Standing up for Canberra

Australia must play its part in prosecuting war crimes

I second the motion. I thank the member for Dunkley for bringing attention to this very important issue. Last September I brought forward a similar private members' motion and I spoke strongly against the use of sexual violence in conflict and the need for the perpetrators of such violence and evil to be held to account.

I am a strong supporter of UN resolution 1325 and the subsequent women, peace and security resolutions that have followed in recent years. I recently spoke at an event run by the Gender Institute and Centre for Military and Security Law for the 'Prosecute; don't perpetrate' campaign. I welcome the architect of the 'Prosecute; don't perpetrate' campaign, Susan Hutchinson, who is in the chamber with us today as we speak about this important issue that she has a very committed view on. She's been a strong advocate on this issue for many years.

The 'Prosecute; don't perpetrate' campaign calls on governments to investigate and prosecute the sexual violence perpetrated by their own nationals who fought with Daesh in Syria and Iraq. Members of Daesh have committed sexual violence, war crimes and crimes against humanity, and these crimes are classified as such because sexual violence, as perpetrated against the Yazidis, is with the intent to destroy in whole or in part the Yazidi community—in other words, genocide.

At the 'Prosecute; don't perpetrate' event last year we were joined by Shireen and her friends and family who have recently settled in Australia as refugees from northern Iraq. Shireen's family are from a village called Kocho, where Daesh undertook a sweeping campaign, killing thousands of Yazidis in August 2014. They kidnapped hundreds of women and girls, who were sold into sexual slavery, and buried the dead in mass graves. Shireen told her family's story in this very building as part of the official celebrations of World Refugee Day last year. She told how she'd been lucky to escape Kocho before Daesh came but how some of her family, including her sister, her sister's husband and their children were captured or killed.

From the back row of the event at the ANU I spoke at last year Shireen and her friends and family—and there were many of them—were weeping not only for the pain of hearing about the part some Australians played in the suffering of their community and from the ongoing trauma of missing loved ones but for the call to action that was very strong in that room, for their desire for recognition and for justice for what they experienced.

Last year I passed that motion calling for the investigation and prosecution of Australians who perpetrated sexual violence as war crimes and crimes against humanity while fighting with terrorist groups like Daesh in Syria and Iraq. And today we pass this motion. We speak on this motion which condemns the genocide perpetrated against the Yazidi people by Daesh and calls for continued support to investigate Australians who have allegedly perpetrated war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, including through the use of sexual violence; to prosecute them as appropriate; and to support international efforts to gather evidence, investigate and prosecute those responsible for international crimes perpetrated by Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

The 2016 UN independent commission of inquiry on Syria recorded the gruesome details of crimes against the Yazidis. We know that women and girls have suffered terribly throughout the genocide and that survivors, including those now living in Australia, continue to grieve over their lost relatives and suffer flashbacks from their own torture. Australia has criminalised sexual violence, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, but the last time an Australian court heard a case of war crimes was in 1951. That's a long time ago.

This parliament has updated Australia's legislation on war crimes to ensure that it applies to members of organisations such as Daesh. When we ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, we took on the responsibility of investigating war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and prosecuting them in our own courts. Now is the time to take up that responsibility. We must gather the legal testimony of victims and witnesses to this genocide committed by Daesh including their heinous use of sexual violence against the Yazidis who now call Australia home. We must include such evidence in investigations conducted by Australian authorities and share it with the international investigative mechanisms established in Syria and Iraq. I hope this motion acts as the next step towards Australia pursuing victims of Daesh's heinous crimes.