EU backs global sanctions programme for rights abusers

Foreign ministers agree to push ahead with plans to tackle the worst cases worldwide

epa08057690 European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell speaks at a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (unseen), ahead of a meeting at the building of the European External Action Service (EEAS), in Brussels, Belgium, 09 December 2019.  EPA/STEPHANIE LECOCQ
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EU states backed plans for a new global sanctions regime on Thursday to punish people for serious human rights abuses.

Josep Borrell, the bloc’s new foreign policy chief, said that all 28 nations had backed preparations for the programme, overcoming the concerns of countries such as Hungary, Greece, Cyprus and Italy.

Officials will now draft the EU’s version of the US Global Magnitsky Act, named in honour of a Russian whistle-blower who died in 2009 after being beaten in prison while seeking to expose a huge corruption scandal.

“We have agreed to launch the preparatory work for a global sanctions regime to address serious human rights violations, which will be the EU equivalent of the Magnitsky Act of the US,” Mr Borrell said in Brussels.

“If there was opposition from any member state we wouldn’t have decided to launch the process.”

Before he took on the job, the Spaniard was critical of the EU’s inability to take strong action in the world.

Mr Borrell said the new sanctions regime, which will take months of drafting and debate, would give the EU much greater capacity to punish serious human rights breachers.

The EU is following the lead of countries including the US, UK and Canada who have introduced their own versions of the Magnitsky Act.

Introduced in the US in 2012 against Russian officials, its remit has expanded to freeze the assets and impose travel bans on officials from other countries.

The US has sanctioned senior Myanmar officials held responsible for the Rohingya massacre and Iran-backed paramilitaries in Iraq.

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of detained British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, last week called for the Magnitsky Act to be used to punish Iranian judges and jailers holding foreign prisoners.

The EU move was welcomed by Bill Browder, the US financier and founder of Hermitage Capital Management, which was the target of a $230 million (Dh844.8m) tax fraud.

Sergei Magnitsky was investigating the fraud for Mr Browder when he was arrested.

“This is a gigantic development," he wrote on Twitter.

"If human rights violators cannot travel to Europe and they’re already banned from the US and Canada, it will be devastating for them."

Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said the move sent a “strong signal” on the eve of International Human Rights Day.