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Australia Mulls Rights Abuse Sanction Law

Foreign Minister Marise Payne writes to the prime minister about Magnitsky laws to allow sanctions over human rights abuses.

CANBERRA, Australia — Marise Payne, Foreign Minister, Australia, has pushed the Scott Morrison government to create new laws allowing sanctions on human rights abuses abroad.

The Australian and New Zealand governments reiterated their concerns on March 25 about the growing number of credible reports of severe human rights abuses against minorities.

“I’ve written to the prime minister, and we’ll make our response in due course,” said Payne in a Senate meeting on Thursday (March 25).

There is evidence of severe human rights abuses that include restrictions on freedom of religion, mass surveillance, large-scale extra-judicial detentions, forced labor, and forced birth control, including sterilization.

A parliamentary committee last year released a report following an inquiry into Magnitsky-style targeted sanctions.

Payne described the report recommending the new laws as helpful.

The legislation would allow the government to name people linked to breaches of international law or corruption and ban them from traveling to or investing in Australia, as well as other financial sanctions.

Senators questioned why Australia had not joined with the U.S., European Union, the U.K., and Canada in announcing sanctions on Chinese officials over human rights abuses in Xinjiang, an autonomous territory in northwest China.

“We don’t have the same sanction application capacity in the Magnitsky sense,” said Payne.

The proposed reforms are named after lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow jail after accusing Russian officials of tax fraud.

The foreign minister claims that the government supported the actions of other countries’ sanctions.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne during Senate Estimates at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, March 24, 2021. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Janet Rice, Green’s Senator, lamented slow progress on a new sanctions regime, noting human rights atrocities against Uighur muslims in China had been going on for years. Payne pointed to her committee referral.

Uigurs, alternatively spelled Uyghurs or Uygurs, are a Turkic ethnic group originating from and culturally affiliated with the general region of Central and East Asia. They are recognized by the Chinese government as a regional minority within a multicultural nation.

“It is exactly why I’ve considered that comprehensive report and exactly why I’ve written to the prime minister with my views on that matter. The government will progress that,” she said.

Since 2018, when reports emerged about the detention camps in Xinjiang, Australia, and New Zealand, they have consistently called on China in United Nations to respect the Uighur people’s human rights and other minority groups.

“Adding people to the existing framework could take around six months,” says Simon Newnham, chief legal officer, department of foreign affairs and trade. Meanwhile, Payne claims Magnitsky laws would allow for quick listing.

Payne agreed with Liberal senator David Fawcett, who chaired the committee that recommended the laws.

“Particularly within Myanmar at the moment as well as other parts of the world, we do need to have some levels that we can use to do more than issue statements,” said Senator Fawcett.

The minister later claimed that the human rights abuses in Xinjiang were among the world’s most egregious.

(Edited by Amrita Das and Pallavi Mehra.)