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Wednesday, 15 June 2005
Page: 154

Mr MURPHY (9:30 AM) —I speak on behalf of 10 students from year 8 at Strath-field Girls High School who have written to me expressing their sadness and concern that, in the year 2005, the unthinkable ownership and trade of human slaves still exist in the world. National governments in African countries such as Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger either condone or do little to prevent slavery. I want to place on the parliamentary record one of the excellent letters concerning the grave plight of 43,000 slaves in the West African nation of Niger. I believe Miss Kareena Evans represents the concerns of all her classmates when she writes:

After hearing about this terrible matter it compelled me to write to you to voice my growing concerns regarding this abuse on human kind ... We need to lobby the Australian government as well as overseas governments so that these vulnerable people can receive the support they deserve, in order for them to be freed from this harsh existence.

Anti-Slavery International works at local, national and international levels to eliminate slavery throughout the world. Anti-Slavery International was founded in 1839 and is the world’s oldest international human rights organisation and the only charity in the United Kingdom to work exclusively against slavery and related abuses. In 2003 the excellent work of Anti-Slavery International achieved the first survey of slavery in Niger, which was conducted with its local partner in Niger known as Timidria. This led to the government of Niger introducing in May 2004 a new law against slavery with sentences of 30 years in prison for offenders.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 9.31 am to 9.44 am

Mr MURPHY —Before the suspension I was saying that this led to the government of Niger introducing in May 2004 a new law against slavery, with sentences of 30 years in prison for offenders. According to Anti-Slavery International, over 200 slaves were freed. Tragically, in April this year the antislavery movement in Niger suffered a major setback when Niger’s leading Timidria activists, Ilguilas Weila and Alassane Biga, were arrested in an effort to silence their fight against slavery. Their continued detention is alarming and raises very serious concerns about human rights in Niger.

Despite thousands of people being enslaved across Niger, the government denies the existence of slavery in the country, reversing its earlier acceptance that it was a serious problem. This is a complete U-turn from its 2003 position, which has resulted in warnings to those who officially seek to release the slaves and the imprisonment of the key activists. I bring to the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs my question No. 1705 on today’s Notice Paper, and I ask him to explain what the Australian government is doing to raise international awareness of this issue and to assist Anti-Slavery International with its campaign. I congratulate the students and staff at Strathfield Girls High School on bringing this issue to my attention, and I encourage these young Australians to continue to speak out about this issue and support those who cannot help themselves. Well done, Strathfield Girls High School.