February 26, 2020
Australian Member of Parliament Chris Hayes presents a speech during the second reading of Appropriation Bills No. 3 & No. 4 in the House of Representatives Chamber.
I support the passage of this Appropriations Bill. In doing so, I take the opportunity to raise awareness of recent human rights issues in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in countries with which Australia has both a defence and foreign aid relationship—principally, in Vietnam and in the Philippines. In this place I often speak about human rights. I believe that as members of a concerned global community we all have a part to play in advocating for social justice and human rights, particularly within our sphere of influence.
In Vietnam, the crackdown on dissidents continues. The Vietnamese government maintains a monopoly on political power that is supported by a justice system which certainly appears to operate at the whim of government—rather than dispensing justice without fear or favour.
To this end, I continue to express my deep concern about the plight of an Australian citizen, Mr Van Kham Chau. In November last year, he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, after being charged with terrorism under Article 113 of the Criminal Code of Vietnam. Mr Chau is a prominent member of the Vietnamese community in Australia. He has lived in Western Sydney, with his family, for more than 30 years. Clearly, he has had a long and abiding commitment to the notion of human rights. Indeed, like many of us, including in this place, he has been critical of Vietnam’s human rights record. But what he hasn’t done is participate in or support any acts of violence against the Vietnamese authorities or anyone else for that matter.
Mr Chau has been imprisoned without a fair trial and without access to proper defence lawyers. It’s disheartening to see that the human rights situation in Vietnam continues to worsen with its crackdown on basic human rights and freedoms very much intensifying. In the case of Mr Chau, I should indicate he’s a retired baker who lived in Berala in Western Sydney. He still supports his wife and he raised his family there. Since he’s been incarcerated in Vietnam, he’s been twice hospitalised due to a serious deterioration in his health.
With no evidence presented by the Vietnamese authorities to substantiate a charge of terrorism, it is imperative that the Vietnamese authorities adhere to their human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. With Mr Chau’s case listed for appeal next week, I reiterate the call for the Vietnamese judiciary to uphold the international norms of due process and respect for the rule of law. If Mr Chau is going to have any opportunity of fairness or equality before the law, he must be given proper access to legal representation.
Recently human rights concerns were brought to my attention about a protest that took place between the police and land rights activists in the village of Dong Tan in Vietnam. I’m advised that approximately 3,000 officers from the police riot squad and security forces violently entered the village, resulting in the death of an elderly villager, Mr Le Dinh Kinh, as well as three police officers. There were also reports that over 30 villagers were arrested by the Vietnamese authorities following this confrontation.
I understand Mr Kinh was killed as a result of a targeted attack on his home. Mr Kinh was 84 years of age and a prominent advocate for land rights. He was an activist. He represented and spoke up for the people of the village, particularly in relation to land confiscations by the Vietnamese authorities. I’m advised Mr Kinh suffered a violent death, with several of his children and grandchildren being arrested. I understand, at this stage, many of them remain in detention without charge.
The issue of land confiscation for economic gain by the authorities in the Dong Tan area is not a new issue; it’s been ongoing for some time with unfair and arbitrary land seizures being a major problem in the country. Once again it appears that the authorities have flouted the rule of law with police displaying disproportionate force against local citizens.
I’d also like to speak about the Philippines. Extrajudicial executions have been the principal human rights concern for some time and have escalated under the nationwide drug campaign which has seen in excess of 27,000 people executed over the last three years. These are extrajudicial executions, involving no court, no judiciary, simply empowering the police to use deadly force. President Duterte certainly acts with some impunity, regardless of the UN Human Rights Council resolution which has now determined that there should be a transparent inquiry into these extrajudicial executions in the Philippines.
The way he deals with many of his detractors is similar to the case we see with respect to Senator Leila de Lima. She’s an elected senator of the Philippines parliament, but she continues to be detained on trumped up charges, certainly politically motivated, and has still not had access to a fair trial. She has been incarcerated for more than three years. She was a known critic of the President and the way he has administered his antidrug campaign and deals with human rights advocates. Senator de Lima’s commitment to democracy, justice and respect for the rule of law is certainly commendable and, in these circumstances, most courageous.
The United Nations human rights resolution certainly demonstrates that the international community is no longer willing to remain silent in the face of these blatant attacks on human rights. I’m proud of the fact that Australia supported the intervention of the UN human rights commission to conduct an investigation into these mass killings. As members of the concerned international community, we have a moral if not legal responsibility to do all we can to encourage countries, particularly in our region, to adhere to their international obligations. This is even more so given Australia’s strategic and defence relationships with the Philippines. The Philippines should not be allowed to continue to flout the UN resolution simply because it has the backing of the People’s Republic of China. I note in terms of the vote on the UN Human Rights Council with regard to this particular issue in the Philippines, that many that opposed the resolution were countries that themselves have a dubious human rights record. You would expect that those countries that sought to be on the UN Human Rights Council would have an overall commitment for the protection and promotion of human rights, but, alas, it doesn’t appear the case. People can be corralled against supporting a resolution that was carried by the UN Human Rights Council, as it was on this occasion.
I would like to use this as a background for drawing some attention to a mechanism which is gathering momentum internationally and also proving effective in promoting human rights through its use of foreign policy and is currently being investigated as part of an inquiry by the subcommittee of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. This mechanism is premised on the use of targeted sanctions against serious human rights violators abroad, including issues of visa bans and asset freezes. This is not a new concept, but certainly one which has been enacted in the United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom and is seen to be part of what is known as the global Magnitsky movement. I also understand that the European Union is advanced in a process of developing their own global human rights sanctions regime which is similar to what is provided under the Magnitsky provisioning.
The introduction of such legislation ensures that serious human rights abusers are held accountable for their actions and that Australia does not become a haven for a global corruption and human rights violators. I certainly agree with the words of Elaine Pearson, the Australian Director of Human Rights Watch, when she says:
“By joining other countries with similar laws, Australia will be sending a strong message to abusive leaders everywhere that there are far-reaching consequences for their actions.”
As a country with a significant presence in the Pacific region, I believe we do have a major role to play in the promotion and protection of human rights, and certainly particularly within our sphere of influence. This is particularly so with countries that we have a strategic relationship with, as well as with those countries we provide humanitarian aid to. On all sides of this parliament we have a commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights. We need to assert ourselves in respect of human rights and social justice and in our respect for the rule of law. One thing I am absolutely convinced of is that when the rule of law is set aside or deconstructed, inevitably the first casualty always is human rights itself. We do have a role to play.