Testifying to parliamentary committee

Opening statement

I want to begin my opening remarks today with a few words about a quote taken from the Allegiance to Australia Act, which states its purpose was to enact “a common bond, involving reciprocal rights and obligations”

As far as I can tell, this notion of reciprocal rights and obligations harks back as far as the 17th century and John Locke’s liberal ideas of the social contract. But even that revered English philosopher believed that citizens only gave up their individual rights in order for the government to enact law and order.

Yes, Australian citizens have an obligation to behave within the law. But in preparing this Bill, there has been insufficient consideration of the government’s obligation to enforce our own laws when Australian citizens have travelled to Syria and fought with extremist groups like ISIS.

The specific laws I speak of are those found in Chapter 8 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code – offenses against humanity. Division 268 includes genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The penalty for which is life imprisonment. Division 270 includes slavery and sexual servitude. The penalties for which range from 15 to 25 years imprisonment.

Wartime rape is too often something horrible that occurs somewhere else: in another country, by people from another country, against people from another country. But we have this unique moment in time to stand up and help end impunity for conflict related sexual violence.

ISIS, and its members, perpetrated sexual violence as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. In Australia, we have the laws criminalising these acts and we know that over 200 of our own citizens travelled there, many of whom have broken these very laws.

I have worked with members from all parties in both houses of this parliament who passed motions recognising these crimes and calling for the investigation and prosecution of Australians who perpetrated these offences. Myriad Ministers have said we will investigate and prosecute. But revoking the citizenship of foreign fighters poses a significant barrier to criminal prosecution.

You have heard from others about issues of effectiveness. I could also testify to this issue. But I hope to also answer your questions today about how the citizenship revocation provisions contradict our international obligations to investigate and prosecute foreign fighters who perpetrated war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, including through the use of sexual violence.

This is fundamental to justice for Yazidis and other persecuted minorities, to the rules based global order, to gender justice and to international peace and security. It meets our obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the Genocide Convention and a whole range of resolutions passed by the Security Council. It would even align with our forthcoming whole of government, National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

But it would also keep violent offenders in prison. So many others have been concerned only about prosecuting them for terrorism offences, when in fact, there is a whole other Chapter of the Criminal Code open to law enforcement that is so far not being used.



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