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Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Magnitsky laws

KEVIN, Mr Anthony Charles, Private capacity

Evidence was taken via teleconference—


CHAIR ( Mr Andrews ): I declare open this public hearing of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade for the inquiry into the use of targeted sanctions against human rights abuses.

I welcome Mr Kevin to the inquiry. I advise you that although your evidence is protected by parliamentary privilege this protection cannot be enforced outside Australia. I also remind you of the obligation not to give false or misleading evidence and to do so may be regarded as a contempt of the parliament. These are public proceedings, although the subcommittee may agree to a request to have evidence heard in camera or may determine that certain evidence should be heard in camera. If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the grounds upon which the objection is taken and the subcommittee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the subcommittee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request may of course also be made at any other time. I ask witnesses to refrain from naming individuals who may be associated with current cases to protect the privacy of the individuals. Finally, in accordance with the committee resolution of the 24 July 2019, this hearing is being broadcast on the parliament's website and the proof and official transcripts of proceedings will be published on the parliament's website. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Mr Kevin : I thank the committee for inviting me to appear. I'm a retired Australian senior diplomat with 30 years career service, including postings to the former Soviet Union in 1969 to 1971; to the Australian Permanent Delegation to the United Nations in 1974 to 1978; as ambassador to Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1990 to 1994; and to Cambodia as ambassador in 1994 to 1997. I retired from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade after 30 years of service in 1998 at age 55, and I'm now 77. I've since written and published non-fiction books on various public interest topics. My two most recent books, which are relevant to this inquiry, were Return to Moscow, published by University of Western Australia in 2017, and Russia and the West: The Last Two Action-Packed Years 2017-2019, published in 2019.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Kevin. We have your submission to the inquiry. I invite you to make some opening comments.

Mr Kevin : In my opening remarks I'd like to pay tribute to the major commemoration in Moscow yesterday of the 75th anniversary of the final surrender of Nazi forces in Berlin on 7 May 1945. The Soviet Union bore the brunt of World War II in Europe—

Senator ABETZ: Mr Kevin and Chair, can I interrupt. Mr Kevin, at least on my phone, is coming across quite interrupted. I'm wondering if that's happening on other people's telephones as well.

CHAIR: Mr Kevin, are you on loudspeaker?

Mr Kevin : Yes. [inaudible]

CHAIR: Could you use the handset rather than the speaker, Mr Kevin?

Mr Kevin : I'll try.

CHAIR: That sounds better to me. Go ahead. We'll see how we go.

Mr Kevin : I'll continue then, and please stop me if it becomes unclear again. I was just saying that we should pay tribute to the Soviet Union and Russian Federation sacrifice in World War II, which was commemorated yesterday, by coincidence. I'll get straight onto my submission commentary now.

I've argued against the use of autonomous sanctions, whether they're imposed by coalitions of the willing or by groups of like-minded countries. I oppose any sanctions imposed outside the United Nations Security Council. I've also argued that secondary sanctions, or punishments against third-party nations deemed to have violated autonomous sanctions, should be equally unlawful in international law. My position is identical to that of Russia and China, two very large, permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. President Putin has recently commented in an important article, 'It is unacceptable to turn the economy into an instrument of pressure and confrontation,' and that of course relates to the whole area of economic sanctions. The governments of China and Russia consistently denounce autonomous sanctions for what I believe to be very good reasons that are set out in my submission.

In summary, sanctions are just one step short of war. They are extremely cruel to the citizens of sanctioned countries and they cause enormous human suffering, as the recent experience of Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran and Venezuela has shown. Unless they're approved in exceptional circumstances by the United Nations Security Council, in my view no alleged humanitarian or human rights cause is worth the suffering inflicted on populations by sanctions. Madeleine Albright, to her great shame, said in 1996 that the death of half a million Iraqi children through starvation and disease caused by international sanctions and lack of supplies was a price worth paying to overcome Saddam Hussein's regime.

It is a matter of fact that the sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s were the last time the UN Security Council approved any sanctions. The world was shocked at the suffering they caused. However, the United States and its allies, including Australia, have continued to impose autonomous sanctions and regimes on particular governments they dislike, outside the authority of the UN Security Council. Australia has supported recent and current autonomous sanctions against Libya, Syria, Iran, Venezuela and even against Russia. So far Australia has not tried to impose autonomous sanctions against China, though there have been advocates before this committee for imposing sanctions on China over alleged human rights violations against the Uighur people in western China or against protesters in Hong Kong.

