Restrictive measures can now be imposed by the EU against serious human rights violators.

Foreign ministers of the EU have approved a new sanctions mechanism affecting individuals and entities from third countries. For the first time, the EU is equipping itself with a framework that will allow it to target individuals, state and non-state actors who are deemed responsible for, involved in or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide.

Potential measures include a travel ban for individuals and the freezing of funds applying to both individuals and entities. In addition, persons and entities in the EU will be forbidden from making funds available to those blacklisted.

The framework for targeted restrictive measures applies to acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations or abuses (e.g. torture, slavery, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests or detentions). Other human rights violations or abuses can also fall under the scope of the sanctions regime where those violations or abuses are widespread, systematic or are otherwise of serious concern as regards the objectives of the common foreign and security policy set out in Article 21 of the EU Treaty.

It will be for the Council of the EU, acting upon a proposal from a member state or from the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to establish, review and amend the sanctions list.

Last year, the Netherlands initiated a discussion on the EU developing its own version of the US Magnitsky Act. The original US act from 2012 was specifically designed to target Russian officials deemed responsible for the death of the Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. The European Parliament repeatedly called for the EU to adopt legislation similar to that in the US to permit the targeting of individuals irrespective of their nationality or origin.