Famed human rights lawyer Amal Clooney has called on Australia to adopt a sanction scheme against people believed to be involved in human rights abuses overseas.
Giving evidence at a parliamentary inquiry looking into whether Australia should adopt so-called Magnitsky laws, Ms Clooney told Parliamentarians Australia could move to “send a message” that the country’s banks and beaches were off limits to war criminals.
Magnitsky laws have been implemented in several western countries to impose sanctions on individuals who have committed human rights abuses overseas.
The laws, which were first implemented in the US, are named after Russian tax adviser and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died after being held without charge for 11 months after attempting to expose Russian officials’ links to fraud.
They are designed to impose sanctions on individuals who abuse human rights overseas, on the principle that while many wrongs are committed outside the reach of western law enforcement, many ill-gotten profits are spent in western countries.
The laws broadly allow countries to freeze the assets of human rights abusers and ban them from entry.
Australia does not currently have such explicit laws, but a parliamentary inquiry is looking into whether the government should introduce them.
Australia can make sure it’s no ‘haven for despots’
Ms Clooney, who sits on a panel of legal experts that has reported on the issue, told the committee that Magnitsky laws would strengthen Australia’s support for human rights.
“You may not be able to solve every problem in the world or respond to every abuse, but you can make sure your country is not a safe haven for despots and war criminals,” she said, appearing via video link from Los Angeles.
“You can send a message to those who engage in corruption and human rights abuses that Australia’s banks and schools and beaches are off limits.”
She said Magnitsky-style laws had advantages over sanctions that punish governments and countries.
“If you go after people personally … the signal that it’s sending is you’re not going after an entire country,” she said.
“You’re not having ordinary citizens pay the price for the behaviour of their officials or a small number of individuals. You’re going after those who are most responsible.”
Magnitsky laws have been implemented by six countries including the US, the UK, Canada, and their Australian introduction has been supported by several human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch, Save the Children and the Australian Centre for International Justice.
Opposition activist says attempts on his life were made over laws
Before Ms Clooney’s evidence, the committee heard from Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, who said he had survived two assassination attempts since 2015.
Mr Kara-Murza told the committee he believed his championing of Magnitsky laws around the world had led to him being poisoned twice.
“On two occasions, unfortunately for me, in the past five years, I’ve been subjected to severe poisonings, both times in Moscow,” he said.
“I have absolutely no doubt that both of these attempts on my life were connected generally with my political activities in the Russian opposition, but I think more specifically in relation to my work on the Magnitsky Act.”
He said the laws had been furiously opposed by the Russian Government, but that they would never compare to criminal action being taken against wrongdoers.
“We are talking about a pale shadow of accountability and justice,” Mr Kara-Murza said.
“If you murder someone or if you torture someone or are involved in other gross human rights abuses, your punishment should not be a revoked visa or a closed bank account.
“But it’s better than nothing.”