The use of sanctions is accelerating the decoupling of the world economy into two separate, essentially hostile, trading and investment blocs—that led by the US and that led by China and Russia. Australia, with our particular geography in the Asia-Pacific region and our major trading patterns oriented to China, will be a particular victim if such a trend continues. Important parts of our economy are already suffering in consequence of the deterioration of our political relations with China, our most important trading partner.

I would like to say something very briefly on Syria. In my opinion, Australia's whole view of the conflict in Syria has been distorted by the anti-Syrian government and anti-Russian government propaganda and disinformation to which we are exposed. The rebellion against President Assad has been falsely represented in Western media as a human rights cause. In fact, it was a fanatical Islamist insurrection against the legitimate sovereign Syrian government. This Islamist insurrection was overtly and covertly supported with money and armaments from Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states and from the US, the UK, Turkey and Israel. Russia, China and Iran have legitimately come to the aid of President Assad at his request, and their common efforts to defend Syria have largely defeated the military insurgents who are now hemmed into the small enclave of Idlib on the Turkish border.

Now the United States is seeking, through tighter sanctions under the new Caesar act, to strangle the war damaged Syrian economy and to prevent its reconstruction. The US continues to support the rebels in Idlib, violating Syrian sovereignty in this and other ways. Australia looks set to support the tighter US sanctions under the Caesar act, thereby contributing to the continued suffering of the Syrian and Lebanese people.

I ask the committee to take note of two recent articles: 'Caesar Tries to Suffocate 17 Million Syrians' by US investigative journalist Rick Sterling and 'Caesar Act ushers in a new phase of suffering for Syrians' by Daniel Sleiman on the Eureka Street website of 25 June 2020. I've given these articles to the secretariat. [inaudible]

Senator ABETZ: I'm terribly sorry, but we're having the same problem again.

CHAIR: You're breaking up, Mr Kevin. It might be best if we suspend and try to reconnect again.

Pr oceedings suspended from 15:28 to 15:29

CHAIR: You seem to be clear at the moment, so let's proceed. We'll resume and see how far we get.

Mr Kevin : Thank you. I was speaking about the effects of the Caesar act on the Syrian people and I was noting that it's causing great hardship to 17 million persons still living under the authority of the Syrian government. Only three million persons living in Idlib are getting any Western humanitarian or food aid. Meanwhile, the United States occupies Syria's oilfields in the north-east and is effectively stealing Syrian oil. The Caesar act will result in thousands more civilians suffering and dying needlessly. The Assad government in my opinion will not fall, because it will be supported by Russia, China and Iran, but it will thereby be further alienated from the Western trading world. There are important impacts on Lebanon as well.

Returning to the main body of my submission, the autonomous sanctions train has already left the station, as I noted, in that in 2011 our parliament passed laws to enable autonomous sanctions. I understand that under the present legislation in place—and I've read the department of foreign affairs submission No. 63—our foreign minister retains the discretionary powers as to whether to apply autonomous sanctions or not. I favour her retaining those discretionary powers and I oppose the view of many submissions that the Australian parliament should pass laws giving it expanded powers to impose autonomous sanctions against governments and sovereign countries or against targeted individuals or companies from those countries.

In my opinion, as a former senior Australian diplomat, autonomous targeted sanctions, which are the subject of this reference, violate and insult national sovereignty of states and they violate existing widely accepted principles of international cooperation, which are themselves based on the sovereign equality of states. No nation or group of nations should have the right to pronounce judgment or pass sentence on citizens of other nations or to violate their property and travel rights outside the authority of the UN Security Council system.

CHAIR: We'll just suspend briefly.

Pr oceedings suspended from 15:32 to 15:34

CHAIR: We'll resume. I'll go to Russia. As I recall, you said that these types of sanctions are cruel in terms of the treatment of people from a country from which the person is sanctioned. Is that the case in relation to Russia, of which you obviously have considerable previous experience? Where the Americans have sanctioned individuals from Russia, does that affect the general populace in Russia? Does it have any flow on effects beyond the individual concerned?

Mr Kevin : The kinds of individuals who are in question here would be rich oligarchs who are living in Russia and supporting the Putin government. Obviously, they are inconvenienced if they cannot travel easily to the West or move their money around the West. I don't think the Russian population in general suffers greatly or even at all. What it does do I think is accelerate the decoupling of the Russian and Chinese economies from Western economies, and this is not a good thing from an international trading efficiency point of view or, I suggest, from a political stability point of view. It brings us closer to war, which is unthinkable, between the West and Russia.

