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Monday, 2 December 2013
Page: 1330


Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (12:42): I second the motion. I thank the member for raising this issue. I have always respected the sovereign right of any country to govern itself and to administer its law. But there are fundamental things that apply to all people. They are based on human rights and the entitlements which should always be considered in the context of political structures. Particularly when you become a member of a significant organisation within the United Nations you are obliged, in deliberating on and debating human rights issues, not to seem at variance with international covenants and the commitment to human rights.

International Human Rights Day is on 10 December, which this year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is important that we use this time to celebrate how far we have travelled while considering the challenges that still lie before us. Just last month the Socialist Republic of Vietnam gained a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council and signed the United Nations convention against torture. However, it is important that we draw the House's attention to a number of continuous violations in Vietnam.

In January this year, a group of Vietnamese Christians were arrested for protesting in support of land rights, freedom of religion and the release of previously convicted activists. One of those arrested was a Catholic online blogger, Paulus Le Son. He was accused of participating in training with Viet Tan, a U.S.-based pro-democracy organisation to establish democracy and reform in Vietnam through peaceful and political means. Within the construct of human rights it is important that there be a high degree of freedom of expression and speech which allows people to put forward their concerns when they feel that they may be repressed or that they are being denied their fundamental rights in key areas.

Le Son and others were also accused of circulating a petition to free prominent legal rights activist Cu Huy Ha Vu, a prominent human rights defender who was imprisoned for seven years in April 2011. All of the 14 accused denied these charges; however, the Vietnamese court found them guilty and now they are serving sentences varying in length between three and 13 years. Additionally, there are other activities occurring, because Nguyen Phuong Uyen and Dinh Nguyen Kha were charged under article 88 of the Vietnamese Penal Code for distributing leaflets protesting against China's claims to the Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea. And finally, trade union organiser Do Thi Minh Hanh was imprisoned for national security charges relating to her involvement in organising workers at a shoe factory.

Many of those elements we take for granted and make assumptions that they are universally applied. But when you take responsibility of being involved in a significant human rights committee then there is a need to reflect inwardly on your own practices. As Australians we have a responsibility to encourage the Vietnamese government to honour its obligations as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We also have an obligation to encourage strong consideration of human rights in Vietnam when we fund overseas aid to various countries, in this instance Vietnam.

One of the issues that often surprises me when I look at sovereign nations who participate in United Nations forums is when they deviate from those very principles that were hard fought for, when UN conventions to which numerous countries are signatories are overlooked, where people's rights are denied and where citizens are imprisoned within their structures without due course to a fair trial or a fair hearing. I do acknowledge, as I said at the beginning, every sovereign nation having its own right to make those decisions. However, as a member of the United Nations we also have a responsibility to raise concerns in respect of the breach of human rights and it is important that we do so. I thank the member for Fowler for proposing today's private member's motion and I support it.