European Commission must take measures to strengthen EU Magnitsky Act, say senior MEPs

EU should extend the scope of its Global Human Rights sanctions regime and give the European Parliament a stronger supervisory role, say David McAllister and Maria Arena
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By David McAllister and Maria Arena

David McAllister MEP (DE, EPP) is Chair of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee Maria Arena (BE, S&D) is Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights

19 Jul 2021

In December 2020, the European Union adopted its own ‘Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime’ (GHRSR). This instrument allows the EU to impose targeted sanctions against individuals and entities that are involved in grave human rights violations around the world.

It is an essential addition to our human rights and foreign policy toolbox, which strengthens the EU’s role as a global human rights actor.

For a long time, the European Parliament had been calling for such an EU-wide mechanism. On 7 June, MEPs adopted a resolution to take stock of how the GHRSR - also called the ‘EU Magnitsky Act’- has been applied so far.

Generally, we welcome the adoption of the sanctions regime as it adds a direct and tangible way to respond to serious human rights violations and to hold those responsible for abuses accountable.

To date, 19 individuals and entities - from China, Russia, North Korea, Libya, South Sudan and Eritrea - have been sanctioned. This shows that the EU stands up for its values and acts.

In the future, the Parliament expects an efficient and consistent use of the sanctions regime. However, the legislation needs to reflect new challenges and threats to human rights violations. 

"Corruption, the abuse of state emergency powers or violence against human rights defenders should be included in the scope of the GHRSR"

Corruption, the abuse of state emergency powers or violence against human rights defenders should be included in the scope of the GHRSR.

Unlike similar schemes around the world, such as the US Global Magnitsky Act, the EU’s legislation does not include corruption in connection with human rights violations as an offence punishable by restrictive measures.

The Parliament’s resolution states clearly, that corruption has a devastating impact on the state of human rights and it often undermines the functioning and legitimacy of institutions and the rule of law.

Also, an extension of the scope would allow us to cooperate more closely with our allies such as the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom in the fight against global state-sanctioned corruption.

We therefore urge the European Commission to come forward with a legislative proposal that extends the scope of the sanctions regime to cover these crimes.

Unfortunately, the European Parliament does not have an institutional role in the process and so, in order to increase its legitimacy, we call for parliamentary oversight and an enhanced role for Parliament in proposing cases of serious human rights violations.

"Moving to qualified majority voting only in some selected areas of foreign affairs, such as human rights sanctions, could be a pragmatic step. In order to defend and promote our shared values, the EU needs to be able to act swiftly and reliably. This could decisively strengthen our role as a global human rights actor"

Additionally, decisions in the Council should be taken by qualified majority vote instead of unanimity. Moving away from unanimity in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy is a long-standing issue.

We are aware that such a significant change in the procedures cannot happen overnight and that this needs to be approached with the utmost respect for the positions of all Member States on this topic.

This is why moving to qualified majority voting only in some selected areas of foreign affairs, such as human rights sanctions, could be a pragmatic step. In order to defend and promote our shared values, the EU needs to be able to act swiftly and reliably. This could decisively strengthen our role as a global human rights actor.

Cooperating and coordinating with like-minded countries and multilateral organisations such as the OSCE, NATO and the Council of Europe is key when gaining evidence for imposing sanctions under the GHRSR.

The European Parliament is determined to make this instrument a prominent tool for the protection of our fundamental values around the world. It should be an essential part of a coherent and clearly defined strategy considering our foreign policy objectives.

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