Australia to reform sanctions laws targeting human rights abuse
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Australia to reform sanctions laws targeting human rights abuse

The Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Thursday that it will reform and modernize Australia’s autonomous sanctions laws to authorize the imposition of financial sanctions and travel bans against the “perpetrators of egregious acts of international concern.”

The proposed amendments will allow the Australian government to sanction individuals for gross human rights violations and serious corruption as well as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and malicious cyber-activity. These plans expand the reach of Australia’s current autonomous sanction laws and will enable the government to act more quickly.

The planned reform has been described as Australia’s version of the Magnitsky Act, which the US enacted in 2012 to target human rights abusers and corrupt actors with economic sanctions and travel bans.

The original act authorizes the government to draft regulations to limit the adverse consequences of a situation of international concern and to penalize responsible parties. It has been described as inflexible, and criticized as preventing the government to respond quickly to emerging human rights abuses.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne stated of the reform:

Once the types of conduct are established, Australia will have the ability to impose targeted financial sanctions and travel bans against individuals and entities determined to be involved in such sanctionable conduct wherever it occurs, without having to establish specific country-based regimes.

In March, US, UK, Canada and the EU sanctioned Chinese government officials for what Canada’s Global Affairs described as “gross and systematic human rights violations.” Australia was unable to join this group in imposing its own sanctions because of the lack of an appropriate legislative framework. This reform would give Australia that framework.

The Australian government plans to implement the reform by amending the Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011 by the end of the year.