Speaking Up About Human Rights


Peter Khalil: As members of parliament in such a great democracy, I believe it is our collective duty to stand up for human rights and speak up when we see those rights diminished or abused. It’s something I’ve tried to do since I was elected in 2016, whether it’s speaking up about human rights issues suffered by the Uygur people in China religious persecution of the Baha’i people in northern Yemen or in Iran, the Rohingya people from Myanmar who have been forced into IDP camps or across the border into Bangladesh, or the Kurdish community in northern Syria and in Turkey, or even here at home, with respect to upholding the rights of Australians. I will always try and do this as part of this democracy and as part of this place.

People in my electorate also raise concerns with me about a range of human rights issues around the world. They care, and I thank them for their passion and their commitment to these issues and taking the time to speak with me about them. I recently met in Melbourne with the general secretary of the Victorian Hong Kong students association and other Hong Kong students who were in Melbourne, to speak to them about the demonstrations in Hong Kong and the impact on them and their families. These students in Australia from Hong Kong have also been involved in peaceful protests on campuses in Australia, supporting basic human rights and democratic freedoms for their brothers, sisters and family in Hong Kong. For that, they have been threatened over the phone, on social media and even physically. I committed to raise these issues here in the parliament but also to the relevant authorities on their behalf. I said to those Hong Kong students that, as elected political leaders in this democracy, we must continue to support the right to peaceful protests and democratic freedoms, for, if we as democratic leaders do not support democracy, who will?

Just last week, a group from my electorate shared with me their concerns with respect to their family members and loved ones living in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Following the withdrawal of article 370 of the Indian constitution, the living conditions and human rights of those living in Kashmir have been deteriorating. There’s not much media about this, but I do support the efforts being made by Australian officials to push for the release of Kashmiri political leaders who are under house arrest, as well as lifting the media and communications blackouts that have been imposed in Kashmir. No group of people should be persecuted based on their faith, their culture, their ethnicity or their nationality. I understand that Australian officials have also made representations to Pakistan to continue to sever any links that there may be with groups that have been involved in any violent attacks. It’s important that the parties in the region know that the world is watching. It’s important that they know that those affected by their actions have family members and loved ones across the world, in nations who will speak up for their interests. And it’s important for this place, this House, this country and democracies worldwide to speak and act together to protect the human rights of people in that region of Kashmir.

We are all watching, with grave concern, the situation faced by the population of northern Syria, particularly the Kurdish population in that part of Syria. The events that are occurring there deeply affect the Kurdish Australian community. The decision by President Trump to abandon an ally, an ally that gave 11,000 lives in the fight against ISIS on the ground—a decision which opens up more violent conflict in Syria, creates the conditions for another humanitarian disaster, with tens of thousands of civilians now being displaced, and actually opens up the very real risk of ISIS re-emerging and resurging—has left many of us in shock and disbelief. Labor’s shadow foreign 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. Probably most would agree that the world we live in today shows that this is more necessary than ever. It doesn’t matter where in the world human rights abuses are occurring, it is our responsibility and possibly our duty, as leaders of a democracy, to speak out against those human rights abuses. As an elected leader in our democracy, with my colleagues here, it is, I think, of critical importance for us to champion human rights whenever we can and to stand with people fighting for their freedom and for democracy around the world.