Legislative Council: Wednesday, March 22, 2023


Human Rights Violations

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS (16:29): I move:

That this council—

1. Notes:

(a) the widespread human rights violations perpetrated against the Uyghur people by the government of China in East Turkistan and across China, including arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, physical and psychological abuse, and forced sterilisation;

(b) the use of internment camps to repress the cultural and religious identity of ethnic minorities, such as the Turkic Muslims, by the government of China; and

(c) the use of 'idle labour transfer programs' to facilitate forced labour in factories, which may constitute a part of the supply chain of products exported from China by countries around the world and particularly into Australia.

2. Acknowledges that:

(a) slavery-like practices cannot be supported by the South Australian government, including through the procurement of products or services from places, businesses or organisations that are known to adopt slavery-like practices;

(b) certain groups, such as migrants and refugees, are more vulnerable to becoming victims of forced labour;

(c) the International Labour Organization reports an estimated 49.6 million people are living in slavery globally, and that 27.6 million of that number are exploited through forced labour;

(d) forced labour and slavery-like practices occur in every region, including within Australia; and

(e) the International Labor Organization's Forced Labour Convention of 1930 imposes the obligation to suppress all forms of forced labour.

3. Calls on the state government to:

(a) institute procedures and processes, including introducing legislation if necessary, to ensure that places, businesses or organisations that are known to adopt slavery-like practices are precluded from tendering for state government contracts; and

(b) provide support to Uyghur communities in South Australia who are experiencing the trauma and distress of their relatives and friends suffering overseas.

4. Calls on the federal government to:

(a) implement an information campaign which actively promotes due diligence in procurement processes, products and services to decrease reliance by businesses on products created by forced labour to ensure accountability;

(b) produce and adopt program strategies aimed at providing advice and support to newly arrived migrants and refugees about their rights; and

(c) continue dialogue with the government of China to address the human rights violations being perpetrated against the Uyghur people.

Xinjiang province in north-west China is a region of enormous strategic significance. It borders India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kurdistan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, or what the form of Prime Minister—I have forgotten the name of the former Prime Minister—

An honourable member: Scott Morrison.

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS: No—Paul Keating referred to as the 'stan' countries. It serves as a gateway to the Middle East and beyond that to Europe. It is also home to the Uyghur people, a distinct ethnic group with their own language, religious practices, culture and history. Official estimates and the 2010 census places the Uyghur population as 45 per cent of the total population in Xinjiang.

Some groups refer to the area of Xinjiang as East Turkistan, and attempts at gaining independence were made at various points in the early 20th century. The region was formally consolidated under the control and oversight of the Chinese government after the Chinese Communist Party victory in 1949. Though tensions remained high in the region through the second half of the 20th century, there has been a dramatic escalation in repressive policies against the Uyghur population since 2017.

In 2017, reports began to emerge of the confiscation of people's passports, the destruction of mosques and invasive and extreme state surveillance measures. This included the installation of facial recognition technology and CCTV footage, an increase in police presence, the compulsory collection of biometric data and the creation of security checkpoint and visitor management systems.

Most alarmingly, reports emerged of the arbitrary detention of Uyghur people in internment camps. These facilities were first referred to by the government as vocational skills, education and training centres. These camp facilities are heavily guarded, surrounded by perimeter walls, watchtowers and armed guards. They are observable to researchers and journalists often only through satellite imagery. The ABC, BBC, Reuters and other media and humanitarian organisations have produced reports tracking the rapid growth of these camp facilities in the region.

Many of the people detained are held without trial and without being charged with any crime. Justifications given for detention include flimsy reasons such as observance of religious practices or overseas travel and connections. Official offences are vague, with people arrested for reasons such as inciting ethnic hatred, provoking trouble or listening to content deemed to be extremist.

The accounts of people who have been released from these camps are harrowing. They are prohibited from speaking their language and are subject to a program of political re-education. Numerous deaths in detention or shortly after release from custody have been reported. Human Rights Watch and other humanitarian organisations, including Uyghur advocacy groups, have reported the following offences in the internment camps: the use of physical torture, shackling and sleep deprivation, lack of medical care, overcrowding, sexual violence, forced sterilisation, forced labour.

People in Xinjiang represent 1.5 per cent of the total population. In 2017, according to official statistics, arrests in Xinjiang represented 21 per cent of the total arrests in all of China. The total number detained is unknown, though Human Rights Watch reports the number as being anywhere between several hundred thousand and one million.

Last year, it was my honour to host the delegates from the World Uyghur Congress in Parliament House. I welcomed, as my co-hosts, Ramila Chanisheff and Halimah Valiyff of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women's Association. In attendance were two Uyghur survivors of the so-called education camps. They shared their stories with us via a translator. The details of their experiences were shocking and harrowing. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Kelbinur Sidk and Omer Bekali for their bravery and strength in speaking to us and bringing these difficult truths to life.

The government of China claims that these measures are necessary to curb terrorism and religious extremism, alleviate poverty and stabilise the area. There is nothing that could possibly justify the human rights abuses alleged to have taken place in these internment camps. The actions of the government indicate that this is nothing less than an attempt to erode and potentially destroy the unique identity and culture of the Uyghur people.

Almost no member of the international Uyghur diaspora is without a missing relative or loved one. This is particularly pertinent to us in South Australia. Many may not know that we are the home to the biggest Uyghur population in Australia. The pain and suffering of their community is immense. We must support them however we can. There is no other way in which this issue is far closer to home than we might automatically assume, that is, through the supply chain of goods and products that find their way into our homes, workplaces and lives.

The Xinjiang region produces a massive amount of cotton. Some estimates place it as high as 20 per cent of the world's supply. They also produce 45 per cent of the world's supply of solar-grade polysilicon, which is primarily a material used in 95 per cent of all solar panels and modules. These are only two of the major examples.

It has been alleged that Chinese authorities are engaging in forced labour programs in the form of idle labour transfer programs whereby ethnic minorities are placed in jobs in Xinjiang and other regions of China to drive economic growth. There has been evidence to indicate that after release from internment camps detainees may have been sent to perform forced labour under these programs. Amidst a backdrop of repression, internment and arbitrary imprisonment there is little room to resist involvement in these programs.

The tracking of the growth of the internment camps via satellite also reveals the emergence of factories attached to or near to the camp facilities which may be used in forced labour. The International Labour Organization's Forced Labour Convention dates back to 1930 and imposes on those who have ratified it the obligation to suppress all forms of forced labour. Australia was one of those first signatories. It would only be a matter of years before the horrors of the Second World War highlighted the necessity for nations to adopt and abide by the provisions of such instruments.

Nearly 100 years later, it is just as necessary. Slavery-like practices should not and cannot be supported by any Australian government, either state or federal. That includes through the procurement of products or services from places, businesses or organisations that are known to adopt slavery-like practices such as forced labour. Where we cannot do more for those separated from their loved ones or those detained, we must at least ensure that we are not the beneficiaries of their pain and suffering.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. N.J. Centofanti.