NZ needs power to impose autonomous sanctions
The deepening crisis in Ukraine is something that should worry us all. We have not seen this sort of blatant aggression since the late 1930s.
We should not draw this historical analogy too far, but some parallels are clear: Western democracies understandably are not willing to be drawn into war and an increasingly aggressive state making absurd demands; and now, that same state going to war with its European neighbour. The acts of Putin and his allies must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, and heavy consequences felt by him and all those who support him.
Russia's actions in Ukraine are egregious. But we should also not be blind to actions, closer to home, where democratic and human rights are also being undermined. War, human rights abuses, and the removal of fundamental rights - all sit on a continuum of bad, often escalating, behaviour. I am thinking of the likes of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) where we can point to the detention of well over a million Uighurs in camps; the destruction of democracy in Hong Kong; aggressions in the Galwan Valley with India; and ongoing threats against Taiwan.
How should New Zealand, therefore, respond – be it acts of war or the undermining of human and democratic rights? To date, New Zealand's response to such flagrant aggression in Ukraine has been no more than expressing concern and talks of de-escalation. Similarly with what has occurred in Hong Kong. While these statements have value, we have failed over many years to develop our own sanction regimes, often called Magnitsky laws.
As things currently stand, New Zealand is well behind in at least two areas of international human rights legislation. The first is a Magnitsky type law, sometimes referred to as autonomous sanctions. Presently, New Zealand can only implement sanctions approved by the United Nations; we have no independent way to impose sanctions ourselves. Magnitsky laws are designed to target those individuals and corporations behind gross human rights violations in the form of financial assets and the ability to travel. Put simply, it would mean that such people cannot come to, or place their money, into New Zealand.
I have been working with the founder of Magnitsky sanctions, Bill Browder, for a while now and in our discussions it is clear that New Zealand is an outlier. He joined my podcast last year and noted how our traditional allies such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and most recently Australia have all introduced Magnitsky laws.
As Bill has noted often, the more countries that adopt such laws, the fewer options for respite and sanctuary for those committing human rights abuses or war crimes. Disappointingly, National has twice put forward such legislation and twice the Government has rejected it. This is not good enough and leaves New Zealand impotent, particularly as we watch the tragedy of war in the Ukraine.
The second is around modern slavery legislation. Again, New Zealand lags behind our allies, who often query me as to why we have been so slow to implement this kind of law despite our human rights rhetoric. Modern slavery laws simply ask larger businesses to ensure that goods coming into New Zealand are not produced by either forced or child labour. While the current Government has begun consultative work, it is arguably something that should be on our statute books right now. I understand wider considerations of "modern slavery" are being investigated, it is clear that we urgently need a law to target products coming out of the likes of the Xinjiang province in China, where the forced labour of Uighur peoples has been well documented.
With all that is currently occurring in Ukraine and closer to home here in the Pacific - along with inevitable new challenges to international order and human rights - New Zealand needs to be better prepared.
Introducing a Magnitsky bill and modern slavery legislation are two tools we critically need right now. Our friends and allies have already got these laws in place; they are prepared to act – but why aren't we?
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