Senator Janet Rice – called on the Australian government to condemn the “punitive measures by the Israeli government against Palestinians”

photo of Senator Janet Rice
February 7, 2023

The Australian Greens want to see an end to injustice and human rights violations. The Australian government must do more to advocate for an end to the occupation. We want to see peace, justice and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians.

Full speech

Senator RICE (Victoria) (20:44): The Australian Greens believe that universal human rights are fundamental and must be respected for all people in all countries. That principle informed my approach as the Greens foreign affairs spokesperson, and it continues to inform my views on foreign policy. I want to particularly note and thank Senator Steele-John, who is now the Greens foreign affairs spokesperson, for his important advocacy in this portfolio and the passion he has for justice and human rights around the world.

I want to start tonight talking about human rights and foreign affairs, starting with Magnitsky legislation. The Magnitsky legislation that Australia has in place is something I campaigned for strongly, including by introducing the Human Rights (Targeted Sanctions) Bill 2021. I note there are a number of improvements in that bill that could still be incorporated into our current Magnitsky framework.

Having campaigned for that legislation and for the imposition of targeted sanctions against leaders of the coup in Myanmar, it has been a relief to see the Australian government finally impose targeted sanctions against the leaders of the coup. It is much later than it should have been, but it is an important step and one that brings Australia closer to being in line with a number of other countries who have rightly responded to the ongoing atrocities that are occurring in Myanmar by targeting those that are responsible for so much suffering. I want to thank those community members, right around Australia, who kept up the pressure before, during and after the election. I also, again, want to particularly note the important work of my colleague, Senator Steele-John.

I also note that the Australian government recently imposed targeted sanctions against key figures who have committed human rights violations in Iran. This is also an important step, and, again, I want to thank those community members who have pushed incredibly hard for this. You know that your advocacy and your campaigning for justice makes a difference.

I recently wrote to the Iranian Ambassador to Australia, notifying that I would be acting as a political sponsor for three young activists, Ali Jahangiri, Sina Mohammed Rezaei and Mehdi Shirani. Tragically, these three young folk are facing execution under a system that is desperate to stamp out every trace of dissent and silence every opposing voice. I want to acknowledge all of those campaigning outside and, particularly, inside Iran under the unified banner of Woman, Life, Freedom. For your courage and your conviction, we thank you. Too many have paid the ultimate price for their principles and have had their lives cut short by a regime that is so terrified of losing its grip on power that any trace of disagreement, any hint of a different vision, terrifies them.

Applying sanctions is an important step by the Australian government in responding to the atrocities. We think more can be done to respond to the actions of the Iranian revolutionary guard corps through stronger travel bans and further sanctions. This is an important issue, and the Australian government should be closely considering its approach, including ensuring that it is doing everything possible to respond to these horrific atrocities.

I also want to mention the situation in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The closure of the Lachin corridor has had major humanitarian consequences on the Artsakh community and caused great alarm to the Armenian diaspora here in Australia. The Greens have called on Azerbaijan to urgently reopen the corridor to ensure free movement and security and, most importantly, to prevent this crisis escalating. The Greens remain in solidarity with the people of Artsakh, demanding a reopening of the road and reaffirming our support for the rights of all peoples to self-determination.

I also want to mention the situation in Bangladesh. Sadly, we continue to see violations of human rights by government. I thank members of the Bangladesh diaspora community in Australia, many of whom live in New South Wales, for their continued advocacy. I had a recent meeting with members of that community and was inspired by their courage and persistence in the face of suffering and attempts to silence them. As Human Rights Watch summarises:

Bangladesh security forces have been implicated in serious abuses, including torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances.

The government has arrested journalists and critics under its Digital Security Act and otherwise stifled civil society. Authorities fail to protect LGBT people, religious minorities and indigenous populations. Women and girls face widespread violence and sexual assault, without reliable protection or legal recourse. We urge the Australian government to do everything it can to address these atrocities and to work to protect and promote human rights whenever possible.

As I speak about human rights around the world, I want to now focus on the plight of peoples who live under occupation, starting with Tibet, which China invaded in 1950, overthrowing the Tibetan government in 1959, 64 years ago. Tibetan Uprising Day is observed on 10 March each year and commemorates the 1959 Tibetan uprising, which ultimately resulted in a violent crackdown on Tibetan independence movements and in the flight of the Dalai Lama into exile. Since that time, it’s estimated that over a million Tibetans have been killed and, with the Chinese government policy of resettlement of Chinese people to Tibet, Tibetans have become a minority in their own country.

In November last year, a group of UN special rapporteurs issued a statement noting their grave concerns. They said they had received information:

… concerning what appears to amount to a policy of acculturation and assimilation of the Tibetan culture into the dominant Han Chinese majority, through a series of oppressive actions against Tibetan educational, religious and linguistic institutions, in contradiction with the right to freedom of religion and belief, the right to education and cultural rights of the Tibetan people.

Just yesterday the UN human rights commissioner issued a media statement noting their alarm at the separation of one million Tibetan children from families and forced assimilation at residential schools. I continue to be extremely concerned about the disappearance of the Panchen Lama 28 years ago. Last year I introduced a motion to the Notice Paper calling for the Senate to recognise only a Dalai Lama appointed by Tibetan Buddhist traditions and practices without interference by the Chinese government.

I am looking forward to joining other members of our All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet in April to visit Tibetans in exile in Dharamshala in India and have an audience with the Dalai Lama. I wish to extend my sincere thanks to the Tibetan Information Office for extending this invitation to us.

Palestine is another part of the world under occupation. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and many other organisations have clearly stated that the actions of the extreme right-wing Israeli government constitute apartheid. Due to the ongoing military blockade of Gaza by the Israeli government, 97 per cent of the water is undrinkable. Media reports indicate that recently there were 144 attacks on Palestinians in a single day. This followed the targeted attack that killed at least seven worshippers outside a synagogue in Jerusalem on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The tragic attack on Jewish people on this solemn day and the subsequent horrific and unrestrained response from the Israeli government is deeply concerning and is no way to achieve progress towards peace. The cycle of violence must end. In that context, the new Israeli government is incredibly concerning. Breaking the Silence stated:

By anyone’s standards, this will be the most hardline, ultranationalist and illiberal government Israel has ever known.

A few weeks ago, over 90 countries condemned punitive measures by the Israeli government against Palestinians. We urge the Australian government to join those calls. The Australian Greens want to see an end to injustice and human rights violations. The Australian government must do more to advocate for an end to the occupation. We want to see peace, justice and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians.

I want to finish by mentioning the situation in West Papua, another occupied part of the world. Indonesia has controlled West Papua since invading in 1963, and security forces are accused of severe human rights violations during the occupation, with an estimated half a million Papuans killed. The Australian government has been blind to these abuses and has failed to take action. We’re in solidarity with all the West Papuans who are facing such violence. We urge the Indonesian government to immediately withdraw all military forces and to cease attacks on civilians. Instead, we urge them and we urge the Australian government to support the West Papuan right to self-determination.

Link to parliamentary Hansard