European parliament calls for faster progress on EU human rights sanctions regime

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Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have called on the EU to push ahead formulating its human rights sanctions regime, in spite the current COVID-19 crisis, as well as ensuring that Sergei Magnitsky's name appears in the name of the new legislation.

What has happened?

At the end of last week, 46 MEPs wrote a letter to the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, calling for the European Union External Action Service to continue working on formulating the EU's human rights sanctions regime, irrespective of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What does this mean?

In December 2019, the EU announced the launch of preparatory work on an EU-wide sanctions regime targeting serious human rights violations, which would be the EU equivalent of the so-called US Magnitsky Act. At the time, Borrell had described the move as a "clear priority for Europeans… and my mandate".

The MEPs have now told Borrell that it is "essential" to move quickly in formulating the details of this global sanctions regime, and urged for 'Magnitsky' to be included in the name of the legal adopted act, as the European Parliament requested earlier this month.

"While we are focused today on the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot forget the ongoing human rights abuses taking place around the world at the hands of dictators and kleptocrats. If we fail to address human rights abuses with strong measures, our calls of concern will ring hollow to victims' ears," the letter said.

The MEPs believe that “excluding Magnitsky’s name would be a huge political gift to [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin, who has made deleting his name from the title of foreign legislation a high priority.”

They added that it "would be a terrible injustice to Sergei Magnitsky's sacrifice if the EU did not incorporate his name in the legislation."

In December 2012, then US President Barack Obama signed into law the US Magnitsky Act, which targets Russian officials who are deemed responsible for the death of tax lawyer Sergei Magnisky in a Moscow prison in 2009. The law allows the US government to sanction human rights offenders, freeze their assets and ban them from coming into the country.

Similar legislation has been passed in the UK, Canada and the Baltic States of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

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