April 18, 2018 | Policy Brief

EU Extends Human Rights Sanctions on Iran

The European Union last week extended its existing human rights sanctions on Iran by one year. While the EU’s decision marks an important step in penalizing Tehran for its ongoing domestic repression, it remains insufficient to address the chronic and systemic human rights abuses that continue to pervade the country.

The EU sanctions, which the body first began enacting in 2011 in response to Tehran’s repression of the 2009 protests, impose a travel ban and an asset freeze against 82 individuals and one entity. The penalties largely target Iranians affiliated with the country’s judiciary and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps who have incarcerated, tortured, and executed political prisoners. The sanctions also levy a ban on exports to Iran of equipment that the regime could use for internal repression and for monitoring communications.

By contrast, since 2009, the United States has sanctioned only 45 Iranians, including eight individuals and entities designated by the Trump administration, for human rights abuses. Whereas 19 of these targets also appear on the EU list, the remaining 26 do not. Likewise, the EU list contains 64 Iranian actors that Washington has yet to designate.

The number of human rights designations assumes particular importance in light of the nationwide protests that began in late December. Since then, the United States has added only six new Iranian human rights abusers to its sanctions list, while the EU has added none. These lapses represent a missed opportunity to hold the regime accountable at precisely the moment that Iran’s own citizens are demanding dramatic reform.

For example, the United States and the EU could have imposed human rights sanctions on the business empire of Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the ultimate architect of the regime’s oppression. The supreme leader’s corporate conglomerate, which provides the financial resources he needs to retain power, consists of three major companies – the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order, or EIKO; the Mostazafan Foundation; and the Astan Quds Razavi – worth about $200 billion altogether.

Similarly, Washington and Europe could have designated the regime’s financial backbone, the Central Bank of Iran, which has played a key role in financing Tehran’s regional aggression and domestic repression. In February 2018, the Financial Action Task Force, the global body devoted to combating illicit finance, once again expressed concern “with the terrorist financing risk emanating from Iran and the threat this poses to the international financial system.”

Entities more directly driving Tehran’s human rights abuses also warrant designation. The Telecommunications Company of Iran, the country’s largest telecom company, has facilitated the surveillance of Iranian dissidents, many of whom the regime has arrested by tracing the location of their cell phones. Khamenei effectively controls the company through an array of front companies and subsidiaries.

Likewise, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and its partners, including Tasnim News, Fars News, and the Islamic Republic News Agency, have aided Tehran’s authoritarianism by serving as major propaganda organs for the regime. In violation of international law and norms, the outlets have routinely broadcast or published the forced confessions of political prisoners.

In the coming weeks, Washington and the EU should move to reconcile the disparities in their respective sanctions lists – and then build upon them by designating more Iranian actors whose repression and corruption continue to spur protests on the streets of Iran.

Tzvi Kahn is a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @TzviKahn.

Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.