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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 666


Mr Danby asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in writing, on 10 November 2008:

(1)   Will he confirm that on 24 September 2008 Iraq’s Parliament approved the Provincial Election Law allowing elections to occur in 2009, but dropped a key clause (Article 50) that guaranteed a specific number of seats for minorities on provincial councils.

(2)   Will he confirm that Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, has called on the country’s legislature to reinstate Article 50 because he believes it provides a strong indication that Iraq is a nation ready to protect the political rights of minorities, as founded in Iraq’s Constitution.

(3)   Will he confirm that thousands of Iraqi Christians participated in demonstrations demanding the return of Article 50.

(4)   Will he confirm that President Jalal Talabani (a Kurd) and Vice Presidents Tareq al-Hashemi (A Sunni Arab) and Adel Abdul-Mahdi (a Shia Arab) have appealed to the Iraq Parliament to reinstate guaranteed minority seats on provincial councils.

(5)   Will he confirm that Iraq Parliament’s decision to drop Article 50 was followed by a dozen murders of Christians in Mosul, resulting in thousands of Christians fleeing the city.

(6)   Will he confirm that leaflets were distributed in several predominantly Christian neighbourhoods of Mosul, threatening families to either convert to Islam, pay the jizyah, leave the city or face death.

(7)   What is the Australian Government’s position on the re-instatement of Article 50.

(8)   Is he aware that the Assyrian Christian population of Iraq fell from 1.3 million in 1990, to 800,000 in 2003, and is estimated at only 400,000 in 2008.

(9)   What action is the Australian Government taking to help protect the lives and rights of minorities in Iraq.


Mr Stephen Smith (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

(1)   Yes.

(2)   Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, recommended on 2 October 2008, that twelve seats be guaranteed for minority groups in Iraqi provincial elections. The Government of Iraq recently announced it would guarantee six seats in provincial governments for Christian and other minorities.

(3)   There have been media reports that Iraqi Christians have demonstrated.

(4)   The Government of Iraq announced on 8 November that it would guarantee six seats in provincial governments for Christian and other minorities, in the provinces of Baghdad, Ninewa and Basra, which would be contested in the provincial elections to be held on 31 January 2009.

(5)   The Australian Government is aware of media reports of violence towards Christian groups in Mosul, but is not aware of information linking attacks against minorities to the removal of Article 50.

(6)   The Australian Government does not have information on this.

(7)   Electoral arrangements in Iraq are a matter for the democratically elected Government of Iraq to determine. Australia continues to urge the Iraqi Government to do all it can to protect the human rights of all Iraqis. I raised Australia’s concerns about the protection of human rights of minority groups, including Christians, in Iraq when I met Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Salih, in Baghdad on 10 June 2008. The Government continues to monitor developments in human rights in Iraq and has instructed the Australian Embassy in Baghdad to take all appropriate opportunities to raise our concerns about violence against minorities. As part of ongoing efforts, on 18 November 2008 the Australian Ambassador called on the Minister of Human Rights, Wydan Mikha’il Salim, to express Australia’s concerns regarding the security of Iraq’s minority groups.

(8)   There are no definitive, reliable figures on the size of the Christian population in Iraq. Assyrian Christians in Iraq have suffered significantly over recent years, including through major displacement from their homes, as have other minority communities in Iraq.

(9)   The Australian Government remains concerned about violence in Iraq and persecution of minority groups. The Iraqi Constitution describes rights and protections for Iraq’s minorities. Despite this, extremist groups in Iraq have continued attacks on minorities. As I said in response to question seven, Australia continues to urge the Iraqi Government to do all it can to protect the human rights of all Iraqis. I raised Australia’s concerns about the protection of human rights of minority groups, including Christians, in Iraq when I met Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Salih, in Baghdad on 10 June 2008. The Government continues to monitor developments in human rights in Iraq and has instructed the Australian Embassy in Baghdad to take all appropriate opportunities to raise our concerns about violence against minorities. As part of ongoing efforts, on 18 November 2008 the Australian Ambassador called on the Minister of Human Rights, Wydan Mikha’il Salim, to express Australia’s concerns regarding the security of Iraq’s minority groups. The Australian Government remains committed to supporting Iraqis in need, including minorities. On 19 December 2008 I announced the Australian Government would provide $1 million to assist Christian and other minority groups in Ninewa Province, Northern Iraq, who had been the victims of recent outbreaks of sectarian violence. That assistance will be provided through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Medical Corps (IMC). It will fund emergency provisions, medical support, reconstruction efforts and the tracking of families who have fled into neighbouring countries. This funding brings the total humanitarian assistance provided by the Australian Government to Ninewa Province to $3 million. Australia is already providing $2 million through the IMC to assist Iraqis in Ninewa Province who have suffered from violence. This funding is going towards emergency medical training, women’s centres and mental health services for primary school age children. The Government is providing an additional $10 million to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s Displaced Persons Program to assist Iraqis in neighbouring and transit countries. This funding will assist international organisations and NGOs to maintain protection space (i.e. access to asylum, humanitarian assistance and protection) and enable Iraqis outside Iraq to settle with security and dignity pending long term resolution. This is part of Australia’s overall assistance program to Iraq, worth $165 million over the next three years. Australia is also assisting Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) through its immigration program. The Government has increased the size of the 2008-2009 Humanitarian Program by 500 places, specifically for Iraqis. Iraqis are likely to be the single largest national group of entrants under the Humanitarian Program during 2008-09.