Dutch Government Proposes European Union-Wide Human Rights Sanctions Regime

On October 5, EU Observer reported that the Netherlands has invited European Union (EU) diplomats “to discuss the creation of a new sanctions regime against human rights abusers worldwide.”  The Dutch Foreign ministry reportedly floated the idea with other EU Member States in July, and an informal Dutch paper has been circulated that proposes that “[t]argeted human rights sanctions could be used against individuals acting in or misusing their official capacity and individuals belonging to non-state actors.”

The Dutch government has now scheduled a conference in The Hague for November 20 to discuss the proposal.   It invited each of the other EU Member States “to send two senior diplomats, one dealing with sanctions policy and one with human rights.”  Other invitees include the United States, Canada, Australia, and Japan, as well as an unnamed non-governmental organization and an unnamed legal scholar. The discussions, according to the Dutch invitation note, will focus on topics such as what value a human rights sanctions regime would add, which human rights violations should qualify for sanctions, and “listing/de-listing and due process.”

According to a Dutch diplomat who commented to EU Observer, these talks are meant to see whether there is enough support for the Netherlands to initiate formal EU proceedings.  The diplomat acknowledged that they expected concerns to be raised, but stated, “’We really want this to fly … we hope to have the measures in place in fewer than 12 months’ time. Ideally, before the European Parliament elections [in May 2019]’.”

Note: EU Observer reported that the concept underlying the Dutch proposal is that of the Magnitsky Act, which authorized U.S. officials to seize assets and ban the entry into the United States of Russians who were believed to have been involved in the death of Russian lawyer and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.  Subsequently, the United Kingdom, Canada, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania all used the term “Magnitsky” in adopting similar legislation.  Perhaps because Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle reportedly have been so furious about the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which has since been expanded to global scope, the Dutch proposal mentioned Congo and Myanmar, but not Russia, as examples of regimes reflecting serious human rights abuses.

Sanctions observers should monitor reports on the upcoming Hague conference closely to gauge the level of traction that the proposal receives.  To date, according to EU Observer, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are supportive (especially the United Kingdom), and France, Germany, and Italy have raised no objections, but “some Mediterranean states and the EU foreign service have proved reluctant.”  And Russia may well flex its economic and political muscle vigorously even before the conference, in an effort to head off an EU-wide Magnitsky regime.  Even so, support for such a regime has been building in other quarters within the EU, so the true test will be whether the Netherlands can enlist enough allies to move the proposal to formal status on the timetable the Dutch are envisioning.

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