The United Kingdom issued its first wave of sanctions this month under a new regime targeting those who commit human rights abuses, with the promise of many more sanctions to come.

Enacted on July 6, the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 is secondary legislation under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The new human rights regulations put in place sanctions measures “to deter, and provide accountability for, activities which, if carried out by or on behalf of a State within the territory of that State, would amount to a serious violation by that State of an individual’s right to life; right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; right to be free from slavery, not to be held in servitude or required to perform forced or compulsory labor.”

This “groundbreaking global regime” means the United Kingdom has new powers “to stop those involved in serious human rights abuses and violations from entering the country, channeling money through U.K. banks, or profiting from our economy,” the U.K. government stated. The new regime will target individuals and organizations, unlike conventional geographic sanctions regimes, which only target nations. It could also include those who commit unlawful killings perpetrated against journalists and media workers, or violations and abuses motivated on the grounds of religion or belief.

A special unit will consider the use of future sanctions, with teams across the department monitoring human rights issues. Targets under the regime must meet “stringent legal tests” before the United Kingdom decides to designate, “ensuring the sanctions are robust and powerful,” the U.K. government stated.

The new suite of measures can also apply to those who “facilitate, incite, promote, or support these violations/abuses, as well as those who financially profit from human rights violations and abuses,” the government added. “The United Kingdom will continue to utilize a range of tools to tackle serious human rights violations and abuses around the world, including the UN and EU multilateral sanctions regimes.”

First wave of sanctions

With enactment of the new regulation, U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced the first wave of designation under the new regime, sanctioning 47 individuals and two organizations involved in “some the worst human rights abuses in recent memory,” Raab said. “This is a demonstration of Global Britain’s commitment to acting as a force for good in the world.”

The sanctions announced under this new regime targeted:

  • 25 Russian nationals involved in the mistreatment and death of auditor 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;
  • Two high-ranking Myanmar military generals involved in the systematic and brutal violence against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities; and
  • Two organizations involved in the forced labor, torture, and murder that takes place in North Korea’s gulags.

This marks the first time the United Kingdom has sanctioned individuals or entities for human rights violations and abuses under a U.K.-only regime. The regime will allow the United Kingdom to work independently with allies, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and the European Union.

In a statement introducing the new regime, Raab said the new legislation will ensure that due process will be followed in relation to those designations, as mandated under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. In practice, individuals designated will be able to request that a minister review the decision and challenge the decision in court.

As a matter of due diligence, the government will review all designations at least once every three years. It has also published a policy paper, setting out how the government will consider designations under the new regulations.