The European Union decided on Tuesday to sanction nine individuals, including high-ranking officials of the Russian Army involved in the brutal invasion of Ukraine, and three entities accused of perpetrating violations of women’s rights on a large and systematic scale.
It marks the first time the bloc uses its human rights sanctions regime, established back in December 2020, to target crimes of sexual violence.
The move, adopted unanimously by the 27 member states, was deliberately timed to land ahead of International Women’s Day, celebrated on 8 March all across the world.
“The growing oppression globally on women and girls and attacks on their human rights are alarming,” the European Commission and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said in a joint statement.
The list targets Major-General Nikolay Anatolevich Kuznetsov and Colonel Ramil Rakhmatulovich Ibatullin of the Russian armed forces because the divisions under their command are said to have committed “acts of sexual violence” against Ukraine’s civil population during attacks in March and April last year.
The allegations include different sexual crimes committed on a “systematic level,” the rape of a pregnant woman near Kyiv and the participation of soldiers in gang rapes.
The bloc directly accuses the Russian commanders of being aware of these crimes and “in some cases, having encouraged or even ordered” their perpetration.
“We are also deeply concerned about the reports that Russian Armed Forces use sexual violence against women and children in Ukraine as a weapon of war,” the European Commission said.
“These actions constitute war crimes and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.”
Additionally, the EU blacklists two police officers from the Moscow station accused of arbitrarily arresting and torturing Russian women who protested the invasion of Ukraine.
In the case of Ivan Ryabov, a police officer, “victims report that he beat them, suffocated them with plastic bags and abused them physically and verbally for six hours,” member states said in their decision.
Besides the four Russian names, the list approved on Tuesday covers two Taliban ministers, who are condemned for curbing the rights of Afghan women and girls through the imposition of hijab decrees, gender-segregated laws and exclusionary education policies.
The list also features two commissioners from the South Sudanese government and one deputy minister of the military junta in Myanmar.
The three sanctioned entities are the Qarchak Prison in Iran, the Syrian Republican Guard and the Office of the Chief of Military Security Affairs (OCMSA), the military intelligence service of Myanmar.
“OCMSA staff uses forced nudity, rape, electro-shocks, burning of genitalia and excessive violence during the arbitrary detention and interrogation of men, women and members of the LGBTIQ community,” member states said.
The sanctions entail the freezing of assets located anywhere within the EU, a prohibition to enter EU territory and a ban on the provision of services.
“We’re sending a clear message to perpetrators that they won’t get away with their crimes,” said Wopke Hoekstra, the foreign affairs minister of the Netherlands.
“These horrific, inhuman acts have consequences.”