The new mechanism means that individuals, entities and bodies responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide will be subject to restrictive measures such as travel bans and freezing of funds.
The EU version is modelled on the Magnitsky Act, a US law named after activist Sergei Magnitsky who died in a Russian jail after uncovering a massive fraud scheme allegedly involving government officials.
The European Parliament has repeatedly asked for a mechanism for sanctions to be introduced to punish individual culprits of human rights atrocities.
Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who is still recovering in Germany from a poisoning attempt in August, said he welcomed the new EU law.
Speaking to MEPs via a conference call, Navalny said he hopes the mechanism, which came into effect on Tuesday, will “punish individual culprits of human rights atrocities” in Russia.
MEPs also broadly welcomed the EU move but said they “regret that corruption is not amongst the punishable violations.”
“It is a lost opportunity that corruption - which is often intrinsically linked to human rights abuses - is not included among the punishable actions and that unanimity is required to impose sanctions” Hilde Vautmans, Renew Europe
Navalny, in his address to Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, also called on the EU to “target” Kremlin-linked Russian oligarchs and described Russian President Vladimir Putin and his associates as “a bunch of criminals who temporarily took over power” in the country.
Navalny, one of four Russian opposition politicians to address the Committee, fell ill on an internal flight and German specialists determined he had been poisoned with a novichok nerve agent. He has accused Putin of ordering his poisoning - a claim Moscow has denied.
He said that rather than targeting those directly responsible for executing criminal orders, a more effective approach is to “target the moneymen, such as the oligarchs.”
Navalny, who said he plans to return to Russia, added, “These people are playing with the EU, saying the EU is afraid of imposing real sanctions. But this type of more targeted approach would be welcomed by 99 percent of people in Russia.”
“There is no sense to sanction colonels or generals or people who are definitely not travelling a lot or have bank accounts in Europe. No one in the Kremlin will treat European sanctions seriously as long as they can moor their yachts in Barcelona or Monaco. Target Russian oligarchs.”
“Just tell them: ‘You are acting against the Russian people, you are acting against Europe, you are all of the time advocating that Europe is something bad. So please, take your yachts and take them somewhere to the nice harbours of Belarus Republic.”
“So far, the approach of the EU has been for technical sanctions, but this makes no sense. You have to ask why are these people still killing and poisoning people? The answer is simple - money. That is why the EU should target the oligarchs” Alexei Navalny, Russian opposition leader
He added, “So far, the approach of the EU has been for technical sanctions, but this makes no sense. You have to ask why are these people still killing and poisoning people? The answer is simple - money. That is why the EU should target the oligarchs.”
He thanked Parliament for its “support to me and my family during this period.”
“This is also important for all Russian people because I am not the first person to be poisoned in this way. It is import for us to know that the EU and this Parliament won’t keep silent on such events.”
Reacting to Monday’s Council decision, the EPP spokeswoman for human rights, Isabel Wiseler-Lima, welcomed the fact that the EU will now have its own Magnitsky Act.
But she added, “It is regrettable, however, that no agreement has been found to include corruption in the list of the punishable violations and that Member States gave up on the idea to adopt the sanctions by qualified majority.”
“I am convinced that this mechanism will have a deterrent effect. But I regret that the measures will require unanimity among EU countries. Still, I am convinced that this mechanism is a necessary step to combat impunity.”
“I am convinced that this mechanism will have a deterrent effect. But I regret that the measures will require unanimity among EU countries. Still, I am convinced that this mechanism is a necessary step to combat impunity”
Isabel Wiseler-Lima, EPP spokeswoman for human rights
The Renew Europe group also said it “regrets” that corruption is not amongst the punishable violations.
Group leader Dacian Cioloș said, “From Belarus to Hong Kong, from Russia to Venezuela, the EU can finally send a decisive and united response to those that attack human rights, freedom and democracy.”
The Romanian added, “We will continue, nevertheless, to try to improve this newly-adopted instrument, as the requirement of unanimity among Member States risks jeopardising the swiftness of the EU’s reaction when it comes to human rights violations.”
His colleague, Belgian MEP Hilde Vautmans, was even more critical, adding, “It is a lost opportunity that corruption - which is often intrinsically linked to human rights abuses - is not included among the punishable actions and that unanimity is required to impose sanctions.”
“The fight against human rights abuses should never be vetoed.”