OPINION: Sri Lanka is not fit to host this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, writes Keith Locke.
The Government needs to explain why it is not supporting Canada’s campaign to have the November Commonwealth heads of government meeting (CHOGM) moved from Sri Lanka.
Canada has given three main reasons for shifting the summit.
First, Sri Lanka has avoided any accountability for the thousands of Tamil non- combatants who were killed, mainly by government shelling, near the end of the civil war in May 2009. Estimates of the deaths range from 10,000 to 40,000.
In March 2011, a United Nations panel of experts found serious violations of human rights law had been committed by both “the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), some of which would amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity”. It said “the conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity”. Since then the UN Human Rights Council has passed two critical resolutions, including one in March calling for a credible international inquiry into the allegations of war crimes.
The problem is the Sri Lankan Government won’t let independent investigators into the country.
Second, Canada argues that there have been no meaningful reconciliation moves by the Sri Lankan Government since the end of the war. The Sri Lankan military still holds sway in the Tamil north of the country, persecuting former supporters of the Tamil Tigers, and stopping life from getting back to normal.
All plans to devolve some powers to the northern Tamil region have been scrapped, despite a constitutional provision allowing for it.
Third, Canada has identified a growing authoritarian trend as the Rajapaksa government clamps down on dissent. The media has been a particular target, with several journalists killed, wounded or detained in recent years. In February a reporter for the Sunday Leader, Faraz Shaukatally, was shot and badly wounded. Last month, thugs believed to be backed by the military, raided the Jaffna office of the Tamil daily, Uthayan, and burnt its printing presses.
In January, judicial independence was dealt a severe blow with the impeachment of the Chief Justice, Shirani Bandaranayake. President Mahinda Rajapaksa ratified the dismissal despite rulings from the Supreme Court and the Appeal Court that the impeachment process was illegal.
Holding CHOGM in Colombo will make a mockery of the charter just developed by the Commonwealth and signed in March by the head of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth.
This charter commits Commonwealth leaders to democracy, human rights, tolerance, freedom of expression, good governance and the rule of law – none of which are respected by the Rajapaksa government.
To make matters worse, Sri Lanka’s president, as the CHOGM host, will become chair of the Commonwealth for the two years until the heads of state next meet.
So far Canada’s campaign to move CHOGM away from Sri Lanka has met with little success.
Britain’s Conservative government has been critical of Rajapaksa but won’t support changing the conference venue.
Australia has turned a blind eye to the continuing tragedy in Sri Lanka, apparently so it can justify returning Tamil boatpeople to their home country.
And what of New Zealand?
Our Government seems to be keeping as quiet as possible.
It is not as if the New Zealand Government is ignorant of the dire human rights issues in Sri Lanka. I was a member of Parliament’s foreign affairs, defence and trade select committee when, in 2009 and 2010, it was briefed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
We were told about difficult conditions in the internment camps for Tamils and the limitations on access by international aid organisations; the absence of a political reconciliation process; and the danger to democracy following the arrest of Rajapaksa’s opponent in the February 2010 election, General Sarath Fonseka.
Since then Rajapaksa has strengthened his grip on power, supported by his brother, Gotabhaya, who is defence secretary; another brother, Basil, who is economic development minister; and a fourth brother, Chamal, who is Speaker.
Amnesty International, in its latest report on April 30 said the “violent repression and the consolidation of political power go hand in hand” and “there is a real climate of fear in Sri Lanka, with those brave enough to speak out against the government often having to suffer badly for it”.
The reputation of both New Zealand and the Commonwealth is at stake here. New Zealand rightly challenges abuses of democracy in our region – such as in Fiji (which has been suspended from the Commonwealth). But we can be accused of a double standard if at the same time we allow the Commonwealth to be chaired for the next two years by a president who refuses any accountability for the deaths of so many innocent civilians in his country’s civil war and who is governing in an increasingly authoritarian manner.
To read some of my recent Daily Blog Posts go to: http://thedailyblog.co.nz/category/bloggers/keith-locke/
The blogs cover the GCSB controversy, the use of domestic drones, political censorship in NZ (on the dictates of the Chinese government) and the growing international support for the West Papuan cause.
