The measures are part of a package of human rights sanctions targeting a dozen individuals from Myanmar, China, Russia, North Korea, Eritrea, South Sudan and Libya.

European Union Minister for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell speaks to media before an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2021.
European Union Minister for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell speaks to media before an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2021. (AFP)

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels have approved sanctions over abuses in China, Myanmar and Russia, as the bloc expands measures targeting global rights breaches.

The highly symbolic move on Monday is the first time Brussels has hit Beijing over human rights abuses since it imposed an arms embargo in 1989 after Tiananmen Square.

The 27 nations imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials accused of responsibility for abuses against Uyghur Muslims in a raft of measures targeting alleged human rights offenders around the world, despite warnings that Beijing could retaliate.

The sanctions involve a freeze on their assets in the EU and a ban on them traveling in the bloc. European citizens and companies are not permitted to provide them with financial assistance.

China's foreign ministry has warned that Beijing will "react with a firm hand" against any punishment over its actions in the western Xinjiang region.

READ MORE: EU agrees to slap sanctions against Myanmar military over coup

Human rights sanctions

The measures are part of a package of human rights sanctions targeting a dozen people that also includes individuals in Russia, North Korea, Eritrea, South Sudan and Libya, diplomats said.

"This is a very important step which shows how committed we are," Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok said.

The mechanism — designed to make it easier for the bloc to target rights abusers — was launched this month with sanctions on four Russian officials over the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny.

Diplomats said the fresh sanctions on Russia will target individuals behind abuses in the country's Chechnya region, which is ruled with an iron-fist by Kremlin loyalist Ramzan Kadyrov.

READ MORE: US, EU slap sanctions on Russia over Navalny poisoning and jailing

Pressure on Myanmar's junta

The bloc placed Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on an assets freeze and visa ban blacklist over the military coup last month and crackdown on demonstrators, the bloc's official journal said. 

"Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing has been directly involved in and responsible for decision making concerning state functions and is therefore responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar," the listing said

The EU also slapped asset freezes and visa bans on 11 officials of Myanmar's junta.

"What we see there in terms of excesses of violence is absolutely unacceptable," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

"That is why we will not be able to avoid imposing sanctions."

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, triggering a mass uprising that security forces have sought to crush with a campaign of violence and fear.

Diplomats have said businesses tied to the military will likely be placed under sanctions in the coming weeks.

READ MORE: Myanmar junta mounts pressure on anti-coup protesters and media

Source: TRTWorld and agencies