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Tuesday, 19 November 2002
Page: 6720

Senator HARRADINE (2:36 PM) —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It relates to the latest Amnesty International report on serious human rights violations in the People's Republic of China, which says:

Amnesty International remains deeply concerned by grave human rights violations committed throughout China, including arbitrary detention and imprisonment, unfair trials, torture and numerous executions.

The human rights situation includes a massive escalation in death sentences and executions, and it has deteriorated over the last 18 months. My question to the minister is: what official protests have been made about the general situation of human rights violations in China and about the individual cases mentioned in this report? Wouldn't this also give heart to institutions and legal societies in China—(Time expired)

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I am aware of an Amnesty International press release of 4 November condemning 46 executions in China, and I assume that is the report to which Senator Harradine is referring. As Senator Harradine knows, the Australian government are opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances in all countries. We believe that it is an inhuman punishment that violates the most fundamental of human rights—the right to life. Each year we have expressed Australia's firm opposition to China's use of the death penalty, most recently during the sixth round of the bilateral human rights dialogue held in Canberra on 14 August this year. We also expressed unequivocally Australia's concerns about human rights abuses caused by the so-called strike-hard anticrime campaign in China, including its increased use of the death penalty. We will persevere in raising Australia's concerns about capital punishment and other abuses of human rights in China for as long as is necessary.

Achieving progress in improving China's human rights record will be difficult, but the government are convinced that our annual bilateral human rights dialogue is the best means of pursuing progress towards the goal of improved human rights. We can point to certain achievements which might in part relate to that dialogue—in particular, seven individuals whose cases were raised in the previous year's dialogue have been released in the last year. Most recently, the Chinese MFA informed us directly of the early release of the Tibetan nun Ngawang Sangdrol, who was serving a lengthy period of imprisonment for political activities. We have also noted progress in judicial reform and the protection of the rights of women and children. Therefore, the government are convinced that the dialogue we have with China is the best means of achieving progress in this difficult area.

Senator HARRADINE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Amnesty International report deals with more than the executions issue, to which both I and Senator Hill referred. Apart from those that have been mentioned, what improvement has been achieved by that annual bilateral dialogue on human rights? Isn't it a fact that torture and other violations of human rights have escalated over the last 18 months? What monitoring is done of the work of the bilateral review of human rights?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —The dialogue is monitored by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and we are committed to it as a tool to help achieve a better human rights record in China. That is a goal, I think, of all parliamentarians in this place, but I also think Senator Harradine would acknowledge that it is a difficult task. When we know of particular violations, we draw them to the attention of the Chinese officials. I think it is encouraging that we are now experiencing instances where they come back to us and inform us of the release of particular individuals. I think it is also encouraging that we have got to the stage where we have been able to note progress, as I said, in judicial reform and in the protection of the rights of women and children. That is not to understate what still remains to be done, but I think it demonstrates a process that is achieving some benefit and should be continued.