There are serious ongoing concerns about Mr El Halabi’s welfare, given his restricted medical care and limited visitation rights. There have also been a number of significant restrictions placed on his legal team. Despite 156 court appearances, still no evidence has been presented to substantiate the charges that have been made against him. Investigations conducted by our own Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, independent auditors, as well as World Vision itself, have all failed to produce any evidence that any money was ever diverted by Mr El Halabi.
Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (18:04): I should start by saying I feel reassured with you in the chair.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Freelander ): Thank you.
Mr HAYES: I take this opportunity to raise some pressing issues of human rights facing our global community at the moment. As a nation, we’re very fortunate. We live with basic human rights, such as being able to live in peace, security and freedom and to live with dignity—rights that, regrettably, many groups around world don’t have access to. First, I draw attention to the House of the ongoing plight of Mr Mohammed El Halabi, former director of World Vision Australia, who worked in Gaza and on the West Bank. Mr El Halabi was arrested in 2016 by Israeli authorities on the allegation of funnelling $50 million of World Vision money to the terrorist group Hamas. It’s been five years since his arrest and the Israeli authorities have yet to prove the allegations made against him or release him. There are serious ongoing concerns about Mr El Halabi’s welfare, given his restricted medical care and limited visitation rights. There have also been a number of significant restrictions placed on his legal team. Despite 156 court appearances, still no evidence has been presented to substantiate the charges that have been made against him. Investigations conducted by our own Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, independent auditors, as well as World Vision itself, have all failed to produce any evidence that any money was ever diverted by Mr El Halabi. Given that no evidence has been presented thus far by the Israeli authorities to substantiate the allegations, we must continue to place pressure on Israel to finalise Mr El Halabi’s trial without further delay and ensure that human rights are adhered to in this matter, including due process and the rule of law itself.
Another matter I’d like to refer to is in the Philippines, where extrajudicial killings have been the principle human rights concern under the president’s nationwide antidrugs campaign. Summary and lethal justice based merely on suspicion has claimed the lives of thousands, with some sources claiming the number could be as high as 27,000 people killed over the last three years. President Duterte, who has effectively set aside the rule of law, granted impunity to police without any judicial oversight or accountability. The lack of due process in police operations and the fact that these deaths are not being transparently investigated is of great concern. Apart from the grave issues surrounding the policy, President Duterte has also launched a crackdown on civil society, threatening to abolish the Human Rights Commission and ban news organisations that are critical of him. He has attacked the United Nations envoy and withdrew from the International Criminal Court. One noted critic of the president who has publicly spoken against him on the murderous war on drugs is Senator Leila de Lima, a former Secretary of Justice and prominent human rights campaigner in her own right. Senator de Lima was arbitrarily detained without trial and charged with drug related offences on the strength of untested statements by convicted drug lords, some police officers and prison officials. It has been four years since the unjust detention of Senator de Lima. Accordingly, I use this opportunity to reiterate my previous calls for the Australian government to use all its diplomatic measures to urge the Philippines government to immediately release Senator de Lima and to allow her to continue to properly discharge her duties as a duly elected senator of the Philippines parliament.
I’d now like to refer to the more recent military coup in Myanmar, which represents a direct assault on Myanmar’s transition to democracy and the rule of law, with the military overthrowing the legitimate government and detaining numerous political and civil society leaders. I’m advised that more than 1,500 people, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s elected leader, and her Australian economic adviser, Professor Sean Turnell, remain incarcerated, with their future very much uncertain. I understand Professor Turnell has now been detained for over a month with limited consular access and no confirmation of the reasons for his detention. For someone who was engaged at the behest of the Myanmar government to assist and support its economic growth, his treatment is nothing short of appalling. With concerns mounting about Professor Turnell’s welfare, I call on the Myanmar government to immediately release Professor Turnell and allow him to return to his family here in Australia.
The military coup in Myanmar ends a decade-old fragile democracy for a nation. It’s certainly caused mass disruption and protests around the nation, which have been met with violence and aggression by Myanmar’s security forces. Since the military coup last month, I understand that more than 50 people have been killed and many more hospitalised. For many, this has revived memories of the bloody outbreaks of opposition to almost half a century of direct military rule, which ended in 2011, leaving many in the international community now fearing for the future of Myanmar itself.
Further, the military coup raises significant concerns not only for the remaining Rohingya population in Myanmar but also the many ethnic groups that live in that country. Daniel Sullivan of Refugee International highlights this in the case of the military coup, noting that another mass expulsion of refugees remains a real possibility. This would put further strain on the already overburdened humanitarian response, which has resulted in the displacement of 700,000 Rohingyas, who’ve taken refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh. We must remember that this coup was committed by the same military that committed the mass genocide and atrocities against the Rohingya minorities of Myanmar.
The current situation in Myanmar represents a collective international failure, with the military no doubt emboldened by the very little action taken by the global community against its campaign of ethnic cleansing. While I welcome the Australian government’s recent decision to suspend all military aid to Myanmar, we must continue to take appropriate action to highlight the escalating crisis occurring in that country. This case, I believe, warrants targeted sanctions against senior members of the military responsible for the coup and the atrocities against the Rohingya and other minorities. The generals should not be left with any doubt about the consequences if they choose to continue to brutally destroy the remaining elements of democracy in Myanmar itself. Along with other Western countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada and New Zealand, we should be taking targeted sanctions. Clearly, the current situation in Myanmar is a perfect example of why we should effect and legislate Magnitsky-style legislations in this country.
As members of the international community, we have a moral if not a legal responsibility to do all we can to encourage countries in our region to adhere to their international human rights obligations. Human rights are not mere notions that we should aspire to when the situations are suitable or principles that we can pick and choose when necessary. Human rights are the foundation that underpin our democratic values and allow us to create strong and inclusive communities. We cannot remain silent when people’s human rights are being so blatantly violated and we must be willing to speak up and fight for the protections of some of the most vulnerable people across the globe. I’d like to conclude with the words of that very prominent and revered American civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’