By Maya Lester KC & Michael O’Kane

EU judgment in Venezuela case on international law & sanctions

In 2021, the European Court of Justice held that Venezuela had standing to challenge the EU’s Venezuela sanctions regime (previous post).

In a judgment this week, the Grand Chamber of the EU General Court rejected that challenge (press release).  Key points:

1. Right to be heard: the Venezuelan government did not have the right to be heard before the adoption of the sanctions, because they were challenging general not targeted sanctions.

2. Obligation to state reasons had been complied with: sanctions imposed because of the “deterioration of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights in Venezuela” in order to “prevent further violence, excessive use of force and violations of human rights”.

3. No manifest error: The EU had relied on credible and reliable information in order to conclude that there was “brutal repression” by the Venezuelan regime, eg reports by Human Rights Watch and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Venezuelan government’s reports that it had prosecuted abuses were not sufficient to show a manifest error.

4. Sanctions didn’t breach international law:

  • The sanctions were not unlawful countermeasures, since not intended as a reaction to an internationally wrongful act imputable to the Venezuelan government.  Therefore Article 49 of the Draft articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts adopted by the UN International Law Commission (which says countermeasures are “limited to the non-performance of international obligations of the State taking the measures towards the responsible State”) does not apply.
  • No breach of principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of Venezuela; the right (based on ICJ caselaw) to be informed before the EU adopts countermeasures did not apply.
  • Venezuela failed to establish a general international practice requiring authorisation from the UN Security Council before the adoption of EU sanctions or requirement in the EU treaties that the EU consult the UN before adoption of sanctions.
  • No breach of WTO rules/ Agreements.

5. Proportionality and extra-territorial effect

  • A reasonable connection between the restrictions (export control on equipment that may be used for internal repression) and the prevention of further violence.
  • No unlawful extra-territorial effects, since the measures solely concern individuals and entities falling within EU jurisdiction (either as EU citizens or located in the EU).

VenezuelaVenezuela European UnionEuropean Union

About Maya Lester KC

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Maya Lester KC is a senior barrister (King’s Counsel) at Brick Court Chambers with a wide-ranging practice in public law, European law, competition law, international law, human...

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