Virtual Seminar – The UK and EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regimes

On 7 December 2020, the Council of the EU adopted its first global human rights sanctions regime.  This followed the UK’s introduction of its own autonomous human rights sanctions regime in July 2020.

Both regimes constitute significant developments.  They allow the UK and the EU to sanction individuals and entities – including State and non-State actors – responsible for or associated with a wide range of human rights violations and abuses worldwide, no matter where they occur or the nationality of the perpetrators.  These regimes could therefore play an important role in the prevention of, and accountability for, gross human rights violations, particularly where no other enforcement mechanism exists under international law.

These so-called “smart” or “targeted” sanctions regimes seek to avoid a series of unintended negative consequences for civilian populations often associated with country-based sanctions mechanisms.  However, the new UK and EU human rights sanctions regimes still raise a wide range of legal and foreign policy issues.  These include: the inherently political and discretionary processes they foresee for the imposition of sanctions; the regimes’ ability to achieve their stated objectives; their effect on the due process rights of sanctioned individuals and entities; the actions that businesses and other entities need to take to comply with and implement human rights sanctions; and the types of actions available to individuals and entities to challenge sanctions imposed on them.


This virtual seminar provided an opportunity to discuss these and other interesting issues regarding the UK and EU global human rights sanctions regimes.  Our experienced panellists included:

Dr Nienke van der Have, a human rights specialist at the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations in The Netherlands, who will discuss the conceptual aim, demarcation and potential effectiveness in practice of the EU sanctions regime.  Nienke has written a book on the prevention of gross human rights violations under international human rights law (Asser/Springer 2018) and published, among others, a first appreciation of the new EU sanctions regime (BRILL 2020).  She has lectured on human rights law and constitutional law at the University of Amsterdam and on the rule of law at the Academy for Legislation in The Netherlands.

Maya Lester QC, a senior barrister (Queen’s Counsel) at Brick Court Chambers, who will speak about the types of judicial or other actions that can be taken to challenge the imposition of sanctions on individuals or entities, as well as about the key differences between the UK and EU regimes.  Maya specialises in sanctions law.  She represents and advises hundreds of companies and individuals before the European and English courts and has acted in most of the leading cases.  She founded and co-writes the blog (the main international sanctions legal resource, with over 8000 followers worldwide).  Maya has given evidence to five parliamentary inquiries on sanctions and spoken at numerous conferences.  The legal directories describe her as “Queen of the Sanctions Bar without a doubt”.

Michael O’Kane, the Senior Partner of Peters & Peters LLP, who will be discussing the actions that businesses need to take to comply with and implement human rights sanctions.  Michael specialises in advising individuals and companies in global white collar crime cases, including bribery, cartel-conduct and sanctions violations.  His recent sanctions work includes creating a compliance programme for a global company, operating in over 120 countries, and representing designated individuals and corporates before the EU courts, in respect of Syria, Egypt, Russia and Zimbabwe sanctions.  He also co-authors the leading blog,, with Maya.

Professor Alena Douhan, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, who will address the potential impact that the UK and EU sanctions regimes could have on the human rights of sanctioned individuals and other actors.  Since 2013, Alena has been serving as an expert panellist at many panel discussions on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights organised by the Human Rights Council and other actors.

The seminar was chaired by Álvaro Nistal, Counsel at Volterra Fietta.  A civil and common law lawyer, Álvaro advises States, international organisations and private entities on a wide range of public international law matters, including on various sanctions regimes.  He regularly represents States and victims in relation to human rights violations and international humanitarian law issues.  He also has represented and provided States in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia with advice on proceedings before the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and other courts and tribunals.


For any queries regarding the content of the seminar, please email