Monday, 26 March 2007
Private Members’ Business
Human Rights in Zimbabwe
That the House:
- condemns the Mugabe Government in Zimbabwe for the brutal bashings in police custody of Morgan Tsvangirai and other leaders and supporters of the Opposition Party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC);
- expresses concern at the ongoing threat of violence as evidenced by the additional vicious beating of MP Nelson Chamisa in recent days;
- notes that the Mugabe Government has clearly abandoned the rule of law and tolerates no dissent;
- expresses its concern for the safety of former Australian passport holder Mrs Sekai Holland and her Australian husband Jim Holland, and urges the Australian Government to use its best endeavours to intervene to have Mrs Holland released from custody and safely transported out of Zimbabwe for urgent medical attention; and
- calls on the Australian Government to have the Mugabe regime’s actions brought before the UN Security Council and if appropriate, the International Criminal Court, and calls on Zimbabwe’s neighbours, particularly South Africa, to take action in support of human rights in Zimbabwe.
I thank members of parliament for their support of my motion, which highlights and condemns the ongoing brutality and repression being perpetrated by the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. This regime has driven the country into economic ruin, with inflation running above 1,700 per cent, unemployment close to 80 per cent and shortages of food, fuel and foreign exchange. Two-thirds of the maize crop, the country’s staple food, has been wiped out by a drought and now the country is on the brink of widespread famine. Morgan Tsvangirai describes the Mugabe regime as being ‘under siege because so many people are hungry’. ‘Desire for change has never been so strong,’ he stated.
Morgan Tsvangirai and Sekai Holland are among the leaders of the Movement for Democratic Change. People have been brutally assaulted in the most recent crackdown on political dissent in that country. The recent bashings occurred after a peaceful protest prayer rally was crushed by riot police. Sekai Holland’s plight reveals the barbarity of the Mugabe regime. She was arrested and beaten after she had gone to the police station to inquire about the wellbeing of arrested colleagues.
Sekai Holland studied and lived in Australia, returning to Zimbabwe with her Australian husband, Jim Holland, back in 1980. I know Sekai as a strong, principled and outspoken woman, passionate in her support of the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe, a noted anti-apartheid activist and supporter of the rights of our Indigenous peoples. Her strength and convictions would no doubt place her in the forefront of the protest movement in that country.
Sekai was set upon by 16 men and a woman in the police station, which left her with three broken ribs, a broken arm, a broken leg, a fractured knee and multiple bruises and lacerations. Her husband said:
How she withstood that, I have no idea. She passed out several times, I am told. But she refused to be cowed, she refused to cry.
Sekai, together with another activist, Grace Kwinjeh, attempted to leave Harare to get urgent medical treatment but both were stopped at the airport and returned to police custody at their hospital beds. It was only after a court order that they were allowed to leave, and both are now recovering in a Johannesburg hospital.
I want to place on record my thanks to Mark Lynch, the Australian consul, and his staff for their support and assistance. No doubt that enabled Sekai, her colleague and also her husband to eventually leave the country. I understand that Mark Lynch travelled to the airport with the group. Jim Holland said of these bashings:
The regime tried to beat Sekai into submission and has totally failed and she knows now that she has won.
Sekai’s fighting spirit and optimism is typical of the strength of the resistance that is occurring in that country to Mugabe’s repressive regime.
Australia should use the international system to deal with reprehensible dictators like President Robert Mugabe. Labor has urged our government to condemn the actions of Mugabe in a motion to the United Nations General Assembly and to make formal representations to the African Union regarding the persistent oppressive behaviour of one of its member states. We believe neighbouring states like South Africa must and should play a more proactive and constructive role.
Labor also support a referral by the United Nations Security Council of Mr Mugabe to the International Criminal Court. Although Zimbabwe is not currently a signatory to the ICC statute, a Security Council referral would enable prosecutors to begin investigations into Mr Mugabe’s human rights violations. This would ensure that President Mugabe and members of his regime would risk arrest and trial if they were to leave Zimbabwe. It would also ensure that a post-Mugabe government could have the former President indicted and held to account under international law.
Once again, I thank members of parliament for the opportunity they have given us today to air our concerns in this very important forum. I hope the motion, discussion and commentary by other MPs today will provide comfort to Sekai and her colleagues in their ongoing struggle against the Mugabe government. (Time expired)