January 26, 2023 | Flash Brief

EU and UK Impose Human Rights Sanction on Iran, but Not on Its President and Supreme Leader

January 26, 2023 | Flash Brief

EU and UK Impose Human Rights Sanction on Iran, but Not on Its President and Supreme Leader

Latest Developments 

The European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States rolled out coordinated sanctions against elements of the Islamic Republic’s security apparatus on Monday, citing the regime’s brutal crackdown on protestors. The EU imposed sanctions on 18 Iranian officials and 19 organizations, including elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The UK sanctioned Iranian Deputy Prosecutor General Ahmad Fazelian, who — along with the prosecutor general whom the UK sanctioned last week — is “responsible for a judicial system characterized by unfair trials and egregious punishments.” The sanctions targeted numerous Iranian political and military officials, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi escaped designation.

Expert Analysis

“London and Brussels shouldn’t give a pass to Iran’s chief human rights abusers, Khamenei and Raisi. And they shouldn’t cower from IRGC terror threats by avoiding designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization. Human rights abusers and terrorists should be held accountable, not shielded by diplomats ideologically wedded to a failed nuclear deal.” — Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

“Now is the time for America’s trans-Atlantic partners to set aside the quest to resurrect the fatally flawed nuclear deal and work to bridge the sanctions gap that exists between them and Washington. More coordinated measures are needed, including against the IRGC in its entirety and the upper echelons of the Islamic Republic’s leadership.” Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

Sanctioning Khamenei and Raisi Would Send a Strong Message

While the list of sanctioned persons and entities grows, human rights penalties against Khamenei and Raisi remain glaringly absent. The United States sanctioned Raisi and Khamenei in 2019, but it did so pursuant to an executive order that targets Khamenei’s inner circle, not on human rights grounds. Joint human rights sanctions against Khamenei and Raisi by the EU, UK, and U.S. could send a powerful message of international unity and resolve to hold accountable the leaders responsible for systematic abuses, not just the subordinates who carry out their orders.

IRGC Must Be Designated a Terrorist Organization

Despite the UK’s designation this week of the Basij paramilitary, which is an arm of the IRGC Ground Forces, neither the UK nor the EU has designated the entire IRGC as a terrorist organization. London and Brussels should do so immediately, as their legislatures have recommended.

On January 12, the UK House of Commons unanimously voted in favor of a motion urging the government to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organization. The MI5 — Great Britain’s equivalent of the FBI — has uncovered IRGC-sponsored terrorist plots on UK soil.

The European Parliament followed on January 19, voting to recommend the EU designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization. Yet EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday that the European Council cannot move forward on designating the IRGC until a court of an EU member state finds the IRGC guilty of terrorism.

Related Analysis 

Calls to Designate IRGC as Terrorist Organization Grow in the UK,” FDD Flash Brief

Iran Hangs Two Protesters While 109 Face Prospect of Execution,” FDD Flash Brief


Iran Iran Human Rights Iran Politics and Economy Iran Sanctions Sanctions and Illicit Finance