Australian Red Cross response to sanctions reforms

3 December 2021

Australia's sanctions reforms that explicitly include violations of International Humanitarian law is a small step in the right direction- but more needs to be done.

Australia’s latest reforms to its sanctions laws provide welcome amendments to address violations of human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL), but more must be done to ensure lifesaving humanitarian relief can be delivered to people caught up in armed conflict. 

Yesterday, the laws, inspired by the global Magnitsky movement, passed by Parliament allow the Australian Government to sanction perpetrators that engage in “egregious conduct”, including serious violations of IHL.  

Australian Red Cross has a role working alongside Government to increase respect for and understanding of IHL. As part of this role, Australian Red Cross has been advocating for the introduction of sanctions against people who commit serious violations of IHL, including the killing of civilians, healthcare workers, the sick and wounded, and the targeting of hospitals, schools and places of worship. 

In the past four years alone, there have been 4,094 reported attacks and threats against healthcare in armed conflict, with more than 681 health workers killed. There is no more important time to introduce sanctions law that seek to prevent, deter, punish and stigmatise these kinds of acts. 

Australia is one of the first few countries to initiate reforms that explicitly include violations of IHL into Magnitsky-style laws, which is a great first step in the right direction. 

As the next step to ensuring that principles of IHL are reflected in Australia’s autonomous sanctions laws, we believe that it is important for the legislation to include clear exceptions for impartial humanitarian actors. Without such exceptions, there is a risk that the imposition of sanctions on individuals or groups impede the ability of humanitarian organisations to provide relief for those impacted by armed conflict or other crises. 

Australian Red Cross will continue to advocate for unconditional exceptions to safeguard impartial humanitarian actors working in conflict zones and to ensure the delivery of humanitarian relief where it is needed the most. 

Yvette Zegenhagen, Head of International Humanitarian Law. 

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