Australia Could Be Human Rights Leader: Amal Clooney

Australia Could Be Human Rights Leader: Amal Clooney
Canadian Al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy (L) shakes hands with Amal Clooney (C), the human rights lawyer representing him, before the start of his trial along with Egyptian Baher Mohamed (unseen), both accused of supporting the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood in their coverage for the Qatari-owned broadcaster, on August 29, 2015, in the capital Cairo. (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

Australia could be a global leader of human rights by introducing laws banning international criminals from entering the country, Amal Clooney says.

The top human rights lawyer has urged federal politicians to introduce the Magnitsky Act.

The laws are named after lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow jail after accusing Russian officials of tax fraud.

The legislation would allow the government to name people linked to breaches of international law or corruption, and see them banned from travelling to or investing in Australia.

The United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada have used the measures to respond to Russian aggression.

Clooney said Australia could join the “coalition of the committed” by introducing the scheme.

“I think it’s time Australia joined the club,” she told a parliamentary committee via video link from the United States.

“You are writing your country’s history, so let this be a new chapter in which Australia is a global leader on human rights.”

Australia’s laws could become the model for other democracies, she added.

Clooney says laws should allow for sanctions in response to any serious abuse of international human rights, including killings, torture, sexual violence, corruption, detention on false charges, silencing of media, as well as persecution on grounds of race, religion, and sexuality.

Advocates have previously told the inquiry the laws should extend to the family of human rights abusers too.

But Clooney, the wife of Hollywood star George Clooney, was less certain.

“On the one hand, I think the starting point has to be the son shouldn’t pay for the crimes of the father,” she said.

“Having said that, at the other end of the spectrum I think those who work on corruption will say it’s often the case ... that corrupt actors will hide assets by transferring them to family members.

“You would want the power in your legislation to impose sanctions on that basis, but in practice you would potentially use that power rather sparingly.”

Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza also appeared before the committee on Friday morning, and high-profile silk Geoffrey Robertson will do so later in the day.

By Rebecca Gredley