I am including here the link to my first contribution to The Daily Blog, a new left political/cultural blog. Other regular contributors to the blog include Chris Trotter, Jane Kelsey, Matt McCarten, Laila Harre, John Minto, Martyn Bradbury, Sue Bradford, Wayne Butson, David Slack and Selwyn Manning. This Daily Blog contribution analyses the discriminatory Royal Succession Bill, now before Parliament.
Oped published in the New Zealand Herald on 18 December 2012
By Keith Locke
The Dotcom case is focusing more attention on the Government Communications Security Bureau and its association with the Five Eyes electronic spying network.
Chief High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann has asked the GCSB to name the entities (including foreign intelligence agencies) that were in receipt of some of the information the bureau had illegally gathered on Dotcom.
Hopefully, the judge will have more success in prising information out of the electronic spy agency than I had during my 12 years as a member of Parliament.
When I was an MP, even the most basic information was deemed too secret to disclose.
Back in 2006, I had no luck in getting then Prime Minister Helen Clark to even admit that New Zealand was a formal member of a five-nation electronic spying network. When I asked her direct parliamentary questions about our ties with UKUSA, the intelligence sharing treaty which underpins the Five Eyes network, she simply refused to answer.
This was a bit silly, because it was by then public knowledge that the five UKUSA signatories were the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
John Key – Helen Clark’s successor as Minister in Charge of the GCSB – was no more co-operative.
One of an MP’s responsibilities is to monitor departmental expenditure, but I couldn’t do that for the GCSB because the government would only provide the bureau’s gross annual expenditure.
There were hints at what the GCSB might be spending its money on, but no figures were provided. I discovered in the GCSB annual report for 2009 that there had been a “significant investment” in the satellite communications interception station at Waihopai, and I wanted to know more. I felt taxpayers were entitled to know what was being spent on Waihopai and surely the government could provide at least an overall figure or the year.
But Key wouldn’t tell me, on the grounds that under the Public Finance Act intelligence agencies are not obliged to provide expenditure details. I countered that that act didn’t prevent the government disclosing some expenditure details – in the public interest – when there was no genuine security issue involved. It seemed to me that the Prime Minister didn’t want to disclose the annual spending on Waihopai for fear there would be more public debate on whether it was money well spent.
Such a debate could raise awkward questions about the spy station, such as how much useful information New Zealand gains for itself, or whether partner agencies such as the United States National Security Agency are the main beneficiaries. In turn, this raises a broader question of whether operating the Waihopai facility for the Five Eyes network compromises our independent foreign policy. The potential for our foreign policy to be compromised grows as the United States shifts its attention towards Asia and becomes more interested in the communications of Asian governments intercepted by the satellite dishes at Waihopai. These are Asian governments, such as China and Japan, which have otherwise good relations with New Zealand and might be upset that we are helping America spy on them. Another problem with the impenetrable shroud of secrecy around the GCSB is that it breeds incompetence of the sort we have seen in the Dotcom saga. It is a rule of thumb that the more opaque and unaccountable a government agency is, the more mistakes it will make.
In practice, there is very little oversight of GCSB activities. The Prime Minister clearly isn’t able to give it much time, even though he is both the Minister in Charge and the chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the only oversight body in the Parliament. It is hard to judge the effectiveness of the Intelligence and Security Committee because, unlike similar bodies overseas, it meets in total secrecy. The only other person engaged in oversight is the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Paul Neazor. He is handicapped by being part-time, and judging by his annual reports he concentrates his attention on the Security Intelligence Service, not the GCSB.
It is a pity that despite all the attention on the GCSB’s illegal surveillance of Dotcom, there has been little debate about the mission of the agency and how much value we are getting from it.
We need more public discussion on what New Zealanders gain or lose from the Waihopai facility, and from the other significant GCSB facility, the radio communication interception station at Tangimoana near Palmerston North.
