Our Work

Targeted Human Rights Sanctions 

Advocating for new accountability tools

Ahlone ports, Yangon Myanmar

Rohingya refugees crossing from Myanmar into Bangladesh. © Adam Dean/Pano 

History of ACIJ advocacy in seeking sanctions law reform

There are times when the criminal justice process may be unattainable, unfeasible or too slow to act, and perpetrators of grave crimes spend years on the run without suffering any consequences for their crimes. Other tools are therefore needed to step up to the plate – the words of Geoffrey Robertson QC. Throughout 2020 and 2021, the Australian Centre for International Justice worked alongside others to advocate for the introduction of a targeted human rights sanctions regime in Australia.

In February 2020, we made a submission to a Parliamentary Inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade regarding whether Australia should introduce, Magnitsky style, human rights targeted sanctions laws.

In March 2020, we were invited to provide evidence to the Committee at a hearing. The Committee heard evidence throughout the year from impacted diaspora communities, academics and high-profile lawyers and advocates from around the world, including Geoffrey Robertson QC. Our recommendations included that a sanctions determination process ensures contribution of civil society and NGOs, and that an independent committee be established to provide recommendations, monitoring and guidance. These recommendations, among others, were accepted by the Parliamentary Committee in its report released in November 2020.

On 8 December 2021, we welcomed Australia’s adoption of a targeted human rights sanctions regime through the passing of the Autonomous Sanctions Amendment (Magnitsky-style and Other Thematic Sanctions) Bill 2021. This Bill amended the Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011, thereby creating a thematic sanctions regime to address serious violations of human rights, serious violations of international humanitarian law, serious corruption and other matters of concern. The amendments to Australia’s sanctions regime did not, however, take into account our key recommendations accepted by the Parliamentary Committee. 

The Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011 and accompanying Autonomous Sanctions Regulations 2011 allow for the imposition of targeted financial sanctions and travel bans against perpetrators, immediate family members and beneficiaries of serious violations of human rights, serious violations of international humanitarian law and serious corruption. The regime is administered by the Australian Sanctions Office.

Ahlone ports, Yangon Myanmar
Tamil women protesting enforced disappearances, in Colombo, Sri Lanka © Eranga Jayawardena/AP Photo

Current focus 

The introduction of Australia’s human rights sanctions regime represents a unique opportunity for Australia to protect and promote human rights globally, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, by targeting human rights abusers and corrupt actors, as well as promoting accountability. The regime has the ability to strengthen Australia’s capacity to respond to human rights violations globally and target those persons and entities involved in acts of significant corruption and severe breaches of human rights. ​

Yet, since the regime came into effect, it has only been utilised a small number of times, against persons and entities in Russia and Iran.

The Australian Centre for International Justice will continue to advocate for a robust, effective and consistent targeted human rights sanctions regime in Australia. We will also continue to advocate, amongst other things, for effective engagement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in liaising with civil society organisations to identify persons and entities who should be the target of human rights sanctions. 

The Australian Centre for International Justice partners with organisations to submit recommendations to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, about individuals and entities who should be subject to targeted human rights sanctions. We also partner with organisations to bring attention to, and call for Australian authorities to take action on, potential breaches of Australia’s sanctions laws by individuals and organisations. 


Latest on Targeted Human Rights Sanctions

Submission: Australian human rights sanctions regime

The Australian Centre for International Justice (ACIJ) has recommended that the Australian Government introduce a new human rights targeted sanctions regime. The submission was made to the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade...

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