CHAIR: My second question, before I go to Mr Hayes, is that the purport of this type of legislation is to have a deterrence effect on human rights abuses and ructions. Do you have evidence that that is not working, or can you tell us why you believe that it's not working?

Mr Kevin : From my knowledge of Russia, which is set out in my two books—particularly, in this regard, my first book, Return to Moscow,from 2017—I think it has a counterproductive effect because Russians are a very proud people and they don't like being told by foreigners how to conduct their internal affairs or how to administer their own laws. The human rights cause in Russia is not helped at all by these sorts of heavy-handed Western sanctions and pressure against individuals. I believe it reflects biases and it reflects grudges. There are quite a few angry people from Russia living in the West who are basically working off their bile against the regime that they feel did not treat them well for various reasons. I don't think that the Russian population as a whole has any interest in this sort of human rights sanctions activity from the West.

CHAIR: Thank you. I'll go to Mr Hayes.

Mr HAYES: You've made a number of references to action that should not take place without the imprimatur of the United Nations Human Rights Council. You're obviously referring to international jurisdictions. Just by way of contrast, how would you state the position in respect to the unfortunate shooting down of the Malaysian aircraft, which is now subject to international legal jurisdiction, with which Russia is not cooperating?

Mr Kevin : There are quite a few assumptions in that question, with respect, Mr Hayes. First of all, I didn't make reference to the United Nations Human Rights Council; I simply referred to the United Nations Security Council.

Mr HAYES: Yes; I meant that.

Mr Kevin : I'd have to make a general remark here, which I expressed in my both of my books. There is a huge disinformation narrative about Russia which prevails in Western countries and also, increasingly, about China, which unfortunately colours the way most people think about news about Russia or about international events concerning Russia. Unfortunately, MH17, which we could have a whole parliamentary inquiry on by itself, is a very contentious issue. I don't believe there's evidence that Russia was involved in the shooting down of that plane. I don't believe the hearing in the Hague is a fair judicial hearing. The truth will be told on MH17, but not just yet. The main point is that, if the Americans have, as they at the time said they had, satellite imagery of the shooting down of the plane, why on earth have they never revealed it? Why hasn't it come to light?

Mr HAYES: It is, nevertheless, subject to international jurisprudence at the moment, though, isn't it?

Mr Kevin : I'm sorry?

Mr HAYES: It is subject to international jurisprudence presently. I'm told it is taking place in absentia. There is no other way to proceed with this, is there?

Mr Kevin : I don't believe what's happening in the Hague is legitimate international jurisprudence. I think it's a kangaroo court.

Mr HAYES: In summarising your evidence, it would be fair to say that, with respect to dealing with international jurisdictions where they're suspected of, in effect, human rights abuses or corrupt behaviour taking place, that is just part and parcel of doing business with a foreign jurisdiction?

Mr Kevin : If we're going to function in the world of international trade and international investment, we need to accept that the regimes that exist for international cooperation must govern our behaviour. We cannot pick and choose when we're going to set up a little gang of our own called 'a coalition of the willing' to impose our will on weaker countries. That's piracy, in my view. We just have to accept the international rules, which are the rules of the UN Security Council.

Mr HAYES: And yet, when we enter into free trade agreements with countries such as China and others with the investor-state conditions, those countries can access Australian jurisdiction on activities of the federal government, state governments or, indeed, local governments if they believe they've impacted in any way on their decisions.

Mr Kevin : I presume you're talking about trading disputes. With respect, I don't think we're really talking about trading disputes here; we're talking about alleged human rights violations.

Mr HAYES: It could also go to elements of free trade, couldn't it? You mentioned in your submission that you thought there were misplaced public statements about China's treatment of the Uighur population of the Xinjiang province. As is being suggested in the Western media, people are being taken from there into forced labour. Isn't that something that would be of significance in a trade agreement?

Mr Kevin : I would think that, as the foreign minister of Australia has the power under contemporary legislation to choose what kinds of moral suasion or pressure she wishes to apply to the Chinese government, I'm happy with that. I'm personally suspicious of much of the evidence of what's supposed to be happening in Xinjiang, in western China. You can do a great deal with photographic imagery these days. I would not be prepared to point the finger of blame at China on this. I would obviously be happy if the Human Rights Council of the United Nations—we come to the Human Rights Council now—were to find that there was a case to be answered. That's the way that the international human rights system is supposed to work. It's the question of ganging up on a country that I object to.

