UK announces first sanctions designations under new global human rights sanctions regime

The UK Government has issued sanctions for the first time under the new global human rights sanctions regime against individuals and organisations responsible for human right violations. This is the first wave of designations under the new regime, with further sanctions expected in the coming months.

What has happened?

On Monday 6 July 2020, the UK Government enacted the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 (the Regulations), which is secondary legislation made under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The Government has also provided guidance on the new sanctions regime in its Global Human Rights Sanctions GuidanceGlobal Human Rights Financial Sanctions Notice and Explanatory Memorandum

This marks the first time that the UK has launched a standalone UK-only sanctions regime, targeting individuals and organisations deemed responsible for serious human rights violations. The new measures came into force immediately.

Initially, a total of 49 individuals and organisations involved in human rights violations in recent years have been designated under the UK's new 'Magnitsky' style sanctions regime. Magnitsky human rights sanctions refer to the U.S. regime that was introduced to target individuals responsible for the death of Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who blew the whistle on corruption in Russia.

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

  • 25 Russian nationals involved in the mistreatment and death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered widespread Russian corruption by a group of Russian tax and police officials
  • 20 Saudi nationals involved in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul
  • Two high-ranking Myanmar military generals involved in the violence against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities
  • Two organisations involved in the forced labour, torture and murder in North Korea’s gulags

You can view the full list of designations here.

What does this mean?

The Regulations impose asset freezes on designated persons (including a prohibition on making funds available, directly or indirectly, to or for the benefit of designated persons), and travel bans targeting designated persons. In essence, they will empower the UK to stop designated persons from entering the country, channelling cash through UK banks or profiting from the UK economy.

In addition, the new regime allows the UK to impose sanctions on individuals and organisations unilaterally, not just alongside the United Nations or the EU. Until now, the UK has almost always had to act in concert with the EU with regards to sanctions, but the introduction of this autonomous new sanctions regime is a clear indicator of the UK's intention to adopt a more independent sanctions policy post-Brexit.

Mike Pompeo, the U.S. Secretary of State, published a statement welcoming the new UK sanctions regime, which “marks the beginning of a new era for UK sanctions policy and cooperation between our two democracies”.

The UK joins several other countries that have already enacted Magnitsky-style human rights sanctions laws, including the U.S, Canada, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The EU has yet to introduce a sanctions regime to specifically address human rights violations.

What are the penalties?

The Regulations make it a criminal offence to contravene the financial sanctions legislation or to seek to circumvent its provisions. A breach of the legislation carries a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment or a fine (or both).

Next steps

Please contact us if you have any questions on this development or how we can help your organisation navigate the UK's new sanctions regime.


Authored by Aline Doussin and Imogen Brooks



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