BRUSSELS -- European Union foreign ministers have agreed to go ahead with legislation to slap asset freezes and travel bans on human rights violators, a move seen as primarily targeting Russia.
"We have agreed to launch the preparatory work for a global sanctions regime to address serious human rights violations," the bloc's new diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said on December 9, adding that the move would give the EU 'much more strength and much more capacity to act.'
The legislation -- similar to the Magnitsky Act passed by the United States in 2012 -- could still take several months to complete, EU officials said.
The new sanctions regime was first presented by the Netherlands a year ago but several countries, including Hungary, whose government has close ties to Russia, were holding it up.
"This is a gigantic development. If human rights violators cannot travel to Europe, it will be devastating for them," Bill Browder, who has lobbied for the law, tweeted shortly after the EU decision was announced.
Browder, who managed one of the largest Russian investment funds, pushed for legislation in the United States and Europe after his lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison 10 years ago.
Magnitsky was a whistle-blower who accused a group of Russian law-enforcement officers and officials of stealing the equivalent of about $230 million from the state through fraudulent tax refunds.
U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (Republican-Mississippi), who met last week with Hungarian officials to encourage them to approve the EU legislation, called the decision a "huge win" for human rights.
Many Russian officials, businessmen, and personalities close to President Vladimir Putin, such as pro-Kremlin television show host Vladimir Solovyov, have homes, bank accounts, and other assets in Europe, potentially exposing them to losses if sanctions are applied.
With reporting by Todd Prince in Washington
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