Senator Janet Rice – referring to the human rights abuses against the Palestinian people

February 7, 2024

In Palestine, occupation has erupted into genocide over the last three months.

Senator RICE (Victoria) (12:34): Today I’m wearing a jacket that was gifted to me by Shakila, an Afghan Hazara refugee. Shakila joined her husband, Juma, in Australia mid last year. Thank you, Shakila. The jacket is beautiful. Juma was one of the many Afghans for whom my office and I advocated to receive an emergency humanitarian visa to Australia when Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021. I want to thank the former government and former Minister Marise Payne for the work they did getting people out of Afghanistan. Helping people escape from Afghanistan is one of the very tangible things I feel proud of having done during my time in the Senate. But of course, for every person who gained asylum in Australia and other countries, there are thousands more who can’t or who are subject to disappearances, torture and killings. Women and girls are being held prisoner in their homes or stolen from families to becomes brides of Taliban fighters.

Before Afghanistan hit the headlines, there was Myanmar. Sadly, the war in Myanmar and the killings, torture and jailings by the brutal junta are still continuing. Ukraine pushed Afghanistan out of the news as the brutal regime of Vladimir Putin attempts to take territory that’s not theirs. Israel’s invasion and genocide in Gaza have killed more people in four months than civilians killed in Ukraine in two years. Israel’s occupation and now genocide of Palestine stands with other occupations, including China’s occupation of Tibet in 1959, Indonesia’s invasion of West Papua in 1969 and India’s occupation of two-thirds of Kashmir in 1947—all in a brutal time line of colonial oppression, including the invasion and occupation of Australia by the English and the genocide of our First Peoples. Yet, more than 200 years on, we still have political leaders who dogmatically deny the truth of the brutality of settlement of this continent and the multigenerational trauma still being experienced by too many of our First Peoples. We have political leaders who don’t recognise that their wealth and privilege come from stolen wealth, stolen land and the brutal subjugation of the rights of our First Peoples.

I’ve been in the Senate now for almost a decade, and I’ve spoken many times in this place about human rights. What I want to say today is that, if we believe that human rights are important and if we believe that we should be working for the human rights of all people throughout the world, then we have to be consistent and courageous in our advocacy and our work for human rights. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, agreed to at the UN on 10 December 1948, the world agreed on what human rights were and how they should be protected. In this speech, I want to focus on the human rights of people in the occupied states of Palestine, Tibet, West Papua and Kashmir because, while human rights are violated all over the world, it’s in occupied states where the 30 articles of the universal declaration are comprehensively smashed, and the world collectively needs to be doing much more for people who are so oppressed in these states.

In Palestine, occupation has erupted into genocide over the last three months. As the Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq said before the current genocide in Gaza:

Palestine has become a litmus test for the effectiveness of the international human rights system as a whole. Only by ending Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory, realising Palestinian refugees’ right of return, and ensuring equal rights for all Palestinians, including citizens, without discrimination, can Palestinians’ faith in the international system be restored. This requires genuine accountability and a global effort to end Israel’s widespread and systematic abuses …

In Tibet, attacks on universal human rights are manifest. As the Office of Tibet representing the Tibetan parliament in exile has stated:

… the PRC government continues to operate colonial boarding schools, separating nearly one million Tibetan children from their families and depriving them of the opportunity to learn their mother tongue …and … Tibetan culture and traditions. A significant majority of Tibetans, specially writers, intellectuals, environmentalists, community leaders, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and artists are unlawfully arrested, imprisoned, tortured and subjected to enforced disappearance …

…   …   …

Tibetans are particularly repressed in their religious rights, with lay Tibetans and children forbidden from participating in religious activities, while monks and nuns are subjected to political indoctrination sessions and barred from religious teachings and discussion … China refuses to enclose—

or, rather, ‘disclose’—

any credible information on the whereabouts of Tibet’s 11th Panchen Lama following 28 years of enforced disappearance…

…   …   …

Over two million Tibetan nomads and farmers have been forced to relocate from their traditional grasslands … The vast vacated land has been illegally claimed and … used for military training camps, mining activities, and large-scale government projects, including hydropower plants … that benefit the PRC government at the expense of local Tibetans and the environment.

Let me move on to West Papua. West Papua was occupied by Indonesia and was annexed in 1969, and the people of West Papua have been denied the right to self-determination since. In 2022, UN human rights experts expressed serious concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in West Papua, citing shocking abuses including child killings, disappearances, torture and the forced displacement of 60,000 to 100,000 people since 2018. The experts called for urgent humanitarian access to the region and urged the Indonesian government to conduct full and independent investigations into abuses against the indigenous peoples.

I will move on to Kashmir. India occupied two-thirds of Kashmir in 1947. UN human rights observers, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented ongoing human rights abuses in the 76 years since. Amnesty International reported in 2022 that the Indian government had drastically intensified the repression of rights in Jammu and Kashmir in the previous three years, since the special status that gave them significant autonomy was stripped away. Amnesty documented how people have faced relentless interrogations, arbitrary travel bans, revolving-door detentions and repressive media policies, while being blocked from access to appeals or justice in courts and human rights bodies. The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, said last year:

Indian authorities appear to be intensifying the longstanding repression of Kashmiri civil society.

I want to conclude today with a message to the Australian government and parliament, reinforcing my many contributions in this place about human rights. If we truly are committed to human rights then we have to protect them for all people, without fear or favour, and not pick and choose depending on what is seen to suit Australia’s interests. To protect the rights of Palestinians, the occupation must end and Australia must join the South African case in the ICJ, acknowledge that what Israel is doing in Gaza is genocide and apply sanctions against members of the Israeli war cabinet.

Australia must do more to protect the rights of people in Tibet. I commend Australia’s recent contribution to China’s universal periodic review, but we have to do more. We must raise these issues at every forum we have with the Chinese government, and Australia should put a policy in place and advocate for the Chinese to protect the succession of the 14th Dalai Lama without any interference from the Chinese government. We should act on a key ask of the Tibetans, which is for the world to recognise Tibet as an occupied region and an unresolved conflict, not as part of China, and for pressure to be placed on China to come back to the negotiating table. The Chinese government hasn’t engaged on the issue of Tibet since 2013.

Similarly, with West Papua, the Australian government has been blind to the human rights abuses there, has failed to take action and has blocked action in the Senate to shine a light on them. The Greens stand in solidarity with all West Papuans who are facing such violence, and we urge the Australian government to join the calls for self-determination for the West Papuan people and for the Indonesian government to immediately withdraw all military forces and cease attacks on civilians.

Finally, on Kashmir, we urge the Australian government to act to raise the appalling ongoing repression and intimidation in Indian-occupied Kashmir and elsewhere in India in every forum, including bilateral meetings, through the Quad and in other multilateral fora. We should be actively advocating for an act of self-determination for both Indian- and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

Human rights matter for all people across the world, and Australia could be playing a much bigger role in working for an international rules based order where human rights matter, ending occupation, and working for justice in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan and Myanmar. I urge the government to lift our game both at home and abroad, and I commit to playing my part and continuing to work for international justice both in my remaining time here and ongoingly.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard