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The “EU Global Human Rights agenda” is Taking Shape

October 28, 2020

By Nicola Bonucci and Jon Drimmer

On 19 October 2020, the European Commission issued a press release announcing the submission of a “Joint Proposal for a Council Regulation concerning implementation of restrictive measures (sanctions) against serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide.”  This proposal is being submitted jointly with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell.

On the same day, the High Representative announced that it was submitting a Council Decision, and that this text coupled with the Joint Proposal will establish the “EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime.”

According to the press release, “[o]nce in force, the new EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime will provide the EU with greater flexibility to target those responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide, no matter where they occur or who is responsible. It is expected that the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime will consist of measures such as asset freezes and travel bans”. The Joint Proposal would give, for the first time, the Commission oversight on the implementation of the travel bans currently under the sole supervision of EU member states.

Under the Commission plan, the EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime would then replace – in the future - the EU’s country-by-country system for imposing asset freezes and travel bans on foreigners deemed to have violated fundamental rights with a single framework for such penalties.  However, the press release clarifies that “the new regime will not replace existing geographic sanctions regimes, some of which already address human rights violations and abuses, for example in Syria, Belarus or Venezuela.”

The German EU Presidency confirmed it aims to see member states approve the new EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime by the end of this year, with the new regime potentially coming into force by January.  The regime would be a key deliverable in the context of the Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020 – 2024 as part of the Joint Communication presented in March 2020.


Coupled with the ongoing review of the EU Dual-Use Regulation as well the “EU Mandatory Corporate Due Diligence and Corporate Accountability” initiative, these EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime proposals delineate a more coherent and proactive approach and a true EU-level “global human rights agenda.”


In light of the uncertainty of the terms of the UK’s departure from the European Union and their future relationship, it remains to be seen what the UK position on these new proposals will be once the end of the Brexit transitionary period is over in 2021.

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Image: Jonathan C Drimmer
Jonathan C Drimmer
Partner, Litigation Department
Image: Nicola Bonucci
Nicola Bonucci
Partner, Litigation Department