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Thursday, 23 September 1999
Page: 10396

Mr BRERETON —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and arises from his answer to my question on Monday and the Attorney's comments on Tuesday, concerning crimes against humanity in East Timor. Minister, can you assure the House that, when you attend the United Nations in New York next week, Australia will campaign for the Security Council to adopt a resolution establishing an international commission of inquiry into the atrocities in East Timor as a first step to bringing those responsible to justice?

Mr DOWNER (Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for his question. Let me begin by saying that our immediate priorities obviously remain the improvement of the security situation in East Timor through INTERFET and to ensure that humanitarian assistance is provided to the population in East Timor because, obviously, the suffering and the killing must end and end quickly. We have said that we would support an investigation of human rights abuses through a coordinated, United Nations-wide response based on the existing United Nations Security Council resolution. Consistent with the established principles on the handling of these sorts of matters, the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva will be considering this matter on 23 and 24 September. Honourable members may know that Australia is not a member of the Commission on Human Rights so we of course cannot vote on any resolution that may be introduced into the special session. A draft resolution is being prepared for this special session by the European Union and that is being circulated now for consideration by other members. In relation to this process, it will be important for the effectiveness of any resolution to have the broadest possible support among members of the Commission on Human Rights. This would not be an occasion for grandstanding but for ensuring that there is genuine assistance to the people of East Timor.

Any decision to, for example, examine crimes against humanity will, I think you will find Mr Speaker, flow first and foremost from this resolution and then in turn be considered by the Security Council. I have been advised that this is a procedure that has been followed on previous occasions and is judged by the United Nations to be the appropriate way to carry this forward. I understand the honourable member's quite sincere concern about this, but next week when he is in New York it will be an opportunity for him as well as me to take these procedures up. Of course, by then we will know whether the European Union's text has been accepted by the Commission for Human Rights in Geneva. I think it is likely that it will be. I am not going to foreshadow what that text says, but that does provide a course of action for taking this matter forward.