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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1916


Senator COLEMAN(12.45) —I use the first reading of these Bills to bring to the attention of the Senate once again the plight of people in other countries where human rights and civil liberties are not recognised. Honourable senators will recall that only a few short weeks ago we had a debate in this Parliament on a matter which was brought forward by Senator Missen, when the senators who participated in the debate represented not only all those political parties that are represented here but, I would suggest, all factions within those political parties. On that occasion Amnesty International had just released its report 'Torture in the Eighties' and I took the opportunity to express my concern for the women in the countries that were listed. I simply remind the Senate that listed was a total of 98 countries where atrocities not only were being perpetrated by the ruling authorities but were accepted by them as a permissible means of punishment. I put on record then and I put on record now that it is not acceptable; it is not acceptable and can never be acceptable to any humane society or to a society where there is even a smattering of democracy.

I want to concentrate today on the situation as it relates to Chile, because a few days ago I was given a letter which had been received by our Ambassador in that country, Mr Kevin Flanagan. It is a letter which was originally written in Spanish and has been translated-which is just as well because my Spanish is extremely limited. Unfortunately, the list of organisations that support that letter has not been translated and it is difficult for me to describe them except to say that those organisations appear to be what we in Australia might call domestic-type organisations, going through the whole range to what might be expressed as being militant, if anything could be considered as being militant in a country such as Chile in the present circumstances. The letter is dated 22 March and reads:

Dear Sir,

Through your means we want to bring to the attention of women of Australia and your country's public opinion in general, the plight of women and of the people of Chile. We deem it necessary to do so as part of our struggle for life in our country.

Who are we? We are Chilean women from many different sectors, professional and blue-collar workers, students and peasants, artists and homemakers; women of all ages who have survived more than a decade of a deadly government system whose clearest signs have been assassinations, exile, disappearances, secret jails, torture, banishment, repression of dissidents and all kinds of power abuse and arbitrary actions which hit the poorest sectors of the population.

We accuse the military regime of plunging our country into the most serious crisis in history, an overall crisis which goes beyond the political, economic and social crisis. In this crisis, the future and the life of our nation are at stake. We live in a generalized atmosphere of violence, of growing poverty and unemployment; there are hundreds of thousands of youths without any hope whatsoever in the future. This hopelessness turns many youths to drugs and prostitution, often at a very early age. All this explains our feeling of urgency when we fear for our fate as a people. We seek a future where life might have a chance.

We women have therefore declared a permanent state of mobilization, in order to confront what we consider is an inhumane government. We are not just women in pain, complaining about our country's tragedy. Last December, twelve thousand women met here in Santiago and made a pledge to struggle for life in Chile and to keep up this struggle until we put an end to this deadly regime.

The month of March was declared ''Women's Month'' and we made several peaceful demonstrations to publicize our purpose. On 8 March we suffered the Government's repression: 33 women were arrested; nine union leaders were held without charge for 5 days at the order of the Ministry of the Interior and one of them suffered an abortion as a result of this ordeal. Gross mistreatment by the police force was denounced in several cases.

The brutality of government repression has made it impossible to carry out other activities destined to denounce the violation of human rights, in general, and women's rights, in particular. Thus we decided to culminate this ''Women's Month'', addressing the women and the people of the world. Because what happens to the people of one country also affects the people of all other countries. It is to the conscience of Humanity-and to each man and woman-that we turn to denounce these crimes. Silence and indifference only condone these criminal deeds.

In a few days-on 27 March-there will be another Day of National Protest in which women will participate actively. We remind world public opinion of the recent massacre which took place in Chile on August 11, 1983, when 18 000 soldiers occupied the city of Santiago and there were 82 dead and hundreds of injured. Justice has not yet been done.

We know that those of us in Chile who want to put an end to this rule of death are a majority. We feel strengthened by both reason and morality in our struggle against the force of weapons, of greed and petty interests. We know that difficult and painful times are ahead in our struggle for life and democracy. We are, however, willing to run risks because that is what our conscience dictates.

We know also that the women of the world will understand us and that they would be willing do the same: to struggle to regain freedom and leave the legacy of a decent country to our children and grandchildren.

We therefore request, Mr Ambassador, that you make the content of this letter known by sending it through your Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the President of the Committee on Foreign Relations in your country's Parliament, in order that it may be included as a document in the congressional record.

Some 21 organisations are listed at the back of that letter in support of it. I have no idea how many people that would represent, but it is certainly my intention to communicate with those organisations through our Embassy in Chile to provide them with the support that they have requested from us.

I could, I suppose, have got the Parliamentary Library to go back much further than I have to get information on Chile for me, but one of the reasons for not doing so was that I felt that over the last 10 years it could only be considered repetitious because nothing has changed since the Allende Government was overthrown in 1973. But I did get the Library to go back far enough to get an indication of what the media themselves were saying about the situation. Perhaps the article that most completely covers the whole sorry mess is that of the Bulletin of 27 September last year. It is written by Robert Low, who had spent two years in Chile under the Allende Government and went back after 10 years of rule by General Augusto Pinochet. I want to quote substantially from this because I believe it demonstrates the absolute despair of and for the people of Chile, particularly of the women in Chile. It is under the title 'Why Chile Has Grown Weary of Pinochet' and says:

In 1973 Allende was overthrown and killed in a bloody coup. He was replaced by a four-man junta led by General Augusto Pinochet, which has just celebrated its 10th anniversary.