Mr HAYES: To follow on from that, you mentioned this time the UN Human Rights Council and their jurisdiction. I note that they made a resolution last year for an independent investigation into the killings in the Philippines, yet that was opposed by every country on the council that China has a relationship with under the Belt and Road policy. They don't have a veto on it, but they certainly used their trading position to attempt a veto on investigation. Is that the way you see international relations playing out?

Mr Kevin : Look, international communities are an imperfect instrument at the best of times. How would we in Australia respond if a very large number of countries called for investigations into the mistreatment of Aboriginal people in Australian government custody or Aboriginal deaths in custody or the mistreatment of asylum seekers in Australia? There are obvious sensitivities here, and it's a fairly blunt instrument, the international cooperation system, and I think we just have to accept the outcomes it throws up.

Mr HAYES: Yes, but what I'm suggesting to you is China has disproportionately played a role in protecting areas that are subject to those concerns, and for that matter I assume Russia has done much the same thing, and both countries have exercised their veto rights in the Security Council accordingly.

Mr Kevin : As other countries have done at various times. I mean who protects Saudi Arabia? Who protects Israel? This is the world we live in. We have to try to find a way through it that protects us from World War III. In my submission, to come back to it, I'm arguing that sanctions of any kind are a very, very aggressive action. They take us closer to World War III.

Mr HAYES: And you don't think sanctions would have any impact on changing behaviour?

Mr Kevin : I think sanctions approved by the UN Security Council in certain circumstances might, yes. But when you have a situation where one group of permanent members want to set up a group to impose sanctions and another group of permanent members oppose that, I think that's a situation where you cannot go forward—or should not go forward.

Senator ABETZ: I understand that at one stage, Mr Kevin, you were the Australian ambassador to Cambodia. Did you see the—how do I pronounce it?—Hun Sen regime as authoritarian? How would you describe that regime?

Mr Kevin : I was instructed at various times by my foreign minister, Gareth Evans, to make human rights representations to the Hun Sen government of Cambodia, and I did so. In these I alleged particular violations of human rights that were going on in the Cambodian political system, which my government believed to be the case. Hun Sen reacted very badly to those representations. I found myself the subject of a personal demonstration one Sunday morning outside my residence. When a large group of demonstrators gathered with placards and shouted slogans—it woke me up rather early—I went down in my pyjamas to speak with them, and they expressed great outrage at my government's violation of Cambodian national sovereignty. These were people who presumably were being encouraged to express those views.

Senator ABETZ: I'm sure it was a spontaneous demonstration, but the question I ask is whether or not you saw the Hun Sen regime as authoritarian.

Mr Kevin : I saw the Hun Sen regime as helping Cambodians to recover from the terrible trials and tribulations under the really nasty Pol Pot regime and then under the exclusion of Cambodia from normal international trade. In fact, it's quite interesting because the government of Cambodia that came in after the Pol Pot regime—which was supported by the West, by the way, and by China—which was supported by Vietnam, was the subject of very strong sanctions by the West, and they caused a great deal of suffering for Cambodian people. To give Australia credit, when we helped bring about the Paris Peace Accords, that was the end of those sanctions and the economy could begin to recover.

Senator ABETZ: I'll try a third time: did you see the Hun Sen regime as authoritarian?

Mr Kevin : To some extent.

Senator ABETZ: To some extent, but you do have suspicions over MH17, the plight of the Uighurs and the situation in Syria as well—just to confirm that is what your evidence was.

Mr Kevin : I think the difference in Cambodia, Senator, is I do have a lot of personal experience of the country and I know how easy it is for human rights campaigns to lose their bearings in reality, and I saw evidence of that. So in Cambodia I positioned myself somewhere between the human rights advocates and the Hun Sen government. And I might add that my position was supported by the British, American and French ambassadors, so I was in pretty good company.

Senator ABETZ: All I was asking was your perception of the Hun Sen regime, as to whether or not it was totalitarian. But if I might move on, you say that sanctions are an intermediate step between peace and war. So how do we then assist the oppressed in a regime that is denying fundamental human rights to their citizens?

Mr Kevin : I think, as the foreign affairs and trade department sets out in its submission, we have recourse to a variety of instruments, of which sanctions with wide international support, and I would argue with UN Security Council support, are only one. There's also moral pressure; there are resolutions through the United Nations; there are private diplomatic exchanges and the use of diplomatic relationships. There are many means by which one sovereign country or one group of sovereign countries can try to persuade another sovereign country of the merits of their views on its internal affairs. And I ask you again to put Australia in the position that you're putting country X in and you'll see what I'm saying.

