Mr Chris Hayes MP, Federal Member for the NSW seat of Fowler and Chief Opposition Whip spoke in the Federal Parliament, Canberra on the deteriorating human rights situation facing the Uyghur Muslims in China on Monday 17 September 2018.

He called on the Australian government to increase the pressure on China over the reported mass detentions of the Uyghur Muslims and  use its position on the UN Human Rights Council, in coordination with other members, to continue to put pressure on the Chinese government.

He urged the Australian government to ensure that the Uyghur communities here in Australia have every assistance possible to ensure that they are able to contact their family members and friends in their homeland.

“We cannot simply take the role of bystanders in the hope of change. Australia must have the courage of its convictions when it comes to human rights,” he said.

The following is the transcript of his full speech.

‘I feel hopeless. We are seeking a peaceful life but our life is not in peace… All night I have to fight with my nightmares, as if I am living in those camps. And worse, I know the world doesn’t care.’ This is a statement made by one of my constituents, Zulfia Erk, who is a social worker and mother of three and who is very prominent in our community. We are fortunate to have Zulfia and her husband here with us today in the gallery, and I take the opportunity to thank them for their tireless advocacy on behalf of Australian Uyghur communities. Zulfia puts in perspective the dire human rights situation faced by the Turkic Muslims, the Uyghurs, in China’s north-western region. Zulfia Erk has been a passionate advocate for the Uyghur community, having personally been affected by the human rights situation in China given the fact that five of her brothers are in detention camps in Xinjiang presently.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch highlights the gravity of the situation, providing evidence of China’s arbitrary detention and mistreatment of the Uyghur people. Through the region, the Turkic Muslims, a population of 13 million people, are subjected to restrictions on movement, mass surveillance and significant limitations on their religious freedoms, all in violation of the universally accepted principles of human rights. In describing the large-scale crackdown on human rights in this region, Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, says that the Chinese government is committing human rights abuses in Xinjiang on a scale unseen in the country for many decades.

In a recent review, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination cited estimates that up to one million people are currently being held in re-education camps in Xinjiang alone. The conditions in these camps are rife with torture and solitary confinement, and deprivation of food and sustenance is widespread. The gravity of the conditions is highlighted in a number of interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch with former Xinjiang inmates. Rustam, a former detainee who spent months in a re-education camp, says:

Nobody can move because they watch you through the video cameras … we were watched, even in the toilet. In political education camp we were always under stress.

The detainees in these political education camps are being held without any rights to due process. People are reportedly being detained for simply having family and friends abroad, asking the authorities for the issue of a passport or simply making plans to go overseas.

Unlike the United States, China remains a permanent member of the United Nations Human Rights Council and, as such, clearly has a responsibility for the promotion of human rights globally. We support an economically strong and prosperous China, and we think it is an important role that China has to play internationally in promoting peace and the recognition of human rights. In saying this, I emphasise that our support for this motion is purely based on the grounds of human rights, as Labor is deeply concerned about the human rights situation faced by the Uyghur people. We do not support any separatist agenda, and we remain fully committed to our one-China policy. Nevertheless, China is one of Australia’s longstanding and close friends, and our dialogue with it should not simply be confined to trade, economics and regional security. We should be open to discussing with it all matters associated with our respective human rights obligations.

On this note, I call on the Australian government to increase the pressure on China over the reported mass detentions of the Uyghur Muslims. The Australian government should use its position on the UN Human Rights Council, in coordination with other members, to continue to put pressure on the Chinese government. I also call on the Australian government to ensure that the Uyghur communities here in Australia have every assistance possible to ensure that they are able to contact their family members and friends in their homeland. We cannot simply take the role of bystanders in the hope of change. Australia must have the courage of its convictions when it comes to human rights.