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Wider Range of New Sanctions Designations by the UK Welcomed

By Natalie Lucas (Legal Officer) and Isabelle Terranova (Legal Fellow) 

On 8 December, the UK Government announced 46 new designations against individuals and entities involved in serious human rights abuses to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The action targeted nine individuals and five entities involved in human trafficking, forced labour and torture in Southeast Asia, as well as 32 individuals linked to the suppression of fundamental freedoms in Belarus, Haiti, Iran and Syria. The US and Canada also announced packages targeting individuals for various human rights abuses. 

This sanctions package follows a rise in the use of targeted sanctions by the UK in coordination with its US and Canadian partners throughout 2023 (read our latest sanctions quarterly update setting out UK sanctions actions in the latter half of 2023) and follows similar packages announced by the UK on human rights day in 2022. 

These designations follow extensive advocacy by civil society around the world calling on governments to take targeted action against perpetrators of serious human rights violations and corruption in various contexts.  

In our report, “Multilateral Magnitsky Sanctions at Five Years”, sanctioning authorities were encouraged to recognise a wider range of human rights abuses in their sanctions packages, focus on underrepresented regions and provide accountability for historically marginalised victim-groups. Recent sanctions packages by the UK and its allies show an encouraging move in this direction.  

On 8 December, the UK imposed sanctions against individuals and entities involved in people trafficking in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. Previously, only 10 percent of UK sanctions under its global human rights and anti-corruption regulations targeted abuses in East Asia and the Pacific with the UK focusing most of its sanctions in Europe and Eurasia. This is also one of the first packages by the UK to explicitly tackle those involved in human trafficking and the torture and ill-treatment that results from these practices.  

Alongside increasing the use of coordinated measures to tackle a wider range of human rights abuses, ensuring that sanctions, when used, are as impactful as possible is crucial to their effectiveness as deterrents or disruptors of abusive behaviour. REDRESS recently published “Evaluating Targeted Sanctions”, a framework for evaluating the impact of targeted sanctions, using case-based examples to highlight where sanctioning authorities can maximise the impact of their sanctions. 

Ensuring sanctions are robustly and consistently enforced, particularly as the number of targeted designations increases, is crucial to their integrity as a tool in addressing serious human rights violations and corruption. Additionally, setting clearly defined objectives for using these measures and what they are intended to achieve by reference to concrete and attainable conditions either on the designees themselves or relevant authorities to investigate and, where appropriate, bring proceedings would improve the usefulness of these measures.  

However, more still needs to be done. The rise of authoritarianism and populism worldwide, widespread impunity for torture and other human rights violations and the lack of effective protection for marginalised and discriminated groups are challenges which the international community faces as a whole (see our recent statement marking the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).  

Strategic use of targeted sanctions against those who perpetrate  human rights violations and enable serious corruption is a crucial tool which governments can and should be using in a more proactive, rather than reactive, manner.  

The UK’s 8 December announcement of sanctions against individuals linked to governments, judiciaries and prosecuting authorities in Belarus, Haiti, Iran and Syria who have been involved in the systematic repression of people exercising fundamental freedoms is a welcome step in tackling the increase of  violence against those who dissent and raise their voices against authoritarian regimes.  

This includes targeting Iranian officials responsible for using violence to enforce the mandatory hijab law against women and Belarusian judiciary officials involved in politically-motivated cases against activists, journalists and human rights defenders.  

In our recent case-based report “Evaluating Targeted Sanctions”, REDRESS recommended taking a network-based approach to sanctions measures to maximise their disruptive and deterrent potential. In addition, we suggested actively consulting and collaborating with civil society organisations and human rights defenders to identify the highest impact targets and set regional and thematic priorities for sanctions policy to ensure its strategic effectiveness.  

We are still awaiting the UK’s publication on new strategies on human rights and anti-corruption and there are growing calls for a more coherent approach to atrocity prevention and combatting State hostage-taking practices. In developing these strategies, it is important for the UK Government to carefully consider its use of targeted sanctions and how it can most effectively use these tools as a proactive, rather than reactive, response to human rights violations and serious corruption. 

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