EU High Representative Josep Borrell described the union's new sanctions regime on Monday as a "landmark" agreement. Photo by John Thys/EPA-EFE
Dec. 8 (UPI) -- The foreign ministers of the European Union have agreed to establish a sanctions regime, giving the 27-nation bloc tools for the first time to punish worldwide those responsible for committing human rights violations.
The EU Council adopted a decision and regulation on Monday in Brussels, Belgium, to establish the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime, which will allow the bloc to ban from entering the EU and freeze the funds of entities and individuals "responsible for, involved in or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide, no matter where they occurred," it said in a statement.
Residents of the EU, which is one of the world's largest markets, will also be barred from making funds available to those listed.
EU High Representative Josep Borrell called it "a landmark agreement" that sends a clear signal about the bloc's commitment to human rights.
"It is a first of its kind," Borrell said during a press conference, "and it will allow the European Union to target serious human rights abuses and violations worldwide and not going country by country with endless discussion for every specific case."
The high representative explained it liberates them from targeting geographically and gives them the ability and flexibility to proceed quicker and more efficiently to punish violators.
Those targeted will be individuals and entities accused of committing genocide; crimes against humanity; slavery; torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings.
Other abuses and violations can fall under the scope of the sanctions regime if they are widespread, systematic or of serious concern, the EU said in a separate statement.
"Today's decision emphasizes that the promotion and protection of human rights remain a cornerstone and priority of EU external action and reflects the EU's determination to address serious human rights violations and abuses," it said.
The EU said on its website the main goal of the regime is to allow the union to stand up for human rights in a more tangible and direct way and is an important part of realizing the goals set out last month in its EU Action Plan for Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024, a wide-ranging set of priorities that include protecting and empowering individuals, building stronger democracies and promoting human rights.
Borrell told reporters that sanctions are trigged when a member state puts forward a proposal.
Discussion on the sanctions regime kicked off in December of 2019, and the final product's framework is similar to that of the United States' Magnitsky Act of 2012.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday the United States "welcomes" the EU's sanctions regime, calling it a "groundbreaking accomplishment."
"The new authorities will complement the ongoing efforts of the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada to sanction human rights abusers, further enhancing our already strong partnership geared toward protecting human rights and deterring future abuse globally," Pompeo said in a statement. "Europe will have a steadfast partner in the United States on this program, and we encourage the EU to adopt its first designations as soon as possible."
The sanction regime was adopted days before the United Nations' annual Human Rights Day on Thursday.