Sanctions act to target human rights abusers

05 Dec Sanctions act to target human rights abusers

Ben Packham – The Australian – Thursday 5 December

The Morrison government will look at introducing new targeted sanctions to seize the assets of human rights offenders and ban them from entering the country, amid a growing outcry over abuses in China’s Xinjiang region.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has asked parliament’s joint standing committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade to conduct an inquiry into introducing legislation modelled on the US Magnitsky Act, which allows the imposition of visa and property-related sanctions on foreign individuals who are responsible for human rights violations, and those “who have materially assisted, sponsored or resourced significant corruption”.

The original Magnitsky Act was passed in the US with bipartisan support in 2012. It was initially aimed at punishing Putin regime officials responsible for the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison.

There are supporters for an Australian version of the Magnitsky Act on both sides of parliament, with Labor senator Kimberley Kitching and Liberal senator James Paterson advocating for such laws in The Australian on Thursday.

“Free countries need powerful weapons of democratic pushback in an age of rising authoritarianism. A Magnitsky-style act is the next logical step,” they write.

“The real power of sanctions targeting individual human rights abusers comes when like-minded democracies act in concert with tough restrictions on their finances and travel. If only a handful do so, these abusers know they will be able to shop around until they find a safe haven for their typically ill-gotten gains.”

The senators said by publicly identifying and sanctioning human rights abusers, “they become pariahs among the inter­national community”.

“Officials in authoritarian regimes must know that their crimes — whether on behalf of, or protected by, their superiors, are not immune from international consequences,” they said.

Australia could use the legislation to target human rights abusers in countries such as China — which has detained more than a million Muslims in Xinjiang province — as well as Russia, Cambodia, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia.

Senator Kitching has a private senator’s bill on the notice paper that would mirror the US laws.

If Australia introduced Magnitsky-style legislation, it would become the fourth of the Five Eyes intelligence network countries to pass such laws, after the US, Britain and Canada. Similar legislation has been implemented in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Gibraltar, while seven other countries, plus the EU, are considering their own legislation.

Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, who chairs the joint standing committee’s human rights subcommittee, said the inquiry was an ideal opportunity to shape how Australia combated human rights abuses at home and abroad.

He said the inquiry would examine the US Magnitsky Act, and whether Australia’s current human rights sanctions laws could be strengthened.

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