On 2 October 2020, the EU adopted sanctions against Belarus in response to the repression and intimidation against peaceful demonstrators, opposition members and journalists in the wake of the 9 August 2020 presidential election, as well as for misconduct of the electoral process. Forty officials were added to the list of individuals subject to an asset freeze and travel ban. Unlike the US, the UK, Canada and several EU Member States, the EU itself has not designated the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko.
The designations have been made under the existing sanctions framework against Belarus that was introduced in response to the 2006 Presidential elections, to condemn violations of international electoral standards and international human rights law, as well as for the crackdown on civil society and democratic opposition.1 Over the years, the list of designated persons has been expanded and reduced, with Alexander Lukashenko being delisted in 2016.
The new measures extend the asset freeze and a travel ban to 40 officials identified as responsible for repression and intimidation against peaceful demonstrators, opposition members and journalists in the wake of the 2020 presidential election in Belarus, as well as for misconduct of the electoral process.2
In its conclusions, the European Council (i) condemned the unacceptable violence by Belarusian authorities against peaceful protesters, as well as intimidation, arbitrary arrests and detentions following the presidential elections, the results of which it does not recognise, (ii) supported "the democratic right of the Belarusian people to elect their President through new free and fair elections, without external interference", (iii) called on "the Belarusian authorities to end violence and repression, release all detainees and political prisoners, respect media freedom and civil society, and start an inclusive national dialogue", and (iv) agreed "that restrictive measures should be imposed and calls on the Council to adopt the decision without delay". 3
Under the EU asset freeze, all funds and economic resources in the EU belonging to or controlled by these parties will be frozen. Furthermore, no funds or economic resources may be made available – directly or indirectly – to or for their benefit. Economic resources are broadly defined to include anything that can be used to obtain funds, goods or services. Limited exceptions apply.
The asset freeze sanctions apply to the EU territory (including its airspace), to nationals of EU Member States (including those located outside the EU), and on board vessels and aircraft under Member State jurisdiction. Sanctions also apply to companies incorporated or registered under the law of an EU Member State and to other non-EU companies in respect of business done in whole or in part in the EU. This means that non-EU companies may be affected by the measures once specific parties are listed, depending on the particular circumstances in which business activities are performed in the EU.
Unlike other countries, namely the US, the UK and Canada and several EU Member States, the EU did not designate Alexander Lukashenko himself. However, the 40 persons designated by the EU is comparable to the US (41) and more than Canada (11) and the UK (8).
The EU has been criticised for the delay in adopting these sanctions. Unusually, three Member States, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, moved ahead with sanctions on Belarus officials and President Alexander Lukashenko at the end of August 2020. The need for the EU to achieve a consensus among all 27 Member States is widely understood to have delayed the adoption of EU sanctions, with Cyprus reportedly withholding its agreement as a way to pressure the EU to impose sanctions on Turkey over its drilling in the eastern Mediterranean. This has rekindled the debate around moving from unanimity to qualified majority voting for the imposition of sanctions.
1 Council Regulation (EC) No 765/2006 of 18 May 2006 concerning restrictive measures against President Lukashenko and certain officials of Belarus.
2 See Council Implementing Regulation (EU) 2020/1387 of 2 October 2020 implementing Article 8a(1) of Regulation (EC) No 765/2006 concerning restrictive measures in respect of Belarus, and Council Implementing Decision (CFSP) 2020/1388 of 2 October 2020 implementing Decision 2012/642/CFSP concerning restrictive measures against Belarus.
3 European Council conclusions on external relations, 1 October 2020, Press release, paras. 26-27.
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