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EU Envoys Agree To 'Magnitsky' Sanctions Regime To Target Rights Violators

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Sergei Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison in 2009.

European Union ambassadors on December 2 gave their green light to establish a sanctions regime that would target human rights violators worldwide.

The EU’s 27 foreign ministers are set to rubber-stamp the decision when they meet on December 7, and the new mechanism is expected to officially enter into force on Human Rights Day on December 10.

Several EU officials familiar with the matter said no individuals or entities will be sanctioned immediately, but names could be put on the blacklist as early as the beginning of 2021.

The sanctions, which will consist of asset freezes and visa bans and can be applied to both governments and individuals, are similar to measures of the Magnitsky Act passed by the United States in 2012.

The sanctions will consist of asset freezes and visa bans and can be applied to both state and non-state actors.

According to a working document seen by RFE/RL, the sanctions will target individuals and entities deemed responsible for acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, slavery, extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions and killings, enforced disappearance of persons, and arbitrary arrests or detentions.

It can also be imposed on those involved in human trafficking, sexual and gender-based violence, violations or abuses of freedom of peaceful assembly, association, opinion, and religion -- if the abuses are considered “widespread and systematic.”

The new system will not replace existing sanctions programs, some of which already address human rights violations and abuses in Syria, Belarus, and Venezuela. Instead, they are aimed at giving the European Union a way to coordinate any punitive measures on rights with Washington.

The initial Magnitsky Act targeted Russian officials deemed complicit in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian whistle-blower who helped uncover the theft of nearly $230 million from Russia's government through fraudulent tax refunds. He was later arrested and died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after suffering from what his supporters say amounted to torture.

After his death, he and his employer, British-American financier William Browder, were charged with the tax fraud Magnitsky helped uncover.

The U.S. law, which has infuriated the Kremlin, was later expanded into a similarly named measure that included individuals from other nations.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

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