On Monday evening, the lower house of Federal Parliament debated a motion moved by Gai Brodtmann and Mike Kelly recognising the use of, and calling for the investigation and prosecution of sexual violence perpetrated by Australians fighting with violent extremist organisations in Syria and Iraq. The debate lasted 30 minutes and was conducted in the Federation Chamber.
The motion did not reference the fact that the sexual violence perpetrated against the Yazidis was constitutent of genocide, which was very disappointing to the Yazidi community. The discussion, however, covered this topic as well as LGBTQI, ethnic minority and other religious minority experiences of this violence. Speakers drew on rule of law arguments, justice, leadership, good governance, and feminist concepts in their contributions.
Ms Gai Brodtmann, Member for Canberra, read excerpts from the doctrine on the use use of sex slaves and noted that as Australia improves justice for victims of sexual violence at home, we must also provide justice for our victims abroad. Mr Julian Leeser, Member for Berowra in NSW, noted that in 2015 one in three deaths that occurred in armed conflict, occurred in Syria. He took the opportunity to highlight the persecution of a range of ethnic and religious minorities in the region and noted that sexual violence was being experienced by men and boys as well as women and girls. Ms Sharon Claydon, Member for Newcastle in NSW, noted that the motion bought the issue to light. She highlighted the persecution of LGBTQI people and said, “we should recommit ourselves to taking action. It seems to me that we are very clear: this is a war crime and this is a crime against humanity. We have domestic laws that would assist us to recognise those crimes, yet, as the member for Canberra made clear, not a single prosecution. So that is a very poor report card for us to reflect on.”
Mr Jason Falinski, Member for Mackellar in NSW, spoke incredibly eloquently, outlining the legal definitions and facts of the situation for women and girls in Syria and Iraq. He detailed the infrastructure and practice of trafficking in sex slaves, and the persecution faced by women from a range of ethnic and religious groups. He went on to discuss military contributions to the fight against ISIL but closed by saying “military tactics alone will not be enough… actions have consequences, and fighters from whichever country they hail from who have chosen to support this group of barbarians will be judged for their atrocities. Anyone fighting with, providing material support to or associating with ISIL or other terrorist groups is committing a serious crime and will be subject to the law.”
Dr Mike Kelly, Member for Eden-Monaro in NSW, connected his remarks to his operational experience in the Bosnia, where rape was used in ethnic cleansing, and we subsequently saw the first prosecutions of sexual violence as war crimes. He described in grizzly detail, “we’re talking about ISIS actually having gynaecologists on service to examine women and children to determine whether they were virgins but also if they were pregnant. If they were, they were then subjected to forced abortions being performed on them, in what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Senator John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, determined were crimes of genocide because of the intent that the ISIS forces had at that time to eliminate the entire culture and people of the Yazidi community.”
Mr Andrew Wallace, Member for Fisher in QLD, was the only speaker whose comments were disappointing. While he noted that “we’ve all been sickened by the stories of the kidnap, trafficking and sale of women and girls as sex slaves by ISIS. Seeing the courageous survivors tell their stories, it’s sickening to see such appalling mental and physical torture. We must seek to find and punish the perpetrators, and we must do all we can for the victims.” He went on to support the revocation of citizenship of Australians who have perpetrated these crimes, supported the ‘kill them on the battlefield’ approach and seemed to think the government was already doing enough to investigate and prosecute these crimes.
The full transcript of the debate is available for download here, or on the Parliament House website.