Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (20:30): I want to commend the member for Fisher for those words. Much is made of the level of debate and dispute in this place. However, despite this many of us would not hesitate to agree vigorously that we would prefer vigorous debate with words and ideas. We welcome the fact that the sharpest thing to inject itself into our deliberations might be a smart reference to the standing orders as opposed to the wrong end of a gun barrel.
In recognising this exercise in democratic freedom—the freedom to express ourselves and to exist free from violence—an important choice sits in the background: do we savour this without commenting on matters beyond our borders, believing we should stay silent on issues that do not directly affect us? Or do we recognise that, to benefit from living in this society in the way that we do, from time to time we must also put a spotlight on the suffering and terrible experiences of others?
In my short time in this place I have sought actively to represent Chifley constituents on matters that affect us locally or nationally. Simultaneously, I have recognised the solemn duty that this parliament has to give voice to concerns about the inability of others to live their lives free from mistreatment, persecution and violence. It is why I wished so strongly to speak on the treatment of civilians affected through the terrible civil war in Sri Lanka. It is why I expressed my deep concerns about the persecution of Egypt’s Coptic community, speaking up in here and in rallies to show my support to that community. It is why I did not hesitate to condemn the violence visited 10 years ago upon the citizens of the United States on that most awful event, September 11. And it is why I cannot, in all conscience, remain silent on the travesty that occurred over five days back in July 1995 in the town of Srebrenica.
The rounding up and massacre over those five days of between 7,000 and 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys stands as Europe’s worst atrocity since World War II. It occurred within a broader conflict that took place in the Balkans in the early nineties, and it exacted a horrendous toll. Estimates on the impact of this conflict vary. It is believed that from April 1992 to December 1995 the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina saw between 100,000 and 200,000 people lose their lives, and resulted in the displacement of between 1.3 and 2 million people. With many in Europe praying that the close of World War II would see the end to such terrible ethnic conflict on that continent, the war in the Balkans came as a bloody shock.
It came as a shock no more so than to the people of the former Yugoslavia itself, which had prided itself on being a multi-ethnic country, made up harmoniously of different religions and cultural traditions. As I said some time ago in this place, friends cared little if you called yourself Croat, Serb or Bosnian—it just mattered that you were friends. As people painfully know war always scars, and the events that occurred in Srebrenica cut deeply.
But what occurred there galvanized the international community to act. One measure the international community took was to indict those considered responsible for this brutality. In 1995, the Army of Republika Srpksa’s General Ratko Mladic was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. As the most senior military representative with command responsibility, he was accused of being ultimately responsible for the Srebrenica massacre.
The ICTY indictment against General Mladic accused him of genocide in nine other municipalities in addition to Srebrenica. Additionally, in February 2007 the International Court of Justice ruled on a case concerning the application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Direct references to the judgment form the backbone of the resolution brought to the chamber by the member for Melbourne Ports, who I thank for doing this. The references can be traced to paragraphs 288, 290, 292 and 297 of the judgment.
This has not been the first time since the events of 1995 that parliaments have sought to remember what took place in Srebrenica. In 2005, the US House of Representatives carried House Resolution 199 that resolved, among other things, that the thousands of people executed in Srebrenica ‘should be solemnly remembered and honoured’. I understand that resolution was passed by a margin of 434 votes in favour, with one vote in opposition. Nearly four years later the European Parliament passed a lengthy resolution that called for 11 July to be recognised as a day of commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide, stating that it :
… is an important step towards peace and stability in the region.