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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 3148

Mr HAYES (Fowler) (09:39): Exactly 24 years ago tomorrow on the morning of 16 March 1988 the Iraqi air force, on the orders of Saddam Hussein, dropped chemical weapons on the Kurdish township of Halabja. Thousands of innocent civilians—men, women and children—were exposed to toxic chemical agents that led to their agonising and painful deaths and that also left many more permanently debilitated. This coldblooded attack was part of a deliberate campaign called Al-Anfal, directed by the former leader of the Iraqi regime and the infamous Ali Hassan al-Majid, which was designed to exterminate the Kurdish inhabitants. The attack on the township of Halabja was just one instance out of many large-scale mass murders that happened between 1987 and 1988. Several thousand Kurdish villages were destroyed and approximately 100,000 Iraqi-Kurds lost their lives, with another 7,000 people injured as a result of the brutal slaughter.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 09:41 to 09:51

Mr HAYES: Significantly, this was the first time in human history that a government had used weapons of mass destruction against its own citizens. Consequently, more than two decades after the brutal massacre, the aftermath of the atrocity is still apparent with the victims, with the toxic gases causing long-term illnesses, birth defects, miscarriages, infertility, paralysis, neurological defects and cancers among many of the surviving generation. The chemical attacks have also irreparable damaged the environment, with soil damage, contaminated water and a spoiled food supply. The land remains useless for agriculture and breeding purposes, while there is still a high demand to repopulate livestock. Since the chilling assault against and genocide of the Kurds, the supreme Iraqi tribunal recognised the Halabja tragedy as a crime against humankind in 2010.

Despite the overwhelming challenge, the community of Halabja has taken significant steps to normalise their lives through a commitment to building a peaceful and inclusive region in Iraq. This is a testament to the courage and determination of the Kurdish people. Australia has since become home to many of the Kurdish refugees, providing them with humanitarian services and support and in turn the Kurds have contributed positively to Australia's multicultural community. It is on this account that on the anniversary of this atrocity that I urge that we pause, remember and commemorate the innocent lives that were tragically lost as a result of this barbaric attack, and pray that such violence is never again inflicted by a state on its people. I would also like to thank Ms Tavga Jalal Zandy from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a representative of her country, for her contribution to this cause. (Time expired)