European court rejects challenge to Syrian sanctions

On 13 September 2013, the General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg upheld EU sanctions imposed on two Syrian nationals, Eyad Makhlouf and Issam Anbouba.

The European Council first imposed restrictive measures against Syria on 9 May 2011, including an arms embargo, travel bans, and freezing the funds and economic resources of people responsible for “the violent repression of the civilian population in Syria”. Sanctions against Syria have extended since then, most recently for a further 12 months in June 2013 (see previous blog posts here).

Eyad Makhlouf, an officer in the Syrian army, was included on the list on 23 May 2011 and Issam Anbouba, the president of an agro-industrial company, was added on 2 September 2011. Mr Makhlouf was included on the grounds that he is the brother of Rami Makhlouf, and is an army officer involved in violence against the civilian population. Mr Anbouba was included on the grounds of his position as president of an agro-industry company, and for providing “economic support for the Syrian regime”.

The Court dismissed the actions for annulment brought by the applicants, and found that the European Council:

  • Did not infringe the rights of defence of either applicant by including them on the list, even though neither of them had received individual notification of their inclusion, because they were able to bring actions before the European court.
  • Had given specific enough reasons for including both individuals to allow them to know why they had been included.
  • Had not erred in its assessment that either of them should be included.

On the last point, it is arguable that the approach of this Court (the Sixth Chamber) differs somewhat from some of the Court’s previous case law, and from the approach of the recent Iranian judgments decided at the same time (which will be the subject of other blog pieces), in the following respects.

In a number of recent Iranian nuclear proliferation cases, a different chamber of the Court has held that the Council may not maintain designations where applicants refute the factual basis for their inclusion and the Council cannot supply evidence to support its assertions. In these Syrian cases, by contrast, the Court has emphasised the Council’s broad discretion over the Council’s judgments in including people on sanctions lists, the limited role of the Court, and has permitted the Court to rely on rebuttable presumptions against individuals rather than evidence that they have engaged in prohibited conduct.

By contrast to the Tay Za case in which the Court would not permit presumptions that businessman in Burma must be connected with the regime, in relation to Mr Anbouba, the Court found that it was reasonable for the Council to assume that, as a leading businessman in Syria, he supported the Syrian regime on the basis that he could only have succeeded in business if he was receiving favours from the Assad regime and providing some support in return. Presumably the Court is also assuming that a connection with the Assad regime equates to the requirement that a person be responsible for the violent suppression of the civilian population in Syria if he is to be included on the list.

The Court also considered both listing decisions to be proportionate when considered in light of the repression that President Assad has carried out against the Syrian population and the objectives of these restrictive measures.

Links to the judgments are here: (Case T-383/11 Eyad Makhlouf v Council), (Cases T-563/11 and T-592/11 Issam Anbouba v Council) and the European Court’s summary press release (in English) is here. The applicants have two months and 10 days in which to appeal to the European Court of Justice. Links to the current EU sanctions against Syria are on the blog here.

SyriaSyria European UnionEuropean Union

About Maya Lester QC

Maya Lester QC

Maya Lester QC is a senior barrister (Queen’s Counsel) at Brick Court Chambers with a wide-ranging practice in public law, European law, competition law, international law, human rights & civil liberties. She has a particular expertise in sanctions. The legal directories say she is the...

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