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Thursday, 29 May 2003
Page: 15464

Mr GEORGIOU (2:20 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister update the House on recent revelations regarding gross human rights abuse by Saddam Hussein's regime, including recent discoveries of mass grave sites?

Mr DOWNER —I thank the honourable member for Kooyong for his question. As the House knows, the casus belli for action in Iraq remains as it has always been, and that is the need to eliminate the threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. The release overnight of a CIA-DIA report on the discovery of mobile biological weapons laboratories illustrates that headway is being made in uncovering the full story about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction capability. As that report notes, the findings are the strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program.

It is also true that the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime has brought to an end one of the cruellest chapters in modern history. The true scale of the regime's horrors is only now being revealed by a people free from intimidation and fear. When I was in Iraq, this was patently obvious. Most chilling are the numerous mass grave sites that have been unearthed by coalition forces with the help of information provided by the local Iraqi population.

Recently, two significant mass graves, reported to contain up to 15,000 bodies, were discovered near a military base. These sites and others like them at Kirkuk, Muhammad Sakran, Basra and Abu al-Khassib contain remains buried en masse rather than in individual plots, signifying the deaths were the result of mass atrocities. The thousands of bodies uncovered in these sites are just a fraction of what Human Rights Watch estimates are 290,000 Iraqis who have disappeared during the reign of Saddam Hussein. Human Rights Watch was able to locate one survivor of a mass execution and burial, and his account provided important evidence about the manner in which mass execution campaigns and burials were conducted. In 1991, a 12-year-old boy and several family members were accused by soldiers of being looters and detained with many other Iraqis. After a few days, these detained Iraqis, including the small boy, were taken by a bus to a location and thrown in a pre-dug pit, machine-gunned and then buried with a bulldozer. The young boy's mother and other relatives were executed and buried, but the boy miraculously survived to tell his tale.

The coalition is doing what it can to ensure that the remains are treated with respect and with dignity, although clearly the sheer scale of what is being discovered makes it difficult to secure all of these sites. Obviously this is a highly emotional issue for those Iraqis who are only now discovering the final fate of their missing relatives. The gruesome discovery of mass grave sites and heartbreaking accounts of personal tragedy and survival are a stark reminder that the lives of the Iraqi people will be vastly better without Saddam Hussein. I think it is fair to say that we are proud of the role we have played in securing the freedom of the long-suffering Iraqi people.