Human Rights in the Middle East and Tibet

"From Gaza to Ukraine to Tibet, we should ensure that we do not become hard of heart and we continue to advocate for peace and freedom for all our brothers and sisters."

Address to the House of Representatives, Adjournment - Middle East, Tibet

Thursday 21 March 2024

We are on the cusp of Holy Week for thousands of Christians across Canberra. Last week, thousands of people across Canberra marked the beginning of Ramadan, a month in which Muslims put themselves in the position of those who are going without, fasting from sunrise to sunset.

However, Ramadan this year is different for many in my community. It's a much more solemn month, overshadowed by one of the largest humanitarian crises of the 21st century.

The level of destruction that we are seeing in the occupied territories is devastating, and 1.7 million people in Gaza have been displaced. The death toll now sits at more than 31,000; more than 12,000 of those are children. Children are dying of malnutrition. This is unacceptable. More children have been killed in Gaza in the last five months than in all conflicts worldwide in the past four years. Gaza has now become the most dangerous place in the world if you are a child, according to UNICEF.

More humanitarian aid must be let in. There are tonnes of supplies sitting at crossings, being denied access by the Israeli government. There must be an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, with the release of the remaining hostages. And there must be an enduring two-state solution. This is the bare minimum needed to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people.

The Canberra region has a small, big-hearted, Tibetan refugee community, many of whom have taken the path to citizenship. Many were here earlier this week with members of the Uighur diaspora, protesting for what should be universal human rights. Many Tibetans who've come to Australia have been arrested for their activities in Tibet within Chinese borders. They've shared with me ongoing human rights concerns in Tibet and the challenges of speaking out, being afraid to communicate with family still there and the fear that any contact might generate unwanted attention on that family member. They've shared their commitment to trying to increase the freedoms that their families in Tibet experience.

Last week I was part of a multiparty delegation to meet with the Tibetan central administration in Dharamshala in northern India, arranged by the Tibet Information Office and the Australia Tibet Council. The parliamentary group for Tibet included Senator Dean Smith, Senator Deborah O'Neill and Michael McCormack MP. Our purpose was to meet with members of the Central Tibetan Administration, including the Sikyong, ministers of his government and members of the democratically-elected government of the diaspora, and to recognise the 65th anniversary of the 1959 uprising in Tibet. We had the extraordinary privilege of meeting with the Dalai Lama for nearly an hour. Receiving his guidance on how we approach our responsibilities and lead in a fractured world was particularly special. We also got a better insight into why the human rights concerns of Tibetans should concern us all.

We met with younger members of the diaspora who'd made the courageous decision to leave Tibet, their families and home in search of freedom. We heard their concerns for fellow Tibetans in China, particularly around basic freedoms to practice religion, to be active in community and to speak in language. We heard about the removal of about a million Tibetan children from families into boarding schools, and about being subject to constant surveillance. There are practices taking place that run contrary to the human right to education, the right to linguistic and cultural freedom and the right to freedom of religion or belief.

There was also deep concern expressed about the environmental damage being done to the roof of the world. Tibet has the largest alpine ecosystem in the world, with 14 of the highest mountain peaks providing fresh water to more than 10 river systems. Only recently, there have been reports of more than a thousand Tibetans being arrested for protesting over significant environmental concerns.

What was very clear, though, was that the words of support from the Australian government and the commitment to raise human rights concerns are very much appreciated by Tibetans living in exile. It's important for independent human rights observers to be allowed back into Tibet. What was also clear was that, despite the loss suffered by millions of Tibetans since 1959, they are a people committed to dialogue and to nonviolence—to a warm-heartedness and compassion for all humankind. I will continue to advocate for the rights of Tibetans whose educational, religious, cultural and linguistic freedoms have been eroded. I also look forward to continuing to work with my local Tibetan community.

From Gaza to Ukraine to Tibet, we should ensure that we do not become hard of heart and we continue to advocate for peace and freedom for all our brothers and sisters.