United Nations (UN)

HRC48 - Biennial panel discussion on unilateral coercive measures and human rights - EU Intervention

Geneva, 16/09/2021 - 16:33, UNIQUE ID: 210916_19
Statements on behalf of the EU

Chair, distinguished panelists,

The EU reiterates its principled position that the Human Rights Council is not the appropriate forum to address the issue of autonomous sanctions.

Nevertheless, the EU deems it important to clarify the key principles and features of EU sanctions in order to foster greater understanding of this instrument and underscore its legitimacy and lawfulness.

EU sanctions are not punitive in nature. They are intended to bring about a change in policy or activity by targeting countries, as well as entities and individuals, responsible for the malign behaviour at stake. For the EU, sanctions are a foreign and security policy tool in upholding respect for human rights and the principles of international law and promoting international peace and security, preventing conflicts and supporting democracy. They are not an end in themselves, but form part of a wider comprehensive political strategy involving e.g. political dialogue and other instruments. At the same time, they are reversible, gradual and proportionate to the objectives they seek to achieve.

EU sanctions are in full conformity with EU’s and the Member States’ obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Some are mandated by the United Nations Security Council, whereas others are adopted autonomously by the EU. In fact, EU sanctions can contribute to filling a void in situations where certain countries prevent the UN Security Council from living up to its responsibility to take action, e.g. preventing the export of certain types of weapons/arms to Syria. Where persons or entities are targeted by sanctions, human rights are fully respected, as required by the EU Treaties and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

EU sanctions, including sectoral economic measures, are always targeted and decided on a case-by-case basis. The EU does not impose full trade embargoes. EU sanctions are based on specific listing criteria, require legally robust evidence, and are accompanied by a corresponding reasoning. Designated persons and entities can provide observations as well as requests to be de-listed, and may challenge the measures before the Court of Justice of the European Union in accordance with their due process rights. In addition, the EU reviews sanctions regimes and designations on a regular basis either annually or on a six-monthly basis. 

The EU underlines that EU sanctions do not have any extra-territorial application. They do not create obligations for non-EU operators, unless their business is conducted at least partly within the EU.

Moreover, in order not to impede the delivery of humanitarian assistance and humanitarian activities, EU sanctions establish a system of exceptions, which is consistent with the system of exceptions operated under UN sanctions. It is important to underline that food and medicines as such are never targeted by EU sanctions.

Furthermore, to avoid the risk of over-compliance and to increase awareness of its targeted sanctions, the EU is undertaking various implementation support measures. This includes the publication of guidance notes for humanitarian operators, including the guidance on COVID-19 related humanitarian aid in sanctioned environments. The EU also supports, promotes and actively engages in continuous dialogue between all parties involved in humanitarian assistance, such as donors, regulators, NGOs, and banks. Lastly, the EU has established a contact point for humanitarian operators to assist in resolving questions concerning humanitarian exemptions and applications for licenses.

As part of broader efforts to promote human rights, EU sanctions have been imposed specifically on, inter alia, individuals and entities responsible for human rights violations, under various geographical regimes in the last years. Since last December, the new EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime provides an additional instrument to react to human rights violations and abuses in a more tangible and direct way.

The EU continues to closely monitor serious human rights violations and abuses around the world and will not shy away from taking further decisive action in the near future.

I thank you.

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