New Australian Sanctions Regime to Tackle Cyber and Human Rights Abuses

By John Clise

According to governmental reports, Australia’s parliament has approved measures through the Autonomous Sanctions Amendment (Thematic Sanctions) Bill 2021, along with amendments to the 2011 Autonomous Sanctions Regulations to significantly widen the scope of its sanctions legislation to target cyber hackers, human rights abusers, and corrupt officials with removal from the country and asset seizures.

Several countries in Asia-Pacific have already tightened regulations in response to these types of threats.

In October, of this year, representatives from 32 countries including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore, attended a virtual Counter Ransomware Initiative Meeting hosted by the White House National Security Council.

Antony J. Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State released the following statement regarding the Australian measures:

“The United States commends Australia on passing legislation that strengthens its sanctions regime to address more comprehensively human rights abuses, corruption, malicious cyber activity, violations of international humanitarian law, and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) proliferation globally — all of which threaten international peace and security. The new legislation will enhance U.S.-Australia cooperation on defending human rights and combatting corruption.

Together with other allies and partners, the United States and Australia will seek to promote our shared democratic values with similar tools and continue to call on international partners to adopt sanctions structures that can address these challenges to democratic ideals.  Human rights abusers, corrupt and malign actors, transnational criminals, and those who seek to proliferate WMD, no matter where they are located, will not have access to our financial systems.  The United States looks forward to continuing our partnership with Australia, other like-minded governments, and civil society alike to defend human rights, combat corruption, promote responsible behavior in cyberspace, and promote accountability and good governance.”

Australia has become the latest US ally to pass a law styled after the U.S. Magnitsky Act to defend against such attacks.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a release:

“Australia has a strong history of promoting and protecting human rights globally, supporting the international rules-based order, and acting in the interests of international peace and security.

Today, Parliament has expanded Australia’s autonomous sanctions laws to enable the establishment of Magnitsky-style and other thematic sanctions through the Autonomous Sanctions (Magnitsky-style and Other Thematic Sanctions) Amendment Bill 2021, and the Autonomous Sanctions (Magnitsky-style and Other Thematic Sanctions) Amendment Regulations 2021.

The reforms will enable Australia to sanction individuals and entities responsible for, or complicit in, egregious conduct, including malicious cyber activity, serious human rights abuses and violations, and serious corruption. Australian governments will be able to establish further thematic sanctions regulations in the future, including in relation to serious violations of international humanitarian law.

The reforms will ensure Australia can take timely action, including with like-minded partners where it is in our national interest, to impose costs on, influence, and deter those responsible for egregious situations of international concern, wherever they occur in the world, while minimising impacts on general populations.

An increasing number of similarly attractive economies have joined the “Magnitsky movement”. This bill, which follows my referral to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in 2019, is timely for Australia to ensure that we do not become an isolated, attractive safe haven for such people and entities, and their illegal gains.

This is a significant foreign policy and human rights reform, on which we encourage continuing public engagement. We thank all those who have worked collaboratively on this important issue, including the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, the Human Rights Sub-Committee, and others across Parliament and civil society organisations.”

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