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Advocates Urge Australia to Take More Action On Condemning Human Rights Violations Worldwide

The Australian government announced the imposition of Magnitsky-style sanctions on Iranian and Russian individuals in response to human rights violations in recent conflicts, but this has been both welcomed and dismayed by the international community. 

The sanctions are imposed against thirteen Russian and Iranian individuals and two entities. The consolidated list of targets for the announced sanctions by the Australian government is ongoing. Currently, six Iranian individuals have been sanctioned, including Hossein Ashtari - commander-in-chief of the Iranian police, and members of Iran’s hardline “morality police.” Another seven individuals were identified as being connected to the assassination attempt of a Russian former opposition leader; Australia is also targeting Iranian individuals who supply drones to Russia for their war in Ukraine.   

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) welcome these sanctions against Iranian officials and Russian individuals contending these are not “faceless crimes” but perpetuated by “individuals on individuals.” Human rights groups who have grown exasperated by the government’s reluctance to use the Magnitsky sanctions also applaud this decision; however, other advocates within the Iranian community are urging the government to do more against the regime in Tehran. 

The first set of Australian Magnitsky-style sanctions was used in March 2022 and December 2022, following numerous human rights violation incidents and crises. Human rights advocates are pressing Australia to take a stronger stance against human rights violations in Iran and Ukraine and worldwide. An HRW report reveals the US Global Magnitsky Act was passed in 2016; however, Australia has only used the law once in March 2022, and this falls behind other western and European powers.   

“The Australian government […] should avoid further delays to imposing sanctions on human rights abusers in other countries. It should examine individuals and entities already sanctioned by allies such as the UK, European Union, Canada, and the United States," the report stated.   

The report also urges Australia to follow suit with Canada in condemning Chinese government officials for their crimes against humanity against the Uyghur and other Turkic populations in Xinjiang.   

“In a coordinated effort in March 2021, the EU, UK, US, and Canada, including travel bans and asset freezes, on senior officials in Xinjiang who have been implicated in serious human rights violations.”   

Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong described these sanctions as a means of holding human rights abusers responsible, in circumstances where dialogue has remained ineffective.  

“We employ every strategy at our disposal towards upholding human rights – ranging from dialogue and diplomacy to sanctions – consistent with our values and interests,” Senator Wong stated.


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The Iranian foreign ministry deems these actions as interference and an “incitement to violence.”

“Australia's new anti-Iran action comes after this country's government has systematically violated the basic rights of Australian aborigines, prisoners and asylum seekers for years and has sheltered elements of anti-Iranian terrorist and separatist groups," ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaan said.   

However, what is the significance of these sanctions? Are they practical political tools to condemn human rights abusers?  


Understanding Magnitsky-Style Sanctions and Their Effectiveness    

Magnitsky sanctions target individuals responsible for human rights violations or corruption. The name derives from the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax lawyer who, in 2007, uncovered widespread corruption by Russian tax and law enforcement officials. Sergei was imprisoned in detention and suffered human rights abuse. In 2012 the US Congress passed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act which enabled the sanctioning of individuals for human rights violations. 

These differ from traditional sanctions in that the latter target nation-states, whereas the Magnitsky sanctions target individuals, freezing their assets and preventing them from freely travelling.

Magnitsky sanctions are therefore novel in comparison to traditional sanctions. Still, these sanctions aim to have a deterrent effect on individuals who commit human rights violations and support corrupt and aggressive regimes. The law allows governments to “revoke visas, ban travel and seize property from individuals who might try to hide assets in Australia.” 

The UK government stated: 

Sanctions are one response among a number of diplomatic tools we can reply to around the world as part of a broader political strategy in order to change or send a political signal regarding particular behaviours”.  

In this sense, however, novel they seem, these sanctions still count as political tools governments can use in such circumstances. 


Abuses in Iran and Ukraine 

Over 300 people including 40 children have died in protest since the beginning of the Iranian conflict, which was sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. According to Human Rights Activists News Agency, these numbers are uncertain and activists report that 17 500 people have been detained and 419 protesters have been killed. 

In Ukraine, a UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission documented the deaths of 441 civilians in three regions from the first six weeks of the Russian invasion alone. However, the report cautions actual figures are higher as an additional 198 killings are yet to be investigated. 

Senator Wong states: 

“The Australian Government calls on countries to exert their influence on Russia to end its illegal, immoral war. Australia stands with the people of Ukraine and with the people of Iran.”

The government is adopting a solid rhetoric stance against human rights abusers of Russia and Iran; however, Australia exercises caution when enforcing sanctions on Chinese officials in fear of reprisals. Human rights advocates are placing pressure on the Australian government to take more action and protect the lives of vulnerable groups and communities.    

These laws are not new, and while it is too early to judge the effectiveness of these sanctions, it still remains an essential step towards condemning human rights abuses and creating a standard and norm, spearheaded by powerful western nations, to make individuals accountable.

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Tags: #sanctions #Ukrainianwar #Iranprotests #protectinghumanrights


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