Senator ABETZ: I'm sure the people of North Korea would be heartened by that approach. If others were to seek to investigate matters in Australia then so be it, but I would, every day, be willing to compare and contrast that which goes on in Australia to Russia, China, North Korea, Cambodia and the list goes on. There seems to be an unfortunate moral equivalence in relation to some of the matters that you are raising. No country is perfect. We are dealing with an imperfect world. But the question is: how do we try to get rid of some of the more gross imperfections? That is why sanctions become part and parcel of considerations. I would have thought Magnitsky type laws, which are very much focused on individuals, may help to disincentivise those that might be motivated to engage in inappropriate activities. I'm surprised that you don't support that.

Mr Kevin : May I respond to that, please, Senator?

Senator ABETZ: Yes of course.

Mr Kevin : As I've tried to explain in my submission, there's a great disproportionality between the way Magnitsky type laws impact on great powers and on small, weak, defenceless countries. When they're applied to small, weak, defenceless countries like Iran, Syria, Libya or Venezuela they have a disproportionate effect on the people who we're supposed to be trying to help. You don't help people by starving them to death or denying them essential medical supplies. And I would argue that, on the other hand, when you try and apply those sorts of pressures to large powerful countries like Russia or China you're simply alienating those countries from the rest of the world, or from our part of the world, and you're increasing the risks of sanctions becoming hot war in the long run.

My position, based on 30 years of experience as a diplomat, is in good conscience. I think we have to maintain maximum discretion on these things. I would have preferred that we didn't have any autonomous sanctions. I would prefer they were only under UN Security Council auspices. But, as we do have them, I'm happy to see the foreign minister having maximum discretion as to when and in what ways to apply them.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you.

CHAIR: Mr Hill?

Mr HILL: Mr Kevin, I want to thank you for your evidence. We've had an overwhelming number of submissions, including from international experts on human rights who advised the committee that targeted sanctions are a helpful tool. But I do think you do the inquiry a service by putting a contrary view, despite how contentious that may be in some quarters. So I thank you for that.

I have two questions. I've got no fundamental disagreement with the idea of the proposition that United Nations sanctions are preferable wherever they're achievable. But, if I'm looking at the world in a realistic way—as you said, how the world actually is—traditional diplomacy and the UN Security Council mechanisms have not prevented ongoing instances of significant human rights abuses and associated corruption. Are you really saying, or can you explain why you think, that business-as-usual approaches to managing extreme human rights abuses perpetrated by individuals are preferable to joining efforts to address these problems through targeted consequences? Again, I point to individuals. We're talking here about autonomous sanctions against individuals not against whole countries.

Mr Kevin : If we were to use, for example, German industrialists in the pre-1939 to 1945 war period who, it was quite clear, were profiting greatly from the abuse of Jewish and other prisoners in slave labour camps, of course I would say that we should be using every means possible to make life less pleasant for them—of course I would. But I come back to my earlier point that there's a great deal of conflicting narrative floating around the world now about alleged misbehaviour by Russia and China, and I find a lot of those narratives implausible—and a lot of other people do too. So, when we're in that situation of contested narratives, I think we've got to be very careful before we start throwing our weight around internationally from a moral high horse, as it were, and telling citizens of other countries what they can and cannot do. I just find it rather distasteful, and I wouldn't like any Australian to be subjected to that. I think what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. We've got Julian Assange at the moment who's been gravely mistreated by a friendly government over in England—and I'm very unhappy about that—but is my government going to start sanctions against England? Unfortunately not. I can have my citizen view and I'd like them to but they won't.

Mr HILL: I do agree with you on Mr Assange. I'm one of those ratbags who has spoken up regarding that—but that's a conversation for another day. You touched on it then and in your opening remarks—and I apologise as I didn't make a note of your precise words—and I am not trying to verbal you, but I think, to paraphrase, you suggested that these kinds of sanctions were an affront to sovereignty. I have been thinking about this from the alternative point of view that it is an expression of our sovereignty to assert the right to issue, for example, visa bans or asset freezes on assets held in our jurisdiction obtained by individuals as a result of gross human rights abuses. I see that as an expression of sovereignty ultimately, and, of course, by asserting our own sovereignty, you can see that as an affront on someone else's. But, again, we're talking about individuals. Is it not at least possible to look at these things from two different perspectives and reach two different conclusions?

