Human Rights Day 2019


Peter Khalil: Sunday is Human Rights Day. The 10th of December marks 71 years since the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was a milestone that articulated the rights and freedoms to which every human being is equally and inalienably entitled. Australia, as a leader in the framing of the UN declaration and one of the world’s oldest democracies, prides itself on its commitment to democracy and human rights.

We constantly see in the media that many people around the world continue to have their rights threatened, denied or impinged. As members of parliament, we all on both sides, being part of such a great democracy, believe it is part of our duty to stand up for human rights and speak up when we see those rights diminished or abused here or abroad. It is something I’ve tried to do since I was elected in 2016, whether it is speaking up about human rights with respect to the Uygur or religious persecution of the Baha’i or the Rohingya, who have been forced into IDP camps or across the border into Bangladesh, or the Kurdish community in northern Syria, or, of course, here at home with respect to upholding the rights of Australians. Many of us across the political spectrum have made those speeches and done that advocacy for so many people who have their human rights impinged upon. It is important we try and do this as part of a democracy that we enjoy, and we shouldn’t take that for granted. It is part of our job in this place.

People in my electorate also raised with me a range of human rights issues around the world. They care, and I want to thank them for their passion and commitment on these issues and for taking the time to speak to me about them. Last week, I attended a rally in support of Chilean Australians and their brothers and sisters in Chile, and the right to protest. We have seen some of the images from what is going on in Santiago and other parts of that country.

Peaceful protest and freedom of association are among the founding elements of any decent democracy. If you start to impinge on those rights, you start to pull away at the threads that hold our democracies together. Some of us might take this for granted, as well as other rights such as the right to a good education, the right to good medical care and the right to freedom to practice our religion or to have no religion. They are not all equally available to people in other parts of the world. That is something that we enjoy here in Australia. The UN declaration has become a yardstick. It provides a foundation for a just future for all and has solidified standards for which we should aim. It is, I think, a powerful tool in the fight against oppression and repression around the world, because equality, justice and freedom are principles that remain just as relevant today as they were back in 1948.

Labor’s foreign shadow minister, Penny Wong, often speaks about the need to put Australian values like respect for human rights at the centre of our foreign policies—a core element of how we do our foreign affairs. I think most would agree that the world we live in today shows that it is more necessary than ever. We are in a period that is more volatile, that is more problematic with respect to human rights than I can remember it ever being. Numerous demonstrations are occurring in countries around the world, with people rallying for basic political rights—the freedom to just protest without being repressed for better conditions, for economic justice, for economic equality. You are seeing this happen not just in Chile but in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Peru, Indonesia, Iraq and so many other countries. This is happening right now. And it does not really matter where in the world human rights breaches are occurring; it is still our responsibility and our duty as leaders—and we are leaders, to an extent, in our democracy—to speak out against these human rights abuses and to advocate for people who are suffering. I think it is of critical importance for us that we champion human rights whenever and wherever we can—to stand with people fighting for their freedoms, to make those human rights a living reality for everyone.

They know that we are speaking. I have had feedback from so many people who have said, ‘Thank you for doing that 30-second or 90-second speech in parliament in support of us.’ It does make a difference. In us celebrating this occasion, it is important for us to remember all of the wonderful things that we have in this country and to speak up for those who do not have them.