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EU, UK sanction Iran, Taliban entities on International Women's Day

Marking International Women’s Day, the European Union and the British government each decided to sanction individuals and entities for violating human rights, particularly sexual and gender-based violence.
Iranian Women in handmaiden costumes march along Whitehall as a peaceful protest for womens rights on International Womens Day on March 8, 2023 in London, England. Protests continue internationally in solidarity with Iranian women in their struggle for full gender equality and to have the freedom to choose how they want to dress and live their lives without fear, assault or intimidation. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

PARIS — British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly announced a new package of sanctions against human rights violators Wednesday, targeting those who harm women and girls in Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and other countries. 

The Iranian entity sanctioned by the British government is the Headquarters for Enjoining Right and Forbidding Evil in Iran, a special government apparatus tasked to enforce "morality standards". Its chief Seyyed Mohammed Saleh Hashemi Golpayegani is responsible for the enforcement of dress codes for women.

The new sanctions package also includes military personnel who have overseen rape and other forms of gender-based violence in conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. A statement by the British Foreign Ministry read that the package also goes after government institutions in Iran responsible for enforcing mandatory dress codes for women with unreasonable force.

One of the four individuals sanctioned is Syrian Amjad Youssef, who has been involved in repressing the civilian population in his country, including through systematic rape and killing of civilians. The United States slapped a visa ban on Youssef this week.

On Tuesday, the European Union imposed restrictions on nine individuals and three entities who violated or abused women's rights across the globe. In Afghanistan, the EU sanctioned two acting Taliban ministers: Higher Education Minister Nida Mohammad Nadim and Minister for Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice Sheikh Mohammed Khalid. Both are behind the decrees banning women from higher education and gender segregation in public spaces that Taliban has implemented since its 2021 takeover in Afghanistan. 

For the Middle East, the EU list includes the Qarchak Prison in Iran and the Syrian Republican Guard.

The listed individuals and entities will be subject to an asset freeze in European Union countries. Individuals will also be banned from travel to the EU. Citizens of EU countries will be prohibited from financially assisting, directly or indirectly, the individuals or entities listed.

Tuesday’s decision comes in the framework of the EU’s global human rights sanctions regime, which concerns acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations or abuses. It is the same framework under which several dozens of Iranian individuals and entities were sanctioned for cracking down on Iranian demonstrators in the past few months.

On Wednesday French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna expressed her solidarity with women battling for their rights in different countries. A statement issued by the French Foreign Ministry referred to Tuesday’s EU sanctions. The statement said that Colonna intends to "strengthen collective pressure and push for the adoption of more targeted sanctions against those responsible for and the perpetrators of this sexual we just did yesterday against twelve Russian, Iranian, Syrian, South Sudanese, Burmese and Taliban individuals and entities responsible for multiple violations of human rights and women's rights."

Colona paid tribute to the immense courage of women in Iran, Afghanistan and other places. "I am thinking of Mahsa Amini, to whom I awarded, together with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, the Franco-German Human Rights Prize posthumously," noted Colonna. Amini died in Iranian police custody in September after being arrested for "improperly" wearing the hijab. Her death sparked protests across the country calling for overthrowing the ruling elite. 

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