Senate debates

Thursday, 10 May 2018


Rohingya People

9:11 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

By popular demand, I will provide a further speech this evening. It is not on the budget, although I will preface my remarks by highlighting that it is an ongoing disappointment and of great concern to me that a prolonged period of major underfunding in our foreign aid budget is continuing following this government's tabling of its economic details this week. I make that point as a prelude to the comments I wish to make tonight.

The speeches we've had this evening around the federal budget and its impact on Australians are very important. The budget is crucial to the lives of everybody who lives in this country. But I want to speak tonight about people outside this country who are in a dire and desperate situation. I speak of the Rohingya people in our own region, nearby. Tonight, rather than just tabling or incorporating a document, I'd like to read into the record words put together by Rohingya groups, coordinated by the Burmese Rohingya Association in Queensland, based in my home city of Brisbane, on behalf of the Central Queensland Rohingya community; the Darwin Burmese Rohingya community association; the Burmese Rohingya Community in Australia, based in Sydney; the Arkan Rohingya Community of Australia, based in Melbourne; and the Australian Burmese Rohingya Organisation, based in Melbourne.

On their behalf I'll read these words that they want to have read into the record for the attention of all senators, all parliamentarians and the wider community. They are words that I support. They start by reminding us of the words of the United Nations Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr Adama Dieng, who reported the following:

… international crimes were committed in Myanmar. Rohingya Muslims have been killed, tortured, raped, burnt alive and humiliated, solely because of who they are. All the information I have received indicates that the intent of the perpetrators was to cleanse northern Rakhine state of their existence, possibly even to destroy the Rohingya as such, which, if proven, would constitute the crime of genocide. However, whether or not we consider that the crimes committed amount to crimes against humanity or genocide, this should not delay our resolve to act and to act immediately. We owe this to the Rohingya population.

The letter from these organisations reads:

Dear honourable senators,

On behalf of more than a million forgotten people whose voices are often unheard, and uncared, we, the undersigned Rohingyan organisations, speak to you with our grave concerns as to what is currently happening to the Rohingya people, both in and outside Myanmar. Renowned humanitarian organisations such as the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have already published detailed accounts of tortures, rapes and mutilations of innocent Rohingya civilians. We hope that the government of Australia would do something to protect this persecuted minority, as their very existence and identity are threatened.

Since 25 August 2017—

only in the last nine months—

as per Medecins Sans Frontieres, more than 9,000 Rohingyas have died which include at least 730 children below the age of 5. Death tolls are on the rise and to date, there are at least 888,000 refugees registered in Bangladesh. Therefore, it is no surprise that the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, states:

"In my experience, the Rohingya are one of the most discriminated-against populations in the world - and that was even before the crisis of the past year. Deprived of nationality, they have been subjected to extreme brutality by military forces and others, and cast out of their homes and country in a clear example of ethnic cleansing… The Rohingya community desperately needs immediate, life-saving assistance, long-term solutions and justice."

The letter goes on:

The trust that our people and the international community had in the country's de facto leader, to speak up for minority rights, has been marred. This recent episode of the ongoing military clearance operation by Myanmar which forced out more of the Rohingyan population than any of the previous exoduses, comes at a time when the Rohingyas had placed their undivided faith in Ms Suu Kyi to speak up and intervene in this humanitarian disaster, which the UN describes as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing" and "the hallmarks of a genocide." Suu Kyi's one-sided and dispassionate approach towards this ethnic cleansing, and she failed to live up to the 'democratic values and causes' she once advocated for as an admired icon.

On the other hand, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina showed great leadership and compassion towards the Rohingya that have fled the genocide. However, with their limited resources, Bangladesh has gone beyond its capacity to help and such support cannot be practically sustained in the long term.

We believe this house is aware of the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas who have been trapped in the refugee camps for decades in countries like Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. They have never been given any legal status nor have they been offered resettlement to a third country, such as Australia. Furthermore, Australia too has locked up many refugees including Rohingyas in countries like Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

The remainder of the Rohingyas are either on the run or hiding in bordering countries for the sake of survival. Amidst this, no sustainable and durable solution to date has been achieved to ensure that this race has the basic human rights that everyone deserves. We fear that a generation of people who have already suffered loss will lose all faith in the world leaders due to their inaction and inability to stop the ongoing atrocities. Such a situation poses a tangible risk for liberal, democratic nations like Australia, with the potential to fuel more chaos in the region, as pointed out by experts and rights groups. Many world leaders have expressed concerns that the continued negligence and silence by powerful countries towards this genocide will leave these disempowered Rohingyas vulnerable to manipulation, radicalisation, human trafficking and slavery.

…   …   …

We do not want to see more bloodshed or violence that compounds our loss of rights and loss of lives at the hands of the Myanmar government and its military. Our people want to live simple and dignified lives, return home and villages safe and protected, and be reunited with their families.

We are aware that many of you have personal experiences and family backgrounds of forceful relocation. It was not so long ago that many of your ancestors went through similar situations when displaced from their homes during wars in Europe and elsewhere. Historically, Australia has played an active role in creating a haven for people fleeing violence, offering a fair go to migrants who have been encouraged to thrive and express their full potential as human beings.

We humbly request that Australia show this same consideration to the persecuted and defenceless Rohingya people. We believe Australia has the capacity and the heart to step forward and offer a more enduring assistance and resolution, and give the Rohingyan people a realistic hope of living a dignified life.

As a country which has close ties with Myanmar, Australia has supported the Myanmar military, providing them with training and financial aid, and is indirectly making a significant contribution to the atrocities committed by Myanmar military against our people. This is the very same military that has waged a genocide against the innocent Rohingya people and as a result many Rohingya have lost their dignity and their lives. The military have deliberately imposed media blockades in these regions and the few of those who have dared to speak against their government's atrocities have been detained. At a least 10 Burmese journalists have been arrested for reporting on the brutal reality that Myanmar and its military are associated with. Australia has a responsibility to speak out against these crimes to protect a minority who are being massacred in broad daylight—and this is happening today, a genocide in our region in the 21st century.

We Rohingyas have made Australia our home—

those who have written this letter—

we recognise that Australia has done a great deal to support Rohingyas, and Australia has yet more to do. We believe Australia can and should play a leadership role, and so we ask our government—

as people who are resident in Australia—

to take some immediate steps to:

              Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

              Thank you, Senator. I remind honourable senators that legislation committees will meet to consider estimates commencing on Monday, 21 May 2018 at 9.00 am. Program details will be published on the website. The Senate stands adjourned and will meet again on Monday, 18 June at 10.00 am.

              Senate adjourned at 21:22