In those 10 years the Pinochet Government has acquired a reputation for repression which is almost without equal. Particularly in the aftermath of the coup, thousands were killed, or arrested and tortured. Tens of thousands more were sent into exile abroad or dispatched to remote corners of Chile as eternal exiles. About 2500 people simply vanished, introducing the sad word desaparecido into the world's consciousness even before the same thing started happening in neighbouring Argentina. Political parties were banned and the Press was muzzled.

. . . .

In the capital, Santiago, everybody was talking about the economic crisis, the sharp rise in unemployment (said by the Government to be less than 20 per cent but reckoned by most to be more than 30) and the resulting monthly ''protest days'' which started in May.

. . . .

When, last year, the government finally admitted what the critics had been saying all along, that the country was bleeding to death, it was too late. With the peso revalued, salaries frozen, unemployment and the cost of living suddenly soaring, the protests from a hitherto cowed population began: demonstrations, stoppages, an unsuccessful attempt at a general strike and a haunting echo of the last year of the UP: the people of Santiago banging empty saucepans in protest at food prices.

The government has reacted in its usual fashion, breaking up demonstrations, leaving a total of about 35 dead (including several children), sacking strikers and jailing strike leaders and politicians who support them.

But these jackboot tactics are only fuelling the growing demands for a return to democracy.

I might add that Pinochet has said there will be a gradual return to some form of controlled democracy. He intends to have an election, but not until 1989. Suddenly, for the people of Chile, it is beginning to appear that that is too slow. The article by Robert Low goes on:

But the most obvious sign of the state of Chile was the children. Begging food or money, selling little items for a few pesos, they were everywhere. Outside the new post office they rushed up to parking motorists to open the car door or offer to clean it with a rag.

At every house where I was entertained, the meal or conversation was interrupted by a boy or a girl knocking on the door to beg for food.

They were never turned away empty handed, even by people themselves with money problems.

. . . ''There has always been some poverty in Chile,'' said a Belgian priest, 28 years in La Serena, ''but never anything like this.''

Later in the article, Robert Low quoted a poet in Chile:

''We are exiles in our own country.''

He went on:

All over Chile you can see gangs of men tidying verges or engaged in some such public works project. They are on the PEM, the Minimal Employment Plan. It might be better renamed the Minimal Payment Plan. It is the Government's response to the unemployment crisis. Out-of-work bachelors get 2000 pesos a month ($27) and heads of household 4000 pesos ($54).

''It just about pays for electricity and water,'' said one of the two unemployed brothers . . . They preferred taking their chance digging up potatoes illegally or selling olives or shellfish.

The next quotation is from the January-February 1984 edition of the publication Freedom at Issue, which has a table showing the state of each country on a scale from one to seven in relation to both political rights and civil liberties. Seven is the worst. It is interesting that Chile rates a six for political rights and a five for civil liberties. In that edition Freedom House has this to say under the heading 'No Comfort to Oppressors':

We note that Chile, Poland, South Africa and Yugoslavia have been placed in the partly free category in the latest revision of the Survey.

It goes on to say:

We emphasise, however, that all four countries-Chile, Poland, South Africa and Yugoslavia-now appear on the bottom rung of the new listing of partly free countries.

. . . .

It is not Freedom House's intention to give comfort to the four regimes that continue to limit severely the liberties of their people. Rather, we feel obliged to acknowledge that in each of these countries the limits of liberty are currently being stretched by irrepressible forces within the societies.

Mr Acting Deputy President, you and other members of this chamber would be well aware of my long association with the parliamentary group of Amnesty International. I joined that association shortly after I arrived in this place in 1974. I have served as secretary and I am at present an executive member. I believe that my credentials in that and other human rights and civil liberties associations are without question. My purpose in raising that matter in this speech is that I do intend that copies of what I am saying today will go to those organisations listed at the back of this letter through our Embassy in that country. I believe it is important for them to understand my concern for them, as I have a concern for others in similar situations. But the 1983 report of the Amnesty International organisation had this to say about Chile:

'Amnesty International's major concerns were: persistent allegations of torture of detainees by the security forces-ninety-five known complaints were submitted in 1982. . .

It goes on to talk about the 650 documented cases of disappearances since 1973. There are many more than that, of course.

I wanted particularly to quote from a couple of the newspaper articles that I mentioned earlier, but there is just not time. Suffice to say that a fact finding mission from this Parliament is going to Central America later this year . I had hoped that I would be a part of that fact finding mission but that was not to be. My colleague, Senator Maquire, however, has been appointed to it. I have his assurance, because of his concern in the area of human rights and civil liberties, that if it is at all possible to have that mission extended to Chile- I understand at the moment the intention is to go to Mexico and from there possibly into El Salvador-he will make contact with those organisations which supported the letter that was received by the Ambassador in Chile.

I hope that he will take to them the concern not only of myself, as expressed in this first reading debate, but also of this Senate, of this Parliament, of the Australian people, for the repressed attitude that is being demonstrated to the people of Chile. I hope also that he will have the opportunity to meet with some of the representatives of those organisations so that in actual fact when he returns to this place we can have a comprehensive report on an outsider's determination on what the situation is and not constantly be reliant upon only information that is leaked through to us in a form similar to this letter.

It is most important that we who live in a democracy do everything that we can to enhance the prospects for democracy in other countries. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Hayden, has made two very stern statements on the situation in Chile, but I believe that as members of this Parliament we have a great responsibility on our shoulders to ensure that we raise the matter each and every time we can and advise the authorities from those other countries that we are not prepared to put up with that oppression.