The Australian government has proven time and again that it is highly unwilling to oppose or be critical of Israel. Australia was one of only a tiny number of countries last year to oppose United Nations resolutions on Palestinian self-determination, illegal Israeli settlements and the proposed annexation of part of the West Bank. Make no mistake, on the global stage Australia is clearly in the minority on Israel and Palestine.
Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (13:05): It has become easier over the last 12 months for many of us to forget about, or at least deprioritise, the struggles of oppressed people across the world. With our borders effectively closed and the economic and health crisis having an enormous impact on Australian life, the world beyond our shores is easily forgotten. So today I’d like to reflect on global human rights injustices and fights for self-determination, equity and dignity. There are oppressed people across the world who continue their struggles.
The people of Kashmir continue to suffer through a human rights crisis outside the imaginations of many politicians in here. About 18 months have now passed since the Indian government revoked Kashmir’s special status, or limited autonomy, and further eroded Kashmiris’ right to self-determination. Kashmir remains in lockdown and has been under a prolonged communications blackout, which has had devastating impacts on the people of the region. Only in recent weeks has access to 4G internet been restored, after being blocked for more than 500 days.
Basic human rights in Kashmir must be restored, including freedom of speech and association. As recently as December, we saw at least 75 Kashmiri political leaders and activists arrested following regional local elections in an apparent attempt to squash potential political unrest. Many others have either disappeared or been detained since the revocation of special status in August 2019.
The Indian government must withdraw its troops, end the restrictions placed on political leaders, end arbitrary detentions and disappearances and allow humanitarian organisations full access to resume their work. The decision to forcefully reduce the autonomy of Kashmiris must also be revoked immediately, and the campaign to systematically silence and oppress Kashmiris must end.
The Greens have been and will continue urging the Australian government to call on the Indian government to respect the human rights of the people of Kashmir and their right to self-determination. The human rights crisis in Kashmir should not be ignored.
We also cannot ignore the present situation in India. Since August last year, hundreds of thousands of farmers have participated in rolling strikes against a trio of bills they say will corporatise farming in India. Many of the protesting farmers are from Punjab and Haryana and belong to the Sikh religious minority, but many others around India have rallied in solidarity. They have won significant concessions but are fighting on in an effort to see the laws repealed in their entirety.
At times the scale of solidarity from the farmers on show in India has been absolutely breathtaking. On just one day in November, an estimated 250 million people participated in a union-led general strike. I want you to try and imagine nearly 10 times the population of Australia on strike, united in their cause, steadfast in their opposition to government oppression of unionism and industrial action.
I want to acknowledge that the struggle of the Indian farmers has not been without cost. Many farmers have now died, and others have been injured during the rolling protests. Just this week, Disha Ravi, a 22-year-old climate activist, was arrested and threatened with sedition charges for organising in support of the farmers. The striking farmers’ strength in the face of government suppression is a lesson in the power of workers’ movements. The right to strike and protest must be respected anywhere, at any time. As ever, we extend solidarity to the Indian farmers and unionists struggling for control in their workplaces the world over. I hope that we can one day see workers’ power like that of the Indian farmers right here in Australia.
The unequal and inhumane treatment of Palestinians has continued through the COVID-19 pandemic. While the Israeli government rolled out the vaccine to a large proportion of its population—now into the millions of people—very few Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been vaccinated. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have raised the alarm about Israel’s apparent unwillingness to ensure that the Palestinians under its occupation are vaccinated against this deadly disease. The poverty and destitution that many Palestinians live in under occupation only makes more urgent the need to vaccinate them against COVID-19.
The Australian government has proven time and again that it is highly unwilling to oppose or be critical of Israel. Australia was one of only a tiny number of countries last year to oppose United Nations resolutions on Palestinian self-determination, illegal Israeli settlements and the proposed annexation of part of the West Bank. Make no mistake, on the global stage Australia is clearly in the minority on Israel and Palestine. To make matters worse, Australia is shirking its international responsibilities by defunding international aid activities in Palestine. In the 2020-21 budget, Australia cut its aid commitment to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine from $20 million per year to $10 million per year. Australia must step up and do more for Palestinians in dire need of support. Australia must show solidarity with the Palestinian people, who, for decades upon decades, have had to pay the price for settler colonialists carving up their land and giving it away. Australia must push for an end to occupation, oppression and violence against Palestinians.
Just as Australia has failed to support Palestinians, so too has it failed Uighurs in China. The lack of global solidarity to support Uighurs has been appalling. In 2019 I reflected in this very chamber that there had been a deathly lack of meaningful action on this issue from the highest levels of government in Australia and around the world. It’s 2021 and I’m devastated to say that each word of that sentence remains true today. Without significant global outcry and action, the genocide in Xinjiang has only accelerated. More than one million Uighurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities remain detained by the Chinese government in what they call ‘re-education camps’. Recent BBC reporting has detailed the systematic rape, abuse and torture of women in these camps. Detainees have been subjected to forced injections of unknown substances. Women are being forcibly sterilised. The denial of food and any kind of freedom has become the norm. It should go without saying that the mass detention of Uighurs against their will in internment camps is an abhorrent abuse of human rights. This systemic oppression is aimed at the erosion of their ethnic identity. They are being indoctrinated in an effort to wipe out their culture. They are forced to live under strict religious restrictions in an effort to wipe out their faith. They are constantly surveilled and threatened with punishment in an effort to wipe out their spirit and will to resist. The global community, including Australia, know that this happening but has done far too little to help. This has to change. In my first speech to the Senate I said that our country must be a friend to people who are fighting oppression, marginalisation and injustice wherever they may be. We should look beyond our borders as a proponent of democracy and human rights everywhere, not just where it is politically expedient. We do not get to pick and choose the injustices against which we must struggle. We and the entire global community have to do everything we can to see an end to the genocide of Uighurs and to see justice and freedom for all in Xinjiang.