Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

International Day of Support for Torture Victims

This evening I want to talk about an event that was held in Brisbane on 25 June for Amnesty International-an organisation which many people in this chamber know and respect. The event was the Amnesty International candle display. Over 11,809 candles were lit to spell out the 'stop torture' theme and that well-known and quite beloved image of the Amnesty International candle with the wire twisted around it. That effort will be lodged with the Guinness Book of Records and, if accredited, will be recognised as the world's largest image created by candles . And I do know the exact number of candles, because I was one of the people who had to go around and count them all. So I can actually say in this place that 11,809 candles were lit, set up on the wonderful Seventeen Mile Rocks gardens area in Brisbane and were able to burn brightly in the sunset in Brisbane to commemorate such an important issue. People would understand that the accreditation process for the Guinness Book of Records is a very lengthy one, involving statements from a range of people-and we are still waiting and hoping to have that effort acknowledged.

The event was devised and coordinated by my friend Dave Copeman, who is the community campaigner for Amnesty in Queensland and northern New South Wales. This was a project that was dear to his heart. He is an enthusiast and he loves planning things. His own experience working for several months in Zimbabwe brought him very close to the issues of torture and imprisonment without trial and he knew that we as an international community must band together to bring these issues to the world's knowledge so that we can stop this kind of activity. It takes a very detailed effort to put together one of these outdoor events. The actual image was designed by a Hervey Bay artist, Jorge Pujol-a wonderful, enthusiastic man who had detailed planning that allowed the whole process to work very well. Over 200 people were involved in the day's event. We had a contingent of 50 people who came down from Hervey Bay, several hours away, and a number of volunteers-people from the local community and church groups and people who were out spending their afternoon at the beautiful Seventeen Mile Rocks establishment and just got caught up in the excitement and came along to see what was happening. The very first candle for the evening was lit by Terry Hicks, the father of David Hicks. He was able to talk with all of us about his feelings as a parent who is separated from his child and whose child is, we believe, a possible victim of torture. The event on 25 June was held to commemorate the United Nations International Day of Support for Victims of Torture. In 1998, while proclaiming this day into the international calendar, Kofi Annan said:

This is a day on which we pay our respects to
those who have endured the unimaginable. This is
an occasion for the world to speak up against the
unspeakable. It is long overdue that a day be
dedicated to remembering and supporting the
many victims and survivors of torture around the world.

The UN declares its concern about torture as follows:

Torture is one of the most profound human rights abuses, taking a terrible toll on millions of individuals and their families. As terrible as the physical wounds are, the psychological and emotional scars are usually the most devastating and the most difficult to repair. Many torture survivors suffer recurring nightmares and flashbacks. They withdraw from family, school and work and feel a loss of trust.

The event-our activity in Brisbane-was part of Amnesty International's campaign entitled 'Stop torture and ill-treatment in the "war on terror"-Cruel. Inhuman. Degrades us all.' This campaign is being run across the world and is focused on upholding the principle in the UN Declaration on Human Rights that 'No-one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment'. Amnesty is deeply concerned that this principle is being undermined across our world and that a number of nations proclaiming to be doing the right thing are in fact doing exactly the wrong thing to their citizens. We talked about this while we were putting the candles out. The processes involved the physical activity of working with the community to put together something that would last for a period of hours, but we were learning as we were doing it, and I think this is one of the real strengths of the Amnesty process: it is not just talk; it is community building and learning. Through our process we are trying to make sure that the public face is out there so that no longer are these acts of horror hidden away. We are trying to make sure that people who suffer these acts of horror can have the support and strength to bring their stories to us all to ensure that somehow we can work with our governments and international governments to ensure that we know across the world that these actions are wrong. Amnesty has a strong reputation across the world, and we have our Amnesty group here in parliament. We encourage people to look at the web to find out how Amnesty puts a face on these stories, which it does so well. When you go to the web you can find out more about people and their experiences and work individually and as a community to address this situation and somehow make change. Our event, the 11,809 candles that formed this national display, was a real success in planning and gained impressive media attention in Brisbane and across Queensland. Some of us were able to share in the experience down here last year outside parliament, where a similar activity was formed. We lit the Amnesty candles in the area between Old Parliament House and new Parliament House and stood there together to see the candles burn. We later saw the wonderful photographic images of that activity which were taken from above, and those memories and images still live on. With those images comes the message that torture is wrong, that it still exists across the world and that torture often happens in the dark. But we can work to address it. The lighting of the candles-the bringing of light-the standing together and the seeing of that brings light to these issues. That is why groups like Amnesty must continue to exist. That is why all of us can have a role to play, and that is why we continue with the message that these things must stop.

05 September, 2006