Senate debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2018


Cambodia: General Election, Uygur People

8:09 pm

Photo of Lisa SinghLisa Singh (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise tonight to raise the dire situation in Cambodia and condemn the sham election which recently took place. Cambodia is a beautiful country, culturally rich and vibrant. The Cambodian people are warm and happy and have shown enormous resilience and courage in moving forward from past devastations. The suppression of rights in Cambodia flies in the face of these achievements. Democracy is a tool for the enfranchisement of communities, but in Cambodia it has been used to bring a veneer of legitimacy to Hun Sen and his government. Australia should not fall for this veneer.

In the lead-up to Cambodia's election last month, the main opposition party, CNRP, was dissolved. The opposition leader, Kem Sokha, remains imprisoned. The free press has been systematically dismantled, sham justifications have meant Cambodians have progressively lost their independent sources of fact, any opposition to Hun Sen's authoritarian rule has been silenced, attacks on human rights organisations in Cambodia have continued, and the electoral committee has been sacked. Shortly before the election, Hun Sen threatened civil war against the Cambodian people if he was not elected. These actions are a serious attack on freedom and democracy in Cambodia. For Cambodians who survived the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, who lost their families and friends, the recent events in Cambodia cut to the bone. Having lost so much, they found looking to the future brought healing. Seeing the turmoil now engulfing Cambodia has left them bewildered and angry. Their anger is justified.

Nations around the world have been clear in their message to the Hun Sen regime. The European Union has issued a statement outlining its concerns with the elections, stating:

The lack of genuine electoral competition and the absence of an inclusive political process mean that the 29 July election is not representative of the democratic will of the Cambodian electorate, and therefore its outcome lacks credibility.

The United States House of Representatives has passed the Cambodia Democracy Act of 2018, which will impose sanctions on Hun Sen and several key members of his inner circle for undermining democracy and committing human rights violations, citing notable attacks against opposition MPs. Other nations, including Japan, the United States and countries of the European Union, joined Australia in refusing to send monitors to oversee the recent election, citing concerns with the polling process.

As Australians, we cannot walk away from these events. We must toughen our approach. We need to work with other nations and show leadership again by bringing together the signatories of the 1991 Paris peace accords that Labor's foreign minister, Gareth Evans, drove. We can do so through a number of methods, the first being a promise not to re-sign the disgraceful refugee deal. Others include an investigation into the allegations of illegal activity by members of the Cambodian People's Party in Australia, visa restrictions and asset freezes for regime members and families, an investigation into the money-laundering laws accusations that were aired on Al Jazeera, and a critical review of the focus of our aid towards supporting humanitarian and civil society but not the Hun Sen regime.

Last week, the daughter of opposition leader Kem Sokha, Monovithya Kem, was welcomed to this parliament, and I had the privilege of meeting her. She urged us to take a tougher stance in light of these issues facing Cambodia's democracy. Kem Sokha will have a bail hearing on 22 August—this week—and the world will be judging the outcome. Australia therefore is in a critical position to enact change.

On 6 September Hun Sen will officially form his government. Australia should firmly reject legitimising the circumstances of his election and the authoritarian nature of his role. I join other parliamentarians in the world to condemn the sham election in Cambodia last month and urge the government to ensure its outcome is not a death knell for democracy for this beautiful country of Cambodia.

I now would like to speak on the situation for the Uygur people in China. The Uygur are a minority Muslim ethnic group in the far western Chinese region of Xinjiang. They have a long and rich history going back thousands of years. It is estimated that there are 15 million Uygurs in China. The situation for the Uygurs has become increasingly dire, as under the guise of fighting terrorism the Chinese government has looked to suppress the Uygur people through deeply repressive policies. Despite their mainstream, peaceful cultural and religious practices, Human Rights Watch reports that in the last two years, for the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, there has been a disturbing increase in serious human rights violations. As part of operation 'strike hard', minority Uygurs have been subject to draconian restrictions on freedom of religion and movement, including the banning of traditional clothing and beards.

Additionally, the Chinese government has been collecting personal data, including DNA, blood type, fingerprints, iris scans and photographs. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has heard that up to two million Uygurs are in re-education camps across China with no access to legal advice and widespread reports of torture and ill-treatment.

Distinguished human rights lawyer and committee member Gay McDougall said on Friday:

We are deeply concerned at the many numerous and credible reports that we have received…That in the name of combating religious extremism and maintaining social stability (China) has changed the Uighur autonomous region into something that—

takes us to a tougher stance in light of these issues facing the Uyghur community.

I think in these situations, both in Cambodia and for the Uygur people in China, human rights issues need to be addressed. It is right for Australia, as a democratic nation, to address these issues as part of our ongoing relationship with these countries in the region.


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