On Monday 6 July 2020, the UK introduced the first sanctions under its new Global Human Rights sanctions regime, targeting 47 individuals and 2 entities.

The regulations setting out the sanctions are made under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 (the “Sanctions Act“) and impose asset freezes and travel bans on individuals and entities responsible for or involved in serious violations of human rights. The Sanctions Act was introduced to allow the UK to impose its own economic, trade and immigration sanctions after Brexit.

Those sanctioned include 20 Saudi nationals involved in the death of Jamal Khashoggi and 25 Russian nationals involved in the mistreatment and death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. The foreign secretary said that the UK was seeking to “hold to account the perpetrators of the worst human rights abuses” with a “powerful” new sanctions regime set up to replace measures taken by the EU when the UK was a member.

The individuals and organisations are the first wave of designations under the new regime, with further sanctions expected in the coming months.

The Government has provided guidance on the new sanctions regime in its Global Human Rights Sanctions GuidanceGlobal Human Rights Financial Sanctions Notice and Explanatory Memorandum.  This will need to be considered in the context of the Government’s wider approach to human rights matters following Brexit, which is yet to be confirmed. The Government made a manifesto statement in 2017 that it intended to repeal and replace the Human Rights Act 1998 following completion of Brexit and provided under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 that the European Charter of Fundamental Rights will cease to apply as matter of EU law. The Government has also informed EU negotiators that it does not wish to commit to continued adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights (“ECHR“) – although that the ECHR is a separate treaty and the UK had been expected to formally do so as part of any legally binding future EU-UK trade agreement

Mutual recognition of values – including human rights – generally is required to secure cooperation within the EU on trade and so it remains to be seen how the UK might build on this move to a state sanctions as part of its approach to human rights issues and in securing a future trade agreement with the EU.

Author: Sunny Mann