Senator Lee Rhiannon – spoke in support of Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi and the rights of Palestinian children

photo of Senator Lee Rhiannon
February 6, 2018

…this is another example of how the Israeli authorities flout their obligations under international law. Palestinian children are paying the price with their childhood. On this issue, the Australian government remains silent. We should all raise our voices to free Ahed and all children jailed in Palestine.

Full speech

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (20:13): Ahed Tamimi was arrested by the Israeli army in mid-December, along with her mother and cousin. She has since been denied bail and presented with a list of cobbled-together charges. She is now in jail. Ahed is a courageous young Palestinian woman. She’s been subject to and witnessed oppression and violence from the Israeli army. Ahed’s lawyer has said that she has faced long and aggressive interrogation sessions, sometimes into the night. Ahed’s interrogators have also made threats against members of her family.

Magdalena Mughrabi, who works for Amnesty International, has said:

… the footage of this incident shows that she posed no actual threat and that her punishment is blatantly disproportionate …

Ahed Tamimi’s ensuing arrest and military trial exposes the Israeli authorities’ discriminatory treatment of Palestinian children who dare to stand up to ongoing, often brutal, repression by occupying forces.

In 2009, Ahed’s village of Nabi Saleh began weekly protests against the occupation and especially against the illegal Israeli settlement of Halamish, which was stealing more land from Ahed’s village and blocking access to the village water spring. Well before her arrest, at the age of 16, Ahed Tamimi had developed a strong understanding of political struggle and activism.

These are her words: ‘We should extend our struggles to one another in order to end all the world’s injustices.’ It is widely recognised that Ahed, her family and her village have been targeted because they directly challenged the Israeli government’s claim to be democratic, progressive and moral. Ahed’s story is not just about one child. It is not even about one generation. Ahed’s story has been echoed thousands of times over many past decades because of the violent and repressive actions of the occupying regime.

There are currently some 350 Palestinian children in Israeli prisons, and children as young as eight have been arrested by the Israeli military. Since the year 2000, Defence for Children International has reported that at least 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested and prosecuted in Israeli military courts. Over 70 per cent of Palestinian children who go before Israeli military courts are denied bail. There is an almost 100 per cent conviction rate. Israel is the only country in the world that prosecutes children in military courts, denying them fundamental fair trial rights and protections. Palestinian children are often subject to ill treatment, including blindfolding and harsh interrogations without the presence of a lawyer or family member. They’re often subject to solitary confinement and, in some cases, physical violence while they’re held in prison.

Israel is a party to the Convention for the Rights of the Child; although it’s hard to believe it when you hear the figures about being children held in jail. Under the convention, the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child must only be used as a last resort and for the shortest period of time. However, this is another example of how the Israeli authorities flout their obligations under international law. Palestinian children are paying the price with their childhood. On this issue, the Australian government remains silent. We should all raise our voices to free Ahed and all children jailed in Palestine.

On another matter: Woodside Petroleum has been involved in Myanmar since 2013. This company is the largest occupier in the offshore Rakhine Basin with interests in nine offshore blocks. In 2017, the company announced its intention to expand gas drilling with three new wells. However, according to a 2015 Southern Cross University report, a gas and oil pipeline has been laid from the location to Yunnan province in China. Gas has begun flowing through this pipeline, and land has been confiscated from local communities to facilitate this process. That is from the university report.

While evidence is scarce, it appears that the production of gas will impact the Rakhine province through onshore support centres such as a helicopter pad and distribution pipelines that connect to international customers. These Woodside activities directly impact Rohingya communities. It appears most likely that the Myanmar military simply removed Rohingya communities and confiscated their land without compensation in order to facilitate the industrial development for Woodside. I acknowledge that there is no direct proof of these developments, but there are significant and believable anecdotal reports. The Rohingya have been denied citizenship, meaning there is no official documentation of any of these actions within Myanmar. Foreign human rights agencies are denied access, as are the media.

Meantime, the Australian government remains mainly silent on the genocide taking place. The Australian government appears to be supporting Australian investment in Myanmar far beyond any deep concern for the Rohingya people. Woodside is getting particular attention. Several Australian companies, including Woodside, have formed bilateral agreements with the Myanmar government. They argue that it is better to encourage the government in Myanmar to be open to the world than to criticise their human rights abuses. Woodside remains focused on the interests of shareholders at the expense of international human rights obligations.

Woodside was among the first international oil and gas companies to enter Myanmar when that country first opened up for business. The bulk of the company’s ground sits off the coast of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where most of the alleged atrocities have taken place. It is widely understood that any pipeline connecting Woodside’s discoveries with Asian markets would most likely have to cross through Rakhine land. In 2017, Woodside Petroleum’s chief executive, Peter Coleman, travelled to Myanmar. The public reason given by the company for the visit was to assess the humanitarian crisis. Such a high-profile visit at the time of the expulsion of Rohingya from Myanmar was also viewed as an attempt by the CEO to assess the local situation in terms of how best to protect the company’s assets.

Myanmar is now being promoted as an investor’s dream. This is from an ANZ report: Myanmar has ‘the lowest unit labour cost market in Asia, average wages even lower than Africa’. The report judged was ‘likely to remain so for a considerable period’. The report went on to find that Myanmar has:

… the “key to attracting foreign direct investment platforms to utilise the last untapped labour market in Asia”. With abundant arable land waiting development, large hydrocarbon resources, and by harnessing “the mighty Mekong for hydro power generation, Myanmar can become a battery for industrialists” …

That’s how it’s being promoted to the international business world.

The more accurate way to describe this in terms of what is impacting the Rohingya people is in terms of exploitation, dispossession, violence, cruelty, death and, often, starvation. As well as ANZ and Woodside, the Australian company BlueScope Steel has been linked to bilateral engagements with Myanmar that discriminate against the Rohingya people.

The Rohingya people await a human-rights principled stand to come from Australia. Sadly, what we see, though, is that the Australian government continues to ignore the systematic and widespread abuse that’s being inflicted on the Rohingya people. This has been detailed by the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights. In 2018, it really is time that the Australian government stood with the Rohingya people and put Australian business interests behind them so the Rohingya community can be restored to their land, have their dignity returned to them and ensure that their survival is absolutely guaranteed.

Link to parliamentary Hansard