It would also be worth reviewing whether another key GCSB task, helping protect the security of government computers, is being carried out adequately in the light of the failures in Work and Income and some other departments.
The GCSB budget is $64 million so the agency is worth more public attention, particularly in times of financial restraint.
Keith Locke is a former Green MP. He was also the party’s spokesman on intelligence and security issues.
Over the years I have been promoting two related issues, New Zealand becoming a republic, and changing the New Zealand flag away from the present one, which is a hangover from the old colonial days, with a British Union Jack in the corner.
After watching the Olympic coverage I wrote a letter to the New Zealand Herald, which was published in the 11 August edition. It read:
“Does anyone now doubt that New Zealand’s symbol is the silver fern. All our Olympic athletes wore it, and the large stylised fern on the rowers singlets was particularly beautiful. New Zealand spectators joined the party with innumerable fern flags. It is the fern that stirs our emotions, so let’s get on an make it our official flag.”
News: The NZ frigate Te Kaha joins the US RIMPAC war game off Hawaii for the first time in 28 years and exercises with US nuclear subs. However, Te Kaha is then barred from docking at Pearl Harbour because of NZ’s anti-nuclear policy.
Once upon a time there lived a small nation called Aotearoa, the youngest daughter of Britannia. As she grew up Aotearoa became romantically attached to the brawny Americana, who had come to her assistance when Aotearoa was threatened by the neighbourhood bully Japanica.
Aotearoa stayed in love with Americana even when he started beating up on some of the locals (such as those in Seasia) and when he stocked up on armaments that could destroy the whole neighbourhood. Much as she loved Americana, Aotearoa decided she had to ask him to leave the doomsday weapons at home when he came to visit.
Americana decided to show who was boss around the hood and cancelled these home visits. This distressed Aotearoa as she was still very much attached to Americana and missed him greatly. She kept sending Americana presents wherever he happened to be, even in places like Afghanistania.
Finally, Aotearoa was doing so much for Americana that he relented and said she could bring her war toys to Hawaii and play with Americana and the other members of his gang.
Aotearoa was overjoyed and enthusiastically joined the war game. She particularly liked playing hide and seek with Americana’s nuclear subs – despite her long-standing allergy to radioactivity and Armageddon.
It was great. But when it was over Aotearoa was shattered to learn that she was the only one of the mistresses (who included Australiana) not to be invited back to Americana’s big place in Pearly Harbour. Americana said coldly that she would have to amuse herself that night.
Like battered nations before her, Aotearoa now had a choice. To accept this slap in the face, or to turn her affections elsewhere. It was a difficult decision. For all its ups and downs Aotearoa’s affair with Americana had lasted 70 years. And she knew what could happen other suitors that had walked out on Americana – Irania being the latest example. No she would stick with it.
So Aotearoa meekly told Americana that she understood why she wasn’t welcome at the Pearly Harbour party. Yes, she has been a bit naughty, but she still loved him and would try even harder to please him.
TO BE CONTINUED: Find out in the next installment whether Aotearoa takes Australiana’s medicine and overcomes her anti-nuclear allergy. Or whether she finally takes the plunge and signs up to an assertiveness workshop for battered nations?
(The following was a Letter to the Editor from me as published in the 25 June issue of the New Zealand Herald)
I am disturbed that our navy seems to be operating as if we were not a nuclear-free country opposed to nuclear weapons.
In the June-July issue of Navy Today Te Kaha’s commander, Jon Beardsmore, expresses his enthusiasm for exercising with American nuclear submarines when his frigate joins the big RIMPAC [Exercise Rim of the Pacific] naval exercise off Hawaii at the end of this month.
Commander Beardsmoore says: “For us it’s the only operation where we get to operate with nuclear submarines, so from any anti-submarine aspect it is a great environment.”
Surely it is against the spirit of our anti-nuclear legislation for Te Kaha to practice attacking nuclear submarines, or to help American nuclear subs improve their defences. We should not be playing any part in preparations for a nuclear war.
Exercising with nuclear submarines also runs counter to the good work New Zealand does promoting nuclear disarmament on the world stage.