Australia to fine-tune sanctions regime

THE Australian government has tabled in parliament a Bill to strengthen its sanctions regime, outside the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) realm, to punish leaders of countries like Zimbabwe for undermining the rule of law, corruption and human rights violations.

The Autonomous Sanctions Bill 2010 was tabled in parliament on May 26 and is meant to give government greater scope and flexibility to apply targeted pressure on “oppressive and destabilising regimes across the globe, while minimising the adverse impact on the people of those nations”.

Australia has imposed sanctions, including targeted financial embargoes, on Zimbabwe, Burma, Fiji, North Korea, former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Iran through a range of legislative instruments.
According to Australia’s Foreign Affairs ministry, the Bill would improve the country’s capacity to respond quickly to issues of international concern and would also assist the administration of, and compliance with, sanctions measures by removing distinctions between the scope and the extent of the autonomous sanctions and United Nations sanctions enforcement laws.

Stephen Smith, Australian Foreign Affairs minister, in the Bill’s second reading on May 26 told parliament that autonomous sanctions were a key tool in the country’s diplomacy and were highly targeted measures intended to apply pressure on regimes to end the repression of human rights, democratic freedoms and regionally or internationally destabilising actions.

“Such situations include Iran’s failure to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to enable it to confirm Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes and the autonomous sanctions Australia has had in place on North Korea since 2006 in response to its missile and nuclear tests,” Smith said. “Or, in the case of Zimbabwe where the (President Robert) Mugabe regime has been responsible for acts undermining the rule of law, corruption, violence and intimidation… autonomous sanctions are applied so as to minimise, to the extent possible, the adverse impact on the general population of the affected country.”

He said they were called autonomous sanctions to distinguish them from measures applied under international obligations arising from UNSC resolutions.

“There is a range of situations which are not covered by UNSC sanctions,” Smith said. “These include the situations in Zimbabwe, Fiji and Burma… Australia is one of a number of like-minded countries, such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand and European Union members, which actively seek to bring about positive change through the pressure applied by sanctions where the UNSC is unable to act.”
In some circumstances, he added, autonomous sanctions are used to supplement sanctions imposed by the UNSC.

Autonomous sanctions, like UNSC embargoes, are designed to prevent the provision of material assistance to regimes engaged in violations of international standards and norms, including human rights abuses, acts of aggression and destabilising actions.

The measures themselves — targeted financial sanctions, arms embargoes and restrictions on supply of strategic and dual use goods — are the same as applied by the Security Council.

Measures imposed under autonomous sanctions include targeted financial sanctions that prohibit international funds transfers and other transactions involving foreign currency; travel restrictions; restrictions on public-provided financial assistance for trade or investment with a sanctioned country; embargoes on the supply of military or strategic goods; suspension of non-humanitarian development assistance; and suspension of government-to-government links.

From September 2002, Australia has implemented targeted autonomous sanctions against Mugabe and his inner circle.

The country has imposed restrictions on financial transactions involving members or supporters of the Mugabe regime, including senior management officials of state-owned companies.

It has put in place restrictions on visas to travel to Australia by members or supporters of the Mugabe regime; and sreening of all student visa applications from Zimbabwe to identify whether any applicants were adult children of individuals subject to the country’s travel and financial sanctions.

Australia has imposed an arms embargo on Zimbabwe barring defence links and restricting exports of arms and related material; and has downgraded government-to-government contacts at multilateral forums and cultural links.

The Australian government is a member of the Fishmongers Group — a grouping of wealthy nations  which met last week in Oslo, Norway, and resolved that they were keen to assist Zimbabwe move towards transformation and democratic recovery.

The group is accused by Mugabe and his Zanu PF party of funding the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC to effect regime change. Mugabe accused it of using sanctions to achieve the goal.

“As a group, we resolve to intensify the effort we are making in cooperation with the inclusive government to support the democratisation process, to protect the livelihoods of the poorest people and to improve the provision of basic services in health, water and education,” the Fishmongers said at the end of their meeting last Tuesday. “We are also prepared to support the rehabilitation of key infrastructure which is so essential for economic and social recovery.”

Official development assistance to Zimbabwe, including humanitarian assistance and food aid, reached US$651 million in 2009 and has been directed towards improving services in health, provision of safe water, education, agriculture, social protection and a range of other essential areas.

The Fishmongers, however, said political progress and the implementation of commitments agreed to by the leaders of Zimbabwe in the global political agreement signed in September 2008 were pivotal to peace, prosperity and full engagement with the international community.

Constantine Chimakure

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