Mr Chris Hayes MP, Federal Member for the seat of Fowler in NSW and Chief Opposition Whip drew the attention of Australian Federal Parliamentarians towards the plight of Rohingyas on Monday 21 May 2018.

During his speech he described in detail the deteriorating human rights situation in  Myanmar and in particular of Rohingya in the Rakhine State and the terrible situation of hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled to Bangladesh as a result of atrocities being committed against them.

He called on the Australian Government to consider providing additional humanitarian assistance in response to the Rohingya crisis, particularly to assist Bangladesh in responding to the unprecedented levels of Rohingya refugees that have moved across its border.

The following is the text of his full speech. 

Mr Chris Hayes.

Chris Hayes MP – Private Members’ Business Myanmar: Rakhine State 21 May 2018

That this House:

(1) recognises the deteriorating humanitarian crisis that has ensued between the Myanmar security forces in Rakhine State and Rohingya Muslims, since 25 August 2017;

(2) notes with grave concern, evidence from Human Rights Watch of a series of brutal crackdowns carried out by security forces against ethnic Rohingya Muslims, including:
(a) extrajudicial killing;
(b) the torture and suffering of Rohingya women, men and children;
(c) the forced displacement of more than 600,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh;
(d) the destruction, arson and takeover of more than 300 villages by the Myanmar military; and
(e) endemic rape and sexual violence;

(3) further notes:
(a) that Myanmar was home to an estimated 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims;
(b) the long history and persecution of the Rohingya population, including the denial of citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Law and the denial of most basic government services;
(c) the poor living conditions and widespread inequality facing Rohingya Muslims isolated in Rakhine State and those now living in Bangladesh, including limited access to food, water, shelter, medical treatment and humanitarian assistance; and
(d) that the United Nations and Human Rights Watch have described the situation in Rakhine State as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing;

(4) urges the government of Myanmar to:
(a) recommit to the pursuit of peace and national reconciliation;
(b) allow unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of Rakhine State; and
(c) unconditionally release the two Reuters reporters currently detained in Myanmar; and

(5) echoes the voices of the international community and calls on Australia to:
(a) consider providing additional humanitarian assistance in response to the Rohingya crisis, particularly to assist Bangladesh in responding to the unprecedented levels of Rohingya refugees that have moved across its border;
(b) ensure that the development assistance that Australia provides to Myanmar is appropriately targeted to those most in need, and does not risk contributing to the further suffering of minority groups in Myanmar such as the Rohingya;
(c) exert maximum pressure on the Myanmar authorities to allow independent examination of claims of human rights abuses in Rakhine State, and to hold those responsible for abuses to account; and
(d) continue condemnation of the human rights abuses against the Rohingya.

In moving this motion, so I seek to draw attention to the deteriorating humanitarian situation that has occurred in Rakhine State and principally at the hands of the Myanmar security forces. This has been occurring ever since August 2017.

The situation in Myanmar is not merely just violence, abuse or outright neglect but one of atrocities, a human rights crisis of catastrophic proportions that has resulted in the displacement now of over 600,000 Rohingya refugees into neighbouring Bangladesh. The situation has been described by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with Elaine Pearson, the director of Human Rights Watch, and Richard Weir, the Burma researcher for that organisation. They gave me a horrific account of the treatment that has been afforded to the Rohingya. Their account was most chilling. It was a graphic depiction of the worst of humanity: children being beaten to death, ruthless killings and rapes, all being perpetrated by members of the Myanmar security forces.

Based on the interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch and detailed satellite imagery, they have concluded that the military has destroyed, burned and taken over more than 300 villages. Clearly, there have been atrocities committed against the Rohingya, now including evidence of massacres.

It is important to note that discrimination of the Rohingya in Burma does have a long history. Now the government of Myanmar continues to deny the Rohingyas’ citizenship along with the provision of basic government services such as health and education. It is this abhorrent denial of basic human rights that has incrementally led to the treatment of the Rohingya more recently. This escalation is now much more than discrimination; it is a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Bangladesh is not a rich country by any means and is not well equipped to deal with such an influx of refugees given the limited resources and lack of appropriate infrastructure. This makes the Rohingya in Bangladesh completely reliant on humanitarian assistance for basic services. The risk is markedly higher at this time of year with the fast approaching monsoonal season.

I acknowledge the hard work of agencies such as Save the Children, UNICEF, Oxfam and many others who are working tirelessly to cater for the basic humanitarian needs of those refugees.

I’m also proud that Australia is playing a crucial part in progressing further diplomatic and humanitarian efforts in Myanmar. However, if we have learnt anything from the past, it must be that much more needs to be done.

The task before the Australian government and the United Nations is urgent and requires immediate attention. I call on the government to take a stronger stance with the Myanmar authorities. I call on the government to support the unimpeded humanitarian access to all parts of Rakhine State and refugee camps in Bangladesh.

We must work closely with our regional partners to ensure that the government of Myanmar commits to a peaceful resolution and a national reconciliation.

I understand that, given some of the cultural practices, the resettlement of the Rohingya refugees in countries such as Australia would not be without difficulty. This is why we should be placing stronger pressure on the authorities in Myanmar to change their behaviour and hold those responsible to account.

In saying this, I call on the government to consider suspending all military training in Myanmar, and to consider targeted sanctions on members of the military implicated in human rights abuses, as applied by other Commonwealth jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom and Canada.

Two decades ago the international community watched in horror as Rwanda was pulled apart by a brutal genocide. Collectively it said, ‘Never again.’ But today we are seeing these lessons unfold once again. We cannot merely be bystanders.

I ask the House to note the words of the social justice advocate and former South African Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, who said, ‘If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have just chosen the side of the oppressor.’