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Monday, 21 May 2018
Page: 4063

Mr BYRNE (Holt) (16:58): I, too, rise to support the motion moved by the member for Fowler, which really discusses an issue that we should be discussing in this place. Some would describe it as the genocide of a people.

This motion notes, with appropriate and grave concern, evidence from Human Rights Watch about a series of brutal crackdowns carried out by security forces against ethnic Rohingya Muslims, including, as has been mentioned: extrajudicial killing; the torture and suffering of Rohingya men, women and children; the forced displacement of more than 688,000 Rohingyan Muslims into Bangladesh; the destruction, arson and takeover of more than 300 villages by the Myanmar military; and endemic rape and sexual violence.

The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. Myanmar was home to an estimated 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims. There has been a long history of persecution of the Rohingya population, including the denial of citizenship under a 1982 citizenship law and the denial of the most basic government services. According to Human Rights Watch, the current military government denies that the Rohingya are an ethnic group and claims that Muslims in Arakan Province are Bengalis whose arrival is fairly recent. It takes the view that the migration that took place during the period of British colonial rule was illegal, and it is on this basis that it refuses citizenship to the majority of the Rohingya. In reality, the Rohingya have had a well-established presence in what is now Burma since at least the 12th century. Rohingya political leaders claim that the Rohingya are an ethnically distinct group, descendants of the first Muslims who began migrating to northern Arakan in the eighth century. The United Nations and Human Rights Watch have described the situation in the Rakhine state, over recent years—and I would endorse this—as a 'textbook example of ethnic cleansing', which has led to thousands of Rohingya Muslims having to flee as refugees.

One of the things that I note—and I think the member for Wright was talking about this in relation to people in his part of the world—is that quite a substantial population of the Muslim faith live in my constituency. When I ask them about issues that concern them, the persecution of these people without the world taking action is something that disturbs them greatly. It is hard to describe, just as we struggled to describe the massacres in Africa, particularly in Rwanda.

One of the things that always concerns me—and I support this motion wholeheartedly—is that a concept was advocated by my very distinguished predecessor, Gareth Evans, when he was foreign affairs minister and afterwards, which is the concept that was used in Libya of the right to protect a civilian population of a country when genocide is being committed against its own people. That was invoked as part of the reason for taking military action in Libya, which then led to the overthrow of Gaddafi. My question is—and I would put this question to the same situation in Syria, when its ethnic population of 300,000 people were killed by their own government—why is the international community watching large-scale ethnic cleansing in Asia? It is unacceptable to me that this action is being taken while the world watches on, virtually powerless. We should call what is occurring in that place what it is: genocide. It is genocide in a country which is not far away from us and with which we have historic connections. Thus, as international citizens, as a middle power, we have an obligation to take action.

My view is—and I put this forward not as a Labor Party policy but as an individual watching this genocide, with a growing sense of horror and dismay—that there should be some United Nations action invoked under the right to protect that population, because that is not occurring. I would urge the government, in a respectful way, in a bipartisan way, to take that action. It would show real leadership, which we should be showing in this region. We can't allow this sort of inhumanity to continue, particularly in this region but anywhere in the world. So, in supporting the member's motion, I would urge the government to take action under the provisions of the right to protect, to advocate for that, so that these people can no longer be wiped from the face of the planet, as they are now.