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Monday, 3 December 2018
Page: 12385


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (18:46): I speak in support of the motion on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Last month, Australia and many countries around the world commemorated the signing of the armistice that brought to an end the killing, maiming and horrific cruelty of World War I—but not for all people. For the Armenian people, the horrors and suffering continued. It was estimated that, by 1923, up to 1.5 million Armenians had perished, leading to what has often been described as the first act of genocide of the 20th century. The plight of the Armenian people touched the hearts of people across the world, including here in Australia.

As a representative from South Australia I'm proud to recall our state's involvement in relief efforts for the Armenian people. South Australia was one of the most significant contributors to the Armenian Relief Fund of Australia for survivors, led by Adelaide pastor Reverend James Cresswell, who was unanimously appointed national secretary of the fund. Reverend Cresswell agreed to undertake a tour of the devastated regions, and reported on the work of the Australasian orphanage established in Lebanon to aid child survivors of the death marches. Several years ago I attended a display at the Pilgrim Uniting Church in Adelaide highlighting Reverend Cresswell's work in what was by then described as the Armenian genocide. I also note South Australia's commitment to the acknowledgement and prevention of genocide, drawing particular attention to a motion passed by the South Australian state parliament in 2009, recognising the events in Armenia between 1915 and 1923. In the past I've stood in this place to present a petition calling for the house to assist the Christian and Yazidi minorities in the Middle East facing persecution at the hands of ISIS, and to recognise and respond to that. I also attended commemoration services in Adelaide for victims of the Srebrenica massacre.

We've only recently begun to see progress on these fronts, through international tribunals that have sought to bring to account the perpetrators of these great crimes against humanity. But in many cases justice has been elusive, and for the victims it has been too little too late. As we debate this motion today, we are reminded of the importance of identifying the warning signs to ensure that we are able to act to prevent these crimes from being committed.

Today's motion also refers to the author of the convention against genocide and the man who invented the word 'genocide' 70 years ago, Dr Raphael Lemkin. My understanding is that he did this in order to describe the scale of the atrocities committed against the Armenians during the First World War and against the Jewish populations of Europe during the Second World War. The evidence of Armenian massacre, starvation, poisoning, death marches and even mass burnings is irrefutable.

I make three closing observations. Those who deny the atrocities committed against the Armenians between 1915 and 1923 continue to perpetrate an injustice by contributing to a cover-up. Those who are indifferent to those events are accepting of them or condoning of them and therefore give licence to others to do the same. Indeed, we saw that on many other occasions in the 20th century. Conversely, recognition of atrocities will bring a sense of closure and solace to survivors and family descendants. It will also send a message to the world that such acts of horrific cruelty to others are not acceptable and, if perpetrated, those responsible will ultimately be held to account. To date, some 29 countries have recognised events in Armenia as genocide. On the 70th anniversary of the UN genocide convention, and as a founder and signatory of the convention, Australia should ensure that the convention is honoured whenever and wherever genocide occurs.