What are sanctions?
The Charter of the United Nations does not expressly define ‘sanctions’, but Article 41 is generally understood as providing a definition. It refers to:
‘measures not involving the use of armed force’, including a ‘complete or partial interruption of economic relations.’
The Explanatory Memorandum to the Autonomous Sanctions Bill 2010 does expressly define ‘sanctions’ as:
‘measures not involving the use of armed force’ imposed ‘in situations of international concern’, including ‘the grave repression of the human rights or democratic freedoms of a population by a government, or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery, or internal or international armed conflict.’
Sanctions impose restrictions on activities that relate to particular countries, goods and services, or persons and entities.
Aims of sanctions
The Explanatory Memorandum to the Autonomous Sanctions Bill 2010 provides that the aims of sanctions are:
- ‘to limit the adverse consequences of the situation of international concern (for example, by denying access to military or paramilitary goods, or to goods, technologies or funding that are enabling the pursuit of programs of proliferation concern);
- to seek to influence those responsible for giving rise to the situation of international concern to modify their behaviour to remove the concern (by motivating them to adopt different policies); and
- to penalise those responsible (for example, by denying access to international travel or to the international financial system).’
Two types of sanctions regimes
Australia implements United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions regimes and Australian autonomous sanctions regimes.
Australia is obliged to implement UNSC sanctions regimes as a matter of international law.
In addition, the Australian Government has decided to implement Australian autonomous sanctions regimes as a matter of Australian foreign policy. Australian autonomous sanctions regimes may supplement UNSC sanctions regimes, or be separate from them.
Australia currently implements the sanctions regimes shown in the diagram below:
Australian sanction laws
Australia implements UNSC sanctions regimes and Australian autonomous sanctions regimes under Australian sanction laws.
UNSC sanctions regimes are primarily implemented under the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945 (the United Nations Act) and its sets of regulations. There is a separate set of regulations under the United Nations Act for each UNSC sanctions regime.
Australian autonomous sanctions regimes are primarily implemented under the Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011 (the Autonomous Act) and the Australian Autonomous Sanctions Regulations 2011. There is only one set of regulations under the Autonomous Act.
DFAT administers the United Nations Act, the Autonomous Act and their regulations.
Types of sanctions measures
Different sanctions regimes impose different sanctions measures.
The United Nations Act, the Autonomous Act and their regulations use common terms to describe sanctions measures.
Using those terms, sanctions measures may include general prohibitions on:
- making a ‘sanctioned supply’ of ‘export sanctioned goods’;
- making a ‘sanctioned import’ of ‘import sanctioned goods’;
- providing a ‘sanctioned service’;
- engaging in a ‘sanctioned commercial activity’;
- dealing with a ‘designated person or entity’;
- using or dealing with a ‘controlled asset’; or
- the entry into or transit through Australia of a ‘designated person’ or a ‘declared person’.
Detailed information on the sanctions measures imposed by a particular sanctions regime.
DFAT maintains a Consolidated List of all persons and entities designated for the purposes of sanctions regimes implemented under Australian sanction laws.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Minister’s delegate may be able to grant a permit authorising an activity that would otherwise contravene an Australian sanction law.
Different sanctions regimes impose different criteria which must be satisfied before the Minister or the Minister’s delegate may grant a sanctions permit. The Minister or the Minister’s delegate may attach conditions to a sanctions permit.
You can submit a formal application for a sanctions permit by registering as a user of the Online Sanctions Administration System (OSAS).
DFAT responds to formal applications submitted on OSAS as quickly as possible, subject to the current OSAS caseload. DFAT may need to consult other Australian Government agencies, other countries, or a Sanctions Committee of the United Nations Security Council.
DFAT is committed to administering Australian sanction laws diligently, but also in a way that facilitates trade wherever possible.
Australian sanction laws establish serious criminal offences, including for contravening a sanctions measure without a sanctions permit. Penalties include up to ten years in prison and substantial fines.
Australian sanction laws apply broadly, including to activities in Australia, and to activities by Australian citizens and Australian-registered bodies corporate overseas.
More about sanctions offences