Long-awaited reforms to allow Australia to slap targeted sanctions on human rights abusers

Human rights abusers and cyber attackers from overseas would face financial sanctions and travel bans in Australia under new reforms proposed by the federal government.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne on Thursday confirmed the government was drafting so-called Magnitsky-style laws targeting individuals or entities perpetrating “egregious acts of international concern”, marking a long-awaited response to a parliamentary inquiry recommending Australia join global allies in doing so.

The reforms would allow Australia to impose targeted sanctions wherever concerns against perpetrators arise, without having to establish a country-specific approach. 

Senator Payne said the government intends to legislate reforms to the Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011 by the end of the year.

“The Australian Government will reform and modernise Australia’s autonomous sanctions laws to enable the imposition of targeted financial sanctions and travel bans against the perpetrators of egregious acts of international concern,” she said in a statement. 

The laws could target specific conduct such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human rights violations, malicious cyber activity, and serious corruption.

Mounting concerns over human rights violations in the Asia-Pacific region in places such as in Myanmar and China had prompted calls for reform.

The so-called Magnitsky sanctions are named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who uncovered $230 million worth of tax fraud committed by Russian government officials in 2008.

After Mr Magnitsky testified against the officials, he was imprisoned and allegedly tortured. He later died in jail.

That prompted political activist Bill Browder to lead a push for the US Magnitsky Act to be adopted in 2012 on behalf of his former lawyer.

Since then, similar laws have been passed in the United Kingdom and Canada. 

Possible reforms in Australia gained cross-party support during a review of the sanctions regime completed last December by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.

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