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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4929


Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (12:16): I have pleasure in joining with the member for Berowra in relation to this matter. He has a very consistent record in regard to human rights around the globe. The point I want to make is that this is about universality of human rights; it is not about particular religions in particular countries. Tonight I and the member for Melbourne Ports will speak on a resolution in regard to Shiah rights in Bahrain because of their suppression there. Similarly, around the world, we see the Sri Lankan Buddhist community attacking Muslim businesses, and we know about what is happening to the Rohingyas in Burma. Similarly, we deplore actions by extremist Islamic forces in Bangladesh in regard to Christian, Buddhist and Hindu minorities there. These are matters on which this parliament quite rightly acts, and it is good to see the Assyrian Universal Alliance as representatives here lobbying in their country where they live, where they have been accepted as refugees, in regard to human rights in Iraq.

We are talking essentially about the indigenous people of that land. We are talking about people who have been there since at least 5,000 BC. In Iraq, they have become the scapegoats for extremist elements in the country without much protection from the government authorities and in fact with studied neglect of their rights to protection. Often these attacks are contrived around events happening around the world. We see an upsurge of attacks on Assyrians, Chaldeans and Syriac Orthodox people that respond to some comment by the Pope, then we see other attacks because of publications in Danish newspapers et cetera. They become the scapegoats for some of these groups' concerns with events around the world.

We are seeing a very strong flight from Iraq post the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. We are talking about half or more of Assyrians fleeing to other nations in the Middle East and, of course, to Sweden and Australia. In Sweden it is so strong that they have their own first division soccer team there. That is symptomatic of the protection in that country. This is, as I say, a series of orchestrated attacks which, in some sense, are basically about making the country homogeneous by getting all minorities expelled from the country by systematic violence. We see that the community also suffer from unemployment, financial hardship, difficulties in education and growing general religious intolerance, shaping the daily life that they suffer. There is no future for their children. There are grave doubts about practising religion, about keeping institutions going and about preserving language and culture in general. These were things that occurred under the previous Ba'athist regime. There might have been some hope with the Western intrusion that things would improve, but, as we have seen, the power of militias in the country has been such that this violence has actually escalated.

Figures in the publication Incipient genocide—the ethnic cleansing of the Assyrians of Iraq, indicate that, in the years 1995 to 2002, 19 Assyrians and other Christians were murdered. From 2003 to 2012, that figure escalated to over 41 a year. We have seen bombings of religious events and targeted assassinations of religious leaders and priests. A two-month-old infant has been kidnapped, beheaded, roasted and returned to his parents. A 14-year-old child has been decapitated.

Regardless of political beliefs across this parliament, members abhor what is occurring. It is important that Australia joins the European parliaments that have condemned these actions and that the message is given to the government of Iraq. Forces from other countries died in the belief that democracy would be restored and that there would be no more attacks on various minorities in the country. An alarming development is that Kurdistan, at one stage, appeared to offer more protection. On balance, that is probably true, but the situation has been deteriorating there as well.

I strongly commend this motion to the House. It is important that this country is vocal on human rights and that we do stand up for minorities regardless of who they are, particularly those whose language, culture and religion face possible extinction if measures are not taken to protect them.

Debate adjourned.