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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17487

Mr BAIRD (2:21 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister inform the House of further discoveries of mass graves in Iraq? What do these discoveries reveal about Saddam Hussein's regime?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Cook. He has asked me privately about this issue on a number of occasions, and I recognise the sincerity of his concerns not just in relation to Iraq but more broadly for human rights issues, which on this side of the House are enormously important questions.

As time has gone on since the end of the war in Iraq, the sheer scale of the brutality of the former Iraqi regime is becoming increasingly apparent, with almost daily discoveries of grave sites. Some 150 mass grave sites have been found in Iraq. Estimates—and these are only estimates—indicate that some 300,000 people were brutally slain by Saddam's regime and buried in mass graves. But the reality inevitably is that we may never know the true extent of the atrocities visited upon the Iraqi people.

No corner of Iraq was spared from Saddam's wrath. Graves have been discovered all over the country.

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Ballarat!

Mr DOWNER —The larger groupings have been found in Shia and Kurdish regions, which bore the brunt of the regime's wrath over the years, and some contain the remains of Iranian and Kuwaiti prisoners of war.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER —The Minister for Foreign Affairs will resume his seat.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr DOWNER —Human rights don't matter to you.

The SPEAKER —I heard the minister asked a question by the member for Cook that I thought would be a matter of concern and interest to all members of the House, and he is entitled to hear the answer in silence, regardless of the standing orders.

Mr DOWNER —It is not just the scale of the massacres that have taken place in Iraq that is troubling but also the horrific way that many of these people died. Baghdad markets are apparently selling copies of macabre video recordings of executions the regime recorded for later reference. Some footage shows execution by explosives strapped to victims' chests. People have come forward to give eyewitness accounts of how deserters were bussed into an intelligence facility near Baghdad and apparently summarily executed in the final days of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

The Coalition Provisional Authority is helping the Iraqi people unveil the true extent of Saddam Hussein's brutality. It has deployed specialists with relevant expertise to locate, preserve and analyse material evidence of atrocities. It is searching for and detaining members of the regime who may be of interest to any future prosecution for atrocities.

Atrocities and crimes against humanity committed by the former regime against Iraqi nationals should ultimately be dealt with by the Iraqis themselves. The Coalition Provisional Authority is now preparing to re-establish an Iraqi system of criminal courts. Judges and prosecutors under the re-established court system will be vetted to ensure that they have not themselves contributed to egregious human rights abuses under the former regime.

The revelations that have come forth in the last couple of months of human rights atrocities in Iraq are as bad as any we have seen anywhere in a very long time. On this side of the House it reminds us of the pride we take in having liberated that country.