ISSN 2330-717X

Call For Australia To Enact New Law To Sanction Rights Abusers


The Australian government should introduce a new law to allow targeted sanctions against serious human rights violators abroad, Human Rights Watch said in a submission to parliament’s human rights subcommittee. The proposed law would be similar to legislation enacted in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

As part of a foreign policy that actively promotes human rights, Australia should pass legislation that authorizes targeted sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes, against people implicated in serious human rights violations. The law would preserve the flexibility to target individual rights abusers without broadly punishing the country’s population.

“Targeted sanctions are a useful foreign policy tool to press for accountability for serious abuses and to raise the cost of human rights violations,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director. “The Australian government should join other governments and pass a law that specifies human rights and corruption as criteria in applying targeted sanctions.”

The US has led in this effort through its Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (Global Magnitsky Act) adopted in 2016. Canada and the UK have similar laws. The European Union (EU) is the process of developing a Global EU Human Rights Sanctions Regime.

Australia’s current sanctions law allows the government to impose targeted sanctions for a broad range of reasons, but the process is complicated, ad hoc, opaque, and difficult to navigate. There is no civil society engagement in the process. As a result, targeted sanctions have rarely been applied against human rights abusers. By contrast, the US has sanctioned at least 199 individuals and entities from a wide range of countries under the Global Magnitsky Act.

A new targeted sanctions law would create a more transparent process for applying sanctions on human rights grounds and give the Australian government more options in dealing with human rights violators, Human Rights Watch said.

“Telling rights violators in other countries that they can’t travel to Australia or put their money in Australian banks can have a real impact,” Pearson said. “By joining other countries with similar laws, Australia will be sending a strong message to abusive leaders everywhere that there are far-reaching consequences for their actions.”

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