Updated: Jan 20
Foreign Minister Marise Payne has called on the Australian parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs to carry out a formal inquiry into whether Australia should introduce legislation comparable to the United States Magnitsky Act 2012. The law would target human rights violators and those “who have materially assisted, sponsored, or resourced significant corruption.”
The United States’ Magnitsky Act 2012 is named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who died under torture in 2009 after exposing tax fraud in his country. He was being detained for a year in a Moscow prison at the time of his death.
“The Magnitsky Act currently exists in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, it doesn’t make sense for Australia not to be in that grouping because Australia works with all those countries on security issues, intelligence, and other matters, and should also work on human rights sanctions,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio on Thursday.
“Australia is a country that’s an attractive place for bad guys to put their money. It’s a rule of law country; it’s a place where property rights are respected.
“You end up getting people who’ve done really terrible things [and] make money in other countries coming to Australia, and this [a Magnitsky-style Act] is a very powerful tool, because people who do these terrible types of atrocities … they want to have some place where they can put their families, keep their money, and if that’s closed up to them, that creates a disincentive to do these kinds of things going forward,” he said.
Browder also noted that the act would apply to human rights violators across the globe, not just Russia, adding that such legislation is “particularly relevant” now, given the current issues in China, including “the Uyghurs [and] the Hong Kong situation.”
“It gives the West something to do, which causes real pain on a targeted basis to people who perpetrate these terrible atrocities, but it still allows the countries to do business with these other countries,” Browder said. “And so we can sanction Chinese officials and still have diplomatic relations with China, for example … it causes pain specifically to the people who are perpetrating atrocities.”
Elaine Pearson, Australia Director at Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter on Thursday that Australia “certainly should adopt a targeted sanctions regime against human rights abusers … good to see this inquiry is happening.”
The committee is welcoming submissions related to the inquiry up until Jan 31, 2020.