By Alberto Galvey –
The Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade has recommended that the government enact similar legislation for Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States to create a global human rights sanctions regime. This led to the idea of the Magnitsky Act, which freezes assets and bans visas for human rights violators.
The United States passed the Sergey Magnitsky Accountability Act on the Rule of Law in 2012, and expanded it in 2016 through the Global Magnitsky Act. Since then, the US government has imposed sanctions on 94 people and 102 entities in 24 countries, including Uganda, Iraq, South Sudan and Cambodia. The European Union is contemplating roughly the same thing. After the United States, Magnitsky Act was also enacted in the United Kingdom, Canada, Latvia, Gibraltar, Bailiwick Jersey, Estonia, Lithuania, and Kosovo.
As a core member of Five Eyes, it would be logical for Australia to follow the example of the US, UK and Canada. The Five Eyes is an alliance of the intelligence services between these five countries.
Australia could risk becoming a haven for human rights violators around the world if it does not have its own Magnitsky Act. The Australian government should join with other governments and pass legislation setting out human rights and corruption as criteria for implementing targeted sanctions.
The current Australian penal code allows the government to impose targeted measures for a variety of reasons, but the process is complex without the help of civil society. As a result, targeted sanctions are rarely applied to those who violate human rights. Instead, the United States imposed sanctions on at least 199 people and entities from a wide range of countries under the Global Magnitsky Act.
A new law would give the Australian government more options in dealing with human rights violators, as targeted sanctions would create a more transparent process for their enforcement.
Sanctions will become an effective tool in foreign policy, for example to persuade China to address human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. The US has recently imposed sanctions on Chinese entities and officials to suppress the Uyghur population, and there is growing momentum in the UK for such a measure. Hence, such sanctions would provide Australia with another diplomatic tool that could be used to dissuade states or individual entities of companies or persons committing human rights violations.