Mr Kevin : In a debating forum, yes—and I say that without any disrespect—but, in the real world, an assertion of sovereignty of that kind can carry costs. Take the case of Australia-China trade, which I mentioned. To expect that if we started to do to Chinese executives what the Canadians have done to the daughter of the founder of the Huawei corporation—basically, under American pressure or to please the Americans, locking this lady up for months and months in Canada and denying her liberty—it wouldn't have consequences for trade relations would be fairly naive. Countries can assert sovereignty, very much so, and of course we can use the visa power. We do it all the time in saying who can come here, who can leave, who can stay, who must go, whom we can imprison in detention centres, and so on, but it all potentially comes with a cost in terms of our relations with other countries. I will finish with this: the international system represents a voluntary abrogation by countries of some aspects of their sovereignty in the interests of cooperation. So we're always trying to strike a balance.

Mr HILL: True. Every trade agreement we strike cedes some sovereignty and so on. Thank you for your evidence. It does give us a different perspective to work with and a note of caution.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: I also want to thank you for your evidence. I found it very illuminating, actually. You referred on a number of occasions to the possibility of a third world war and the importance of the United Nations being the body that deals with human rights violations. Do you see a situation where the autonomous actions regime could possibly conflict with and become a source of conflict at the UN Security Council?

Mr Kevin : It's hard to hypothesise. I haven't really thought about it in that detail.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: I was just thinking about it given the kind of world that we live in. I'd imagine that could be a real possibility. I might be wrong, but I wondered what your reflection on that would be.

Mr Kevin : I studied history, among other things. There's a bit in the news at the moment on whether the study of history is of any great value. England went to war with Spain over a particular person's ear. It was called the War of Jenkins' Ear. Apparently, some Spanish soldiers cut off the ear of a British citizen called Jenkins and that became a war. I'm not being facetious.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: I know. I wasn't suggesting you were.

Mr Kevin : Actions against individuals can trigger international consequences. The detention of the daughter of the founder of Huawei was a major event with international consequences. Fortunately, we haven't done anything quite like that in Australia yet. I hope we don't.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: Could that find its way into the United Nations and become an issue for the United Nations Security Council to arbitrate on or to deal with? I guess that's where my question was going.

Mr Kevin : I understand your question a little bit better now. I think the veto power, which was in recent days very strongly defended by President Putin of Russia—he argues that the veto power has saved the peace for the last 75 years between the great powers and has prevented the United Nations becoming just a futile debating society, as the League of Nations was, when Hitler was able to walk right through the League of Nations. We have the veto power. Some of us like it; some of us don't like it. I personally like it. I don't think, with the veto power, anything like that would get to the level of the Security Council. Russia or China would say, 'We're too busy to discuss this.'

Ms VAMVAKINOU: Thank you.

CHAIR: Doesn't that essentially mean that the United Nations is never going to take any action against a large country with a veto power, no matter how egregious the human rights abuses might be?

Mr Kevin : Possibly. Are we in a situation now where any of the five permanent members is an egregious abuser of human rights? I don't think we are.

CHAIR: So you don't think putting a million Uighurs into so-called re-education camps and, according to reports, being transported to work as, effectively, slave labour in factories in other parts of the country is not abuse of human rights?

Mr Kevin : I'm aware of the Chinese government's position on those allegations. To me, the jury's out and it may remain out for quite a long time. So, at the moment, I would not regard China or Russia as egregious abusers of human rights.

CHAIR: It comes back to my point that it becomes almost impossible, if you're relying upon the United Nations, to do anything. If you want to take on China, they will not cooperate with any sort of independent investigation. They would continue to assert what they would assert. That effectively means a stalemate.

Mr Kevin : There are many stalemates in the world at the moment. As I've said a couple of times in this testimony, I'm aware of very powerful disinformation narratives about Russia and China. When we say the facts are established for A, B and C, to my mind those facts are not necessarily established at all. I continue, rightly or wrongly, to have an open mind on what may be happening in the western provinces of China.

CHAIR: Do any of my colleagues have questions for Mr Kevin?

Senator KITCHING: Mr Hill asked my question, but I think that Mr Kevin's testimony speaks for itself. Thank you.

CHAIR: Mr Kevin, thank you very much for your submission and also for coming online and discussing it with us this afternoon. We appreciate it very much.

Mr Kevin : Thank you. I think it's a tribute to our democracy that I'm able to express such controversial views to members of the Australian parliament. I appreciate it very much.

CHAIR: Let's hope it always remains the case, Mr Kevin. Thank you very much.

Mr Kevin : Thank you. Goodbye.