Concerns about the marginalisation and displacement of Muslims in Myanmar

Terri Butler moved a motion in the Federation Chamber on 20th March 2017 regarding the displacement and marginalisation of Muslims in the Rhakine State of Myanmar. 

Read full speech below. 

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (12:23): I move:

That this House:

(1) commends the work funded by the Australian Development Assistance program through bilateral, multilateral and non-government organisation partners like Save the Children, to strengthen governance, democracy and vulnerable communities across Myanmar;

(2) is cognisant of and concurs with international concern about the marginalisation and displacement of Muslims in Rakhine State in Myanmar, particularly since 2012;

(3) expresses its grave concern about the coordinated attacks on Border Guard Police posts of 9 October 2016, at three locations in northern Rakhine State, and:

(a) offers its condolences to the families of the nine police officers who were killed and to the Myanmar people;

(b) abhors the violence and the theft of guns and ammunition; and

(c) asserts that those responsible for such a heinous crime should be brought to justice;

(4) observes also that in the interests of democracy, peace, security and human rights, the rule of law should be upheld in Rakhine State, and calls on security forces to conduct security operations in a manner that does not marginalise or displace people in Rakhine State;

(5) notes:

(a) the very real risk that excessive use of force may have on the effect of radicalising and further marginalising the Muslim community in Rakhine State, increasing conflict and hampering efforts to achieve peaceful outcomes; and

(b) with deep concern, the report on 3 February 2017 from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on reported human rights violations occurring in northern Rakhine State;

(6) acknowledges:

(a) the national-level bodies established to investigate reports of human rights abuses in northern Rakhine State and urges them to undertake credible, thorough and impartial investigations;

(b) the work of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, and commends the Myanmar State Counsellor (MSC) for meeting with the Special Rapporteur; and

(c) also the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, and commends the MSC for having established that Commission; and

(7) calls upon the civilian government, military, and parliament of Myanmar to redouble their efforts to end the marginalisation and displacement of Muslims in Rakhine State, and to seek to create conditions in which all residents of Rakhine State can live peacefully, can have access to education and healthcare, and can have freedom of movement.

Those of us who are speaking to this motion recently visited Myanmar on a delegation hosted by Save the Children and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We visited Yangon, Nay Pyi Daw, Rakhine State, as well as other places and we saw the nation firsthand around nine months after the election. The National League for Democracy led civilian government has been in office only since April last year. The military remains very powerful, with a constitutional right to a quarter of the seats in the parliament and the right to appoint three important ministers. Despite these obvious constraints, there is, nonetheless, a very high community expectation of the NLD government, the civilian government, in Myanmar. That government faces a range of challenges, including unrest and conflict in relation to Shan State, Kachin State and Muslims in Rakhine State, amongst other situations of conflict and unrest in the nation. Our delegation was grateful for the opportunity to visit Sittwey in Rakhine state. While we were there we visited a Rakhine village, and we also visited an IDP camp, where we were able to speak with Muslims who had been without freedom of movement since 2012.

Rakhine state has been a site of conflict and unrest for a substantial period of time. In October last year there was an insurgency in the state, where nine border police were murdered in a coordinated attack. Subsequently three townships were closed off, with a security operation being commenced. Since that time the UN, human rights organisations and others have been very concerned about human rights abuses in northern Rakhine State.

The UN special rapporteur had been in Rakhine State only a few days before our delegation visited. She has since given her statement to the HRC. In that she talked about some of the testimony that she received while visiting northern Rakhine State. She said that she visited Cox's Bazar, where she met about 140 people from several villages in the north of Rakhine and heard from them 'harrowing account after harrowing account'. She said, in her official statement:

I heard allegation after allegation of horrific events like these—slitting of throats, indiscriminate shootings, setting alight houses with people tied up inside and throwing very young children into the fire, as well as gang rapes and other sexual violence. Even men, young and old, broke down and cried in front of me telling me about what they went through and their losses.

In that same statement, she called for a commission of inquiry to investigate the systemic, structural and institutional discrimination in policy, law and practice as well as longstanding persecution against Muslims in Rakhine State.

I am aware that the Human Rights Council is considering what action should be taken in relation to these issues. Labor is deeply concerned at the reports of human rights abuses in Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine State, and our party condemns all violence, discrimination and abuses of civil liberties. The government of Myanmar must do everything in its power to protect all its citizens, including persecuted minorities in Rakhine State. We welcome the government of Myanmar's commitment to pursue peace and national reconciliation and we offer our full support for efforts to achieve sustained peace and genuine reconciliation.

That is why Labor calls on all parties to engage in a process that is transparent, open and independent. It is essential that this process is supported by consensus with the government of Myanmar. We call on the Australian government to speak out on human rights in Myanmar and to clarify and explain our government's position on the draft resolution in the UN Human Rights Council which is aimed at giving effect to the special rapporteur's recommendation for a commission of inquiry. The government should also do what it can within the international community to see that full and unhindered humanitarian access to northern Rakhine State is restored.

The delegation was a bipartisan one, and this motion today is also a bipartisan motion. It is to be seconded by the member for North Sydney, who is here. The people who were on the delegation, those of us who came from the Australian parliament and those who were there with Save the Children, had the benefit of seeing firsthand some of the conditions that people were facing. When we visited Rakhine State, as I said, we visited an IDP camp and spoke with people who had been without freedom of movement since 2012. Probably the most important thing that we saw was the efforts to increase and improve access to education and quality of education, not just for persecuted minorities but also for ethnic groups across Myanmar. The Rakhine ethnic group residents of Sittwe and the local village that we visited also have very, very significant obstacles in their way in seeking to get an education, particularly an education greater than a primary school education. It is important to note the use that Australian aid money has been put towards in assisting educational opportunities for everyone in Myanmar. (Time expired)

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