Speakers from major human rights organisations highlighted the human rights violation of refugees, minority communities and opposition groups in Syria, Kashmir, Myanmar, Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Vietnam and Philippines during the Fowler Human Rights Forum at the Mounties Club on Tuesday  19 November.

More than 150 people attended a recent Human Rights Forum hosted by Fowler MP, Chris Hayes where representatives from Oxfam, Amnesty International and Save the Children were the guest speakers who provided an on the ground update on various human rights issues occurring around the world.

Members of the Cambodian, Uyghur, Vietnamese, Bangladesh and Kurdish communities made up a large part of the listeners while some representatives asked questions and gave comments concerning atrocities being committed in their home communities while they enjoyed the freedoms in Australia.

Mr Chris Hayes MP, Federal Member for Fowler and Chief Opposition Whip gave an overview of the situation while thanking members of the community who had made representations to him with their concern of human rights violation in various countries.

Mr Hayes highlighted the condition of more than one million Uyghurs jailed under inhuman conditions in China and criticised people who were reluctant to criticise China because it was Australia’s trading partner.

Mr Wayne Gum, Australia’s East Asia Regional Manager at Oxfam talked about the mismanagement of Mekong river including the building of dams along the river in several countries that was impacting on the lifestyle of a number of minority communities and the poor.

Mr Joel Clark, Strategic Campaigner at Amnesty International while acknowledging the poor record on human rights of indigenous communities in Australia talked about the plight of 740,000 Rohingyas made to leave their homeland and suffering in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

He said the condition of Rohingya refugees specially women and children in Bangladesh was alarming with restrictions on movement, work, education and simply freedom to live.

On a question from AMUST regarding the lockdown of the indigenous people of Kashmir for the last 4 months, Mr Clark said that indeed it was a very serious situation of mass human rights violation and because of prohibition of entry into the lockdown valley, no one knows what the situation on the ground was with no visitors allowed, no news, no images.

He said that the night before on Monday 18 November Amnesty Office in New Delhi was raided and closed down with the arrest and detention of its head presumable because Amnesty was one of the major human rights organisation raising awareness of the plight of Kashmiris.

Mr Simon Henderson, Head of Policy at Save the Children Australia talked about the plight of refugees in Syria specially the wives and children of Australians who joined ISIS. He praised the heroic efforts of Kemal Dabbousy, whose daughter and grandchildren are stranded in the refugee camps under inhuman conditions, for his advocacy to bring them back to Australia.

During the Q&A session a number of participants praised the initiative of Mr Hayes to hold such forums with the following comments:

  • “It was great to see such a large cross section of the community come together to share their stories, to ask questions, and interact with other community groups.”
  • “It is disturbing to hear that in this day and age, such atrocities are still occurring, and they are impacting many members of our community.”
  • “It is their families and friends who are suffering and we as a community cannot turn a blind eye to their plights.”
  • “As an active member of the international community, we have a moral, if not legal responsibility, to do all that we can to encourage countries in our region to adhere to their human rights obligations.”

Mr Hayes finally concluded the session saying, “Silence is not an option when the rule of law is being undermined, because the first casualty is always human rights.”