House debates

Wednesday, 28 March 2018


South-East Asia: Human Rights

4:26 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This evening I'd like to speak about the outcomes from the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit and the responsibilities we have as a nation not only to ensure that we achieve trade and economic prosperity but also to promote the rule of law, good governance and the principles underlined in international human rights law throughout our region.

Following the recent ASEAN summit, it's clear that the relationship that we have with many Asian countries is well established. We have reaffirmed our commitment to our strategic partners to continue the effort in shaping a secure, stable and prosperous region. Our regional leaders have pledged cooperation to counter terrorism and to enhance trade and investment within our region, and leaders have also declared in a joint statement their resolve to promote and protect human rights of our peoples.

Coincidentally, this year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The universal declaration is grounded in the principles that all human beings are born free and are equal in dignity and rights. We should be able to call out any of our regional partners who suppress the basic human rights of their citizens, including the rights of freedom of speech and expression as well as rights to association and assembly, and we should also be able to call out those that blatantly disregard the rule of law. These are, after all, fundamental rights that underpin our democracy. If Asian nations and Australia are genuinely committed to promote common values as embodied in various international human rights instruments then we need to acknowledge and condemn the human rights violations, particularly when they occur within our region.

In Vietnam, for instance, the government maintains a monopoly on political power, supported by a justice system that is fully responsible to the government and no doubt reflects in many instances the will of the government. Is the number of prisoners of conscience that are currently locked up in Vietnamese jails any wonder? For example, a blogger named Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known as Mother Mushroom, has criticised the authorities for their response over the Formosa environmental disaster and has also written on many occasions about human rights violations in Vietnam. She received 10 years jail on charges based on vague national security laws.

In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen, in the lead-up to a national election, has launched a broad crackdown against Cambodia's citizens, particularly in relation to critical independent voices. This includes the jailing of the opposition leader, Kem Sokha; the dissolution of the main opposition party; and the closure of media outlets and NGOS that have had the temerity to criticise government policies. Hun Sen even went so far as to threaten to have followed and beaten protesters who might turn up in Australia to protest against him.

In Myanmar today, we see a human rights crisis occurring, with more than 650,000 of the Rohingya minority fleeing systemic violence from the country's military, including murder, rape, forcible displacement and the razing of villages. For those of us who have supported Aung San Suu Kyi and her voice of reason over many years, it is incredibly disappointing to watch her feign ignorance and offer only silence concerning the plight of the Rohingya. The ethnic-cleansing campaign against the Rohingya Muslims is a reprehensible crime against humanity and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. However, the ASEAN longstanding principle is for nonintervention, which means that, regardless of the circumstances, ASEAN nations are reluctant to intervene or criticise fellow members.

There has been some suggestion that Australia might become a member of ASEAN, particularly based on the strong speech given by the President of Indonesia. We need to be careful, and we certainly need to consider what it means for us to become more than an ASEAN dialogue partner. Increasing global security and deepening economic integration across the region is a benefit—and, no doubt, a great benefit—to us. But, as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, we must have the right to promote the principles enshrined in international human rights law. Therefore, we have a moral, if not a legal, responsibility to act to protect the fundamental human rights of others. (Time expired.)