Member State and any legal person, entity or body, inside or outside the territory of the Union, which is incorporated or constituted under the law of a Member State or when the business is done in whole or in part within the Union.


Even Annex I of this Regulation includes an extensive list of affected individuals and entities, which must be reviewed every year. The last revision was made this Monday, December 6, and concluded by maintaining the sanctions imposed on a total of fourteen individuals and four entities.


What types of sanctions are included in this Regulation?


The EU can impose a travel ban for individuals and freeze funds to individuals and entities. 


Furthermore, to ensure the effectiveness of these measures, it is also prohibited to persons and entities in the EU to make funds available or provide technical or any material support to those individuals or entities.


To which human rights violations and abuses applies the sanctions set out in this Regulation and Decision?


This global Human Rights sanctions regime applies to any violation or abuse that may affect, harm, or impair the common foreign and security policy objectives set out in Article 21 TEU. 


 More specifically, sanctions will be imposed in the case of severe crimes against humanity, genocide, slavery, extrajudicial executions and killings, arbitrary arrests or detentions, enforced disappearance of persons, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or any time of the abuse, since the list of the Article 2 of the Council Regulation (EU) 2020/1998 of December 7, 2020, concerning restrictive measures against serious human rights violations and abuses, is not a closed or exclusive list.


In addition, it also condemns trafficking in human beings, sexual and gender-based violence, violations of freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of religion or belief, among others.


From a personal point of view, I find this global sanctioning mechanism of the EU’s foreign action policy efficient and effective even when it does not completely end but reduces the serious violations and abuses of human rights worldwide.


Now, what worries me is whether this mechanism will always be used or, unfortunately, only when these violations and abuses directly affect the interests of the EU.


We cannot deny the objectives of the EU as a legal person or forget the motives behind the EU constitution. That is why it should be borne in mind that we must condemn all acts that seriously violate human rights, no matter where they take place or who they affect. The life and ownership of all must be equal.




2. Council Decision (CFSP) 2020/1999 of December 7, 2020, concerning restrictive measures against serious human rights violations and abuses.


3. Council Regulation (EU) 2020/1998 of December 7, 2020, concerning restrictive measures against serious human rights violations and abuses.



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