Australia moves to sanction human rights abusers and cyber criminals

By Melissa Coade

Monday December 6, 2021

Marise Payne
Foreign minister Marise Payne. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Legislation to establish ‘Magnitsky-style’ laws passed through parliament on the last sitting day of the year will have the effect of blocking human rights abusers and cyber criminals from travelling to Australia, along with other sanctions powers.

The reforms have been introduced to prevent Australia from becoming an ‘isolated, attractive safe haven’ for criminals and their associated businesses for illegal gains, with expanded laws to allow the government to impose sanctions where it is alleged human rights violations and abuses, or serious corruption has taken place beyond the scope of Australia’s current jurisdiction-focused regime.

Limiting the economic activities that relate to certain countries, goods and services, individuals and entities will be among some of the sanction powers created by the expanded laws. Travel bans, trade restrictions and asset freezes will also be possible.

In a statement on Thursday, foreign minister Marise Payne said that a growing number of nations, including the US, the UK, Canada and the European Union, had joined the ‘Magnitsky movement’. The legislative model is named after Russian national Sergei Magnitsky. 

Magnitsky was a tax advisor and whistleblower who died in a Russian prison in November 2009 aged 37. His death led to an international outcry on the basis that he was deliberately denied medical treatment despite multiple pleas for assistance; Russia went ahead with a posthumous trial and in 2013 he was found guilty of tax evasion.

Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council concluded Magnitsky had been severely beaten and denied treatment. The whistleblower initially took up his own case, but then after his death and his posthumous verdict, Magnitsky’s wife and mother took up his case with the European Court of Human Rights’ chamber arguing that the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated during his imprisonment. 

“Australia has a strong history of promoting and protecting human rights globally, supporting the international rules-based order, and acting in the interests of international peace and security,” Payne said.

“The reforms will ensure Australia can take timely action, including with like-minded partners where it is in our national interest, to impose costs on, influence, and deter those responsible for egregious situations of international concern.”

The expansion of Australia’s autonomous sanctions laws, with the passage of the Autonomous Sanctions (Magnitsky-style and Other Thematic Sanctions) Amendment Bill 2021, and the Autonomous Sanctions (Magnitsky-style and Other Thematic Sanctions) Amendment Regulations 2021, follows a referral that Payne made to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in 2019.

Payne said the move was a significant foreign policy and human rights reform and would require further public consultation.

“We thank all those who have worked collaboratively on this important issue, including the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, the Human Rights Sub-Committee, and others across parliament and civil society organisations,” Payne said. 


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