PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: 70th Anniversary

December 03, 2018

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (18:26): I second the motion. I thank the member for Goldstein for his motion as we approach the 70th anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. I also acknowledge the grave injustices of the genocide against the Jewish community in the Second World War and, whilst there's an indictment against humanity, I trust we have learnt something as an international community so that we can make good on wrongs.

I take this opportunity to raise awareness about a present-day genocide that is occurring, as documented by the United Nations, in Rakhine State in Myanmar against the minority Rohingya Muslims. The current situation in Myanmar is not just mere violence or abuse; there are atrocities. It is a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic proportions were, which is resulting in the displacement of over 700,000 people into neighbouring Bangladesh. Myanmar's security forces have perpetrated the gravest crimes on civilians. The situation has been described by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch as a 'textbook example of ethnic cleansing' and 'crimes against humanity'.

Evidence from a number of investigations also carried out by Human Rights Watch have documented a series of brutal crackdowns by security forces against Rohingya Muslims, including extrajudicial killings; torture; the suffering of Rohingya men, women and children; the destruction, arson and taking over of more than 300 villages by the military; as well as endemic rape and sexual violence. It's important to note that there has been a long history of discrimination against Rohingya. The government of Myanmar continues to deny Rohingya citizenship, along with the provision of basic government services, such as health and education. However, the violence that is now occurring is of a different kind. It is now a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Bangladesh has opened its doors to Rohingya refugees. People from Bangladesh continue to show tremendous generosity and hospitality in the face of crisis. Despite the challenges that the nation faces domestically, Bangladesh has shown itself to be a compassionate and caring nation. Bangladesh is not a rich country by any means and is not well-equipped to handle the influx of refugees of this magnitude. While agencies such as UNICEF, Oxfam and Save the Children are working hard on the ground to secure humanitarian assistance and basic services for Rohingya, the large number of displaced refugees make the task much more difficult.

As the late Kofi Annan, former General Secretary of the United Nations, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and, importantly, former chair of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, said:

We recognise that the challenges facing Rakhine State and its peoples are complex and the search for lasting solutions will require determination, perseverance and trust.

While I'm pleased that Australia is playing a crucial role to find lasting peace to this humanitarian crisis engulfing Rakhine State, clearly a lot more needs to be done. I call on the government to take a stronger stance on the authorities in Myanmar and to implement the recommendations of the advisory commission by reinforcing our commitment of support for the unimpeded humanitarian access to all parts of Rakhine State as well as the refugee camps in Bangladesh.

For those of us who supported Aung San Suu Kyi in her quest for peace and democracy in Myanmar, it is incredibly disappointing to witness her silence and, worse, her feigned ignorance concerning the ethnic cleansing of the Rakhine population. We must work closely with our regional partners to ensure that the government of Myanmar recommits to the pursuit of peace and a process for national reconciliation. The situation before the Australian government and the United Nations is urgent. We cannot merely play the role of bystander in the hope of change. Clearly, as part of the concerned international community, and by having a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, we have an obligation to act and not simply despair when basic human rights are at stake, particularly when it involves people within our region and within our sphere of influence.