20 Apr 2020

Safeguard Defenders joins push for Australian 'Magnitsky Act'

Last December, Australia's Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (Human Rights Sub-committee) launched an investigation into whether Australia should make use of targeted sanctions to address human rights abuses and adopt a legal framework for a 'Magnitsky Act', in line with similar legislation passed in the United States, Canada, the UK, and soon to be passed in the EU. The most recent country to adopt this legislation was Kosovo (the seventh) in January.

Before the February 2020 deadline, Safeguard Defenders, alongside 87 other NGOs and parties, submitted evidence and recommendations to a parliamentary committee set up for this issue. A  (redacted) list of submissions can be viewed here.


It also provided to the committee a copy of Fighting Impunity - the first-ever comprehensive manual on how CSOs can use Magnitsky Acts to target human rights violators. It provides a detailed comparison between the different jurisdictions' acts. A first hearing took place on 31 March 2020 in Parliament House, Canberra. 

The submission states:

A Magnitsky Sanctions scheme can only be successful if implemented systematically. Because many existing targeted sanctions exist solely on political grounds, they are often mired in political expediency over rights-based commitments. By making it more systematic and rights-based, overt politicization can be greatly reduced, which increases the legitimacy of such sanctions schemes. To achieve this, as recognized by both the U.S. and Canada, and soon it is hoped the UK, requires that any process established for managing selection of targets needs to be open and transparent. It must seek input from civil society. No Foreign Ministry has the knowledge to ensure a strong selection of recommendations for targeted rights-based sanctions without input from civil society working on the ground or in the context of the perpetrator in question

Safeguard Defenders own submission stressed the need for a transparant process that allows and seeks input from civil society as a cornerstone in identifying relevant targets for sanctions, to offset limitations in Australia's foreign ministry that would otherwise restrict consideration to only the most severe cases. This would also help ensure sanctions are applied as systematically as possible, with less consideration given to poilitical factors - a key step needed to further legitimize the sanction's process.

As noted in the submission:

While Canada and it is believed soon the UK have followed the U.S. method of having a more open and transparent system and process, the three Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Gibraltar – have opted for an internal-only system for gathering information, making recommendations and decision making on targets. These non-transparent systems have had had little to no impact, and by keeping it an internal matter for their Foreign Ministries it has given rise to the same concerns of political rather than rights-based motivationson.

It also stressed that such a sanctions framework would complement and strengthen Australian foreign policy goals, rather than hamper them.

A Magnitsky sanctions scheme done right has the ability to amplify other Australian foreign policy tools, and should be considered as one part of a larger foreign policy agenda and engagement, much like Australia’s development aid as well as direct human rights-oriented grant making.

While Australia move forward to deciding on adoption of a Magnitsky Act, the U.K. is set to pass a regulation on application and enforcement of its own Magnttsky Act, which has been pending during Brexit, while the EU is taken the next steps to adoption of its own EU-wide act.