Senator Janet Rice – spoke about the recent ICC ruling that determined the Court has jurisdiction in Palestine

photo of Senator Janet Rice
February 16, 2021

Disgracefully, Australia was one of only seven countries that argued that the International Criminal Court should not have jurisdiction, because Australia does not recognise Palestine as a state. The Australian government’s position is a disgrace and deeply disappointing for Australians who support accountability for crimes, including alleged crimes, no matter who commits them or where they are committed.

Full speech

Senator RICE (VictoriaDeputy Australian Greens Whip) (20:31): As the Australian Greens spokesperson on foreign affairs, I rise to speak out about human rights violations wherever they occur, because we believe that universal human rights are fundamental and must be respected in all countries and for all people. That’s why we call out human rights violations here in Australia, and we’ll do the same for other countries where they occur. We call on the Australian government to consistently advocate for human rights internationally, wherever violations and attacks on human rights occur.

Tonight, I want to start in Myanmar. We’re incredibly concerned by the reports overnight of military forces being deployed against protesters. People have been injured by rubber bullets, students have been detained, and those who are protesting for freedom and democracy are facing an internet blackout. Many have been detained, including Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and Australian Sean Turnell. We affirm our support for those protesting. There have been protests around the country as well as a strike by government workers. I want to quote particularly UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews on the situation of human rights in Myanmar:

It’s as if the generals have declared war on the people of Myanmar: late night raids; mounting arrests; more rights stripped away; another Internet shutdown; military convoys entering communities. These are signs of desperation. Attention generals: You WILL be held accountable.

I reaffirm the Greens call for the military leaders who have undertaken this coup in Myanmar to release those who have been detained and to cease interference with election outcomes and a democratic transition. I urge the Australian government to take clear steps to address this assault on democracy and work to free those who have been detained. The Australian defence forces must immediately suspend their military relationship with Myanmar. We should immediately impose targeted sanctions on General Min Aung Hlaing and all others involved in this action by the military. If Myanmar’s generals continue to refuse to release those who are arbitrarily detained, the Australian government should be considering further options, including extending the targeted sanctions to the corporate holdings of the key generals and to their immediate family members.

We welcome the decisions of the United States and New Zealand to provide a clear response to the coup, but sadly some of Myanmar’s regional neighbours have not sent the same clear message. As some recent coverage noted:

The coup d’etat this week has thrust China back into the uncomfortable position it held for years with Myanmar: as the principal defender of a military dictatorship facing an international firestorm of criticism.

That’s particularly noticeable given China’s failure to acknowledge the coup, referring to it instead as a ‘major cabinet reshuffle’. The world is watching the Chinese government’s relationship with the Myanmar military coup. They are on notice.

I want to continue to focus on the Chinese government. I want to focus on two of their most egregious recent attacks on human rights and to call on the Australian government to do more to support people in China and in Hong Kong.

The attacks on democracy in Hong Kong are incredibly concerning. The most recent changes in Hong Kong will prevent recognition of dual citizenship. As the ABC and others have reported:

An estimated 100,000 Hongkongers hold an Australian passport, but if the local laws are enforced dual nationals will be recognised as Chinese citizens only, and could be prevented from accessing Australian consular support.

I recently met with Hongkongers who were incredibly sad for the assault on democracy we’ve seen in Hong Kong and concerned about the changes impacting Hongkongers with dual citizenship. We welcome the Australian government’s safe haven, offering visa extensions of five years and potentially a permanent pathway to residency, but we call on the government to do more and to grant permanent protection for all Hongkongers who currently reside in Australia. I’m also glad to see that the Australian government has changed its travel advice to highlight the risks to Australian citizens who are Hongkongers.

I also want to mention the tragic situation in Xinjiang in China. Many words have been spoken about the cultural genocide the Uighurs are facing, and I was appalled to see the reports of systemic rape of people detained in camps in Xinjiang. The situation demands a UN investigation, and we call on the Chinese government to allow full and unfettered access to UN officials and call on the Australian government to advocate directly and multilaterally for this access and for human rights overall.

One of the key international institutions that aims to seek justice for those who are subject to the gravest of human rights abuses is the International Criminal Court, the ICC. Last week the ICC determined that it had jurisdiction in Palestine. Disgracefully, Australia was one of only seven countries that argued that the International Criminal Court should not have jurisdiction, because Australia does not recognise Palestine as a state. The Australian government’s position is a disgrace and deeply disappointing for Australians who support accountability for crimes, including alleged crimes, no matter who commits them or where they are committed. The Greens position is that, in any military occupation or conflict, such as that which exists in Israel and Palestine, everyone loses. It is clear that peace and sustainable co-existence can only occur if there is justice for all and if there is a commitment from all parties to reject all forms of violence and cease all form of human rights violations.

Many countries have modelled for us that reconciliation depends fundamentally on truth-telling, hence the famous truth and reconciliation commissions. Wise leaders will view this ICC decision not as a threat to Israel but as a tool towards the goal of truth and reconciliation, which helps to frame the context of sustainable and lasting peace.

Human Rights Watch have highlighted in their statement that some of the actions that the ICC have indicated may constitute war crimes. This was included their statement:

For over 50 years, Israeli governments have transferred their citizens into the Occupied Palestinian Territory, even though such transfers to occupied territories are unlawful under international humanitarian law.

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The alleged crimes at issue at the ICC are not limited to unlawful settlement-related activity … Human Rights Watch documented unlawful attacks, including war crimes and apparently deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, during the 2014 hostilities in Gaza that killed more than 1,500 civilians in the Gaza Strip.

Human Rights Watch also highlighted that Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas:

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launched thousands of rockets and mortars indiscriminately toward Israeli population centres, killing 5 Israeli civilians and wounding 36.

I visited the West Bank and Israel in 2017 and, despite having known for decades about the rolling tragedies in the Middle East, it was only on visiting that it really hit home. I will remember to my dying day meeting with the widow of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan in the ruins of their home in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran three months after her husband had been shot to death during the destruction of their village. The ongoing violent killings, loved ones being left to grieve and to cope with massive losses, individuals and whole communities living with lifelong injuries and trauma—every element of life is impacted by not having the security of peace.

It’s because of how important this is for people’s lives as well as for the peaceful future of the two nations that the Australian Greens welcome the ICC’s recent decision. If international justice is to apply equally then war crimes should be investigated wherever they occur. I’d also like to highlight here the point raised by Human Rights Watch, which is an important one:

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an ICC probe is not about taking sides in political conflict. It’s about ensuring that perpetrators of serious international crimes, both Israeli and Palestinian, answer for their actions at a fair trial. As a court of last resort, the ICC has a critical role to play in situations like Palestine where the path to domestic justice is closed and impunity is the norm.

We call on the Australian government to advocate human rights equally everywhere and to cease its opposition to this ruling by the ICC. Of course, at the same time, we reiterate our call that they should recognise the state of Palestine, as so many other nations have done.

Link to parliamentary Hansard