Human rights violations: New EU regulation and approach in the UK and US

Human rights violations: New EU regulation and approach in the UK and US

The Navalny case. Oppression of the Uyghurs. Myanmar. Measures against human rights violations under the new EU regulation and a look at the UK and US approach.

Council Regulation (EU) 2020/1998 (restrictive measures against serious human rights violations and abuses) of December 7, 2020 gives the EU a vehicle for punishing serious human rights abuses. The new sanctions regime enables a quick, targeted response to various human rights violations, including torture, abuse, executions, and the arbitrary use of state power. The persons or organizations responsible can now be punished independently of the country of their origin – an option not previously available.

The Khashoggi case illustrates this point. The Saudi royal family was quickly suspected and eventually confirmed as being responsible for the brutal killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. At the time, it was not possible for the EU to sanction those responsible. The only possible punitive response would have been for the EU to impose a country embargo on Saudi Arabia. The EU did not have a legal basis for targeted punishment of those responsible for this serious human rights violation.

EU regulations in review: terrorism, chemical weapons, cyberattacks

  • Since 2001, the EU has had an instrument for specifically sanctioning individual persons or organizations involved in terrorism, independently of their country of origin. Following the September 11 attacks of that year, the EU passed the anti-terrorism Regulations 2580/2001 and 881/2002, creating the legal basis for targeted sanctions by prohibiting the provision of financial assets, economic resources, or technical assistance; freezing accounts; and restricting the entry of terrorist groups and the individuals associated with them.
  • In 2018, the EU passed another regulation to sanction the persons and organizations responsible for the Skripal case. Council Regulation (EU) 2018/1542 gives the EU the ability to sanction persons and organizations deemed responsible for the proliferation of chemical weapons.
  • In 2019, the EU then passed Council Regulation (EU) 2019/796, establishing the legal basis for sanctioning persons and organizations deemed responsible for cyberattacks against critical infrastructures within the EU.

Looking at these EU sanctions regulations reveals different objectives but an almost identical drafting of content for sanctions options: The approach seeks to dry up funds of the listed persons and organizations and restrict the persons from entering the EU.

The direct and indirect prohibitions on the provision of financial assets, economic resources, or technical assistance, which are primarily relevant for commercial enterprises, are therefore broadly defined to cover assets of all types.

In all these EU regulations, the sanctioned persons and organizations are listed in the annex.

Applying the latest EU regulation to human rights violations

Back to the sanctioning of serious human rights violations: Council Regulation (EU) 2020/1998 of December 7, 2020, uses the approach outlined above to provide an option for prohibiting the provision of financial assets, economic resources, or technical assistance; restricting the entry; and freezing the accounts of persons and organizations deemed responsible for serious human rights abuses.

The EU has already availed itself twice of the option to punish human rights violations:

  1. In the Navalny case, sanctions were imposed on Russian state officials deemed responsible for the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, including the Director of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) and the Prosecutor-General of the Russian Federation.
  2. The EU implemented punitive measures on March 22, 2021, against Chinese party and regional officials and an organization from Xinjiang province deemed responsible for the oppression of the country’s Uyghur Muslim minority. The punitive measures against the named persons and organizations include a freeze on all assets, a prohibition on the provision of funds and economic resources, and a ban on entry into the EU.

In actual implementation, this means that the sanctioned persons and entities have been added to the list of names in the Annex to Council Regulation (EU) 2020/1998. The listed entities are subject to the financial sanctions and entry bans outlined in the regulation.

Persons and organizations subject to prohibitions on the provision of financial assets, economic resources, or technical assistance are consolidated in the CFSP list, a database maintained by the EU. The European External Service (EEAS) continuously incorporates all names subject to financial sanctions under all EU sanctions regulations and country embargo regulations into the CFSP list and makes the data available in machine-readable format.

All companies that use AEB’s Compliance Screening solution check their business contacts against the EU’s current CFSP list. In this way, the AEB Compliance Screening solution provides up-to-date checks of whether any EU sanctions are in place against your screened business partners.

The EU has already announced further sanctions for serious human rights violations against 11 persons from Myanmar deemed responsible for the military coup and the violence against demonstrators there. When these sanctions take effect, the names of these persons will be added to the Annex of Council Regulation (EU) 2020/1998.


Automatically updated sanctions lists

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US and UK policies on human rights violations

Finally, let’s take a look at the United States and the United Kingdom.


Like the EU, the US has a range of sanctions programs with various objectives. The Global Magnitsky Act of 2017 provided a legal basis for punishing serious human rights violations.

Most US sanctions regimes are managed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and consolidated in the Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN). It should be emphasized here that the EU and US are currently pursuing a unified strategy of sanctions in connection with the Navalny case and the persecution of the Uyghurs in order to punish the responsible individuals and organizations.


Since the UK’s exit from the EU, UK sanctions are defined under UK national legislation. UK financial sanctions against individuals, entities, and organizations are consolidated in the UK Sanctions List, which encompasses all listings made under the UK Sanctions Act (Sanctions and Anti–Money Laundering Act 2018).

To address human rights violations, the UK issued the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 on July 6, 2020, imposing financial sanctions and travel bans for the first time on March 22, 2021. These measures target four Chinese government officials as well as a security body in Xinjiang. The sanctions were issued at the same time as those in the EU, Canada, and US. The punitive measures are an internationally coordinated move against the oppression of the Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.