Myanmar military chief, North Korea and Eritrea also targeted in raft of measures aimed at alleged human rights offenders around the world.
In a highly symbolic move, the European Union has imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials accused of abuse against the minority Uighur population as part of measures targeting alleged human rights offenders around the world.
The sanctions agreed on Monday mark the EU’s first punitive measures on Beijing since it imposed an arms embargo in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The four individuals will have their assets in the bloc frozen and be banned from travelling within the EU’s borders. European citizens and companies are not permitted to provide them with financial assistance.
The four are senior officials in the northwest region of Xinjiang, where at least one million Uighurs have been detained in internment camps, according to the United Nations.
Those targeted are: Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau; senior officials Wang Mingshan and Wang Junzheng and the former head of the Xinjiang region, Zhu Hailun.
Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau was also targeted with sanctions, the EU said.
In an apparent tit-for-tat move, China said shortly afterwards that it had decided to impose sanctions on 10 EU individuals, including German politician Reinhard Butikofer, and four entities that it accused of seriously harming the country’s sovereignty and interests over Xinjiang.
The country’s foreign ministry issued a statement urging the EU to reverse course on the bloc’s sanctions and correct its “serious mistake”, warning Brussels not to interfere in its internal affairs.
China at first denied the existence of the camps for detaining Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority, in Xinjiang but has since described them as centres to provide job training and reeducate those exposed to radical thinking.
Critics say inmates at the network of facilities have been subjected to arbitrary detentions, forced labour, torture and forced sterilisations, among human rights violations.
But Beijing insists its “security crackdown” in the region has quelled anti-government violence.
Myanmar military chief targeted over coup
The EU on Monday also placed Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing on an assets freeze and visa ban blacklist in the wake of the coup and subsequent crackdown on demonstrators in the country, the bloc’s official journal said.
Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing is behind state functions and was accused of undermining democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar.
The EU said that the army chief was “directly responsible” for a brutal crackdown by the authorities in the wake of the February 1 seizure of power.
The 27-nation bloc added nine other senior military officers and the head of Myanmar’s election commission to the list.
The listings represent the EU’s first punitive measures over the coup.
Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris, said the EU’s measures were a “tough response” to Myanmar’s military leaders.
“This is a strong message from the EU that any rights violations and violations against democracy will be punished,” she added.
New sanction system takes effect
In other measures, the bloc also rolled out sanctions over alleged repression in North Korea as well as “extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Libya, torture and repression against LGBTI people and political opponents in Chechnya in Russia, and torture, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings in South Sudan and Eritrea”, an official statement said.
The moves came as part of the EU’s new sanction system aimed at punishing human rights abuses by targeting people regardless of their nationality or their location.
The system is similar to the Magnitsky Act – legislation passed by former US President Barack Obama that authorises Washington to sanction those it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets and ban them from entering the country.
The new human rights regime follows the establishment of two similar EU mechanisms – targeting the use of chemical weapons and attacks on computer networks – launched in the past few years.