Celebrating Diversity – Green Human Rights Policy Launch

It is my privilege to be able to present to you a very important document for the Green Party, our Human Rights policy. This policy stems from the principle that none of us are truly free as long as any of our fellow citizens are not.

The rights we have today are the fruits of many people’s sacrifice. Today, in many countries, people are being detained, even killed, just to achieve rights we often take for granted: freedom of speech, freedom from discrimination, and the right to determine their own destiny.

One such case I have been dealing with this last week is that of a young woman, Mukhtaran Bibi, sentenced to be gang-raped for a crime allegedly committed by her brother. It took an international effort to get the rapists behind bars, but recently most of them have been freed on appeal. Yesterday, I received an email from Pakistan thanking the New Zealand Greens for supporting Ms Bibi’s case, which she is trying to pursue by going on an overseas speaking tour. The Greens have been trying to draw the attention of visiting Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf, to this issue — because his government has stopped this brave woman from leaving the country.

The Pakistani who emailed me yesterday said of “our village heroine” (as he called Ms Bibi) “things aren’t good for her. Deprived of her passport, she has been shunted back under armed escort to her village of Meerwala, where her rapists are out on bail. I am sure she is not feeling particularly secure. Keep fighting for her.”

The Green Party will continue to fight for Ms Bibi and many others we are trying to help.

The struggle for human rights is worldwide, and the Green policy we are presenting today is an internationalist one. It says that in all our dealings with foreign governments, the interests of disadvantaged and disempowered communities should be in the forefront. This means, for example, hard talking with the visiting Pakistani president about his government’s violations of civil liberties. It also means standing up for the Tibetan people during trade talks in Beijing — something our Prime Minister found very difficult to do when she was there.

But human rights are not just about democracy and civil liberties. They include social, economic and environmental rights — and equity between countries in this respect. There is still a huge gap between rich and poor, within and between nations. New Zealand, as a richer country, has a duty to help the development of poorer countries and we must urgently set a timetable to meet the UN target of 0.7 percent of GNI to overseas aid by 2015. The Labour government’s record here has been miserable, going from 0.23 percent when it came to power in 1999, to only 0.27 percent in this year’s budget.

It would not be difficult for New Zealand to reach this target. Most Kiwis would applaud if we really upped the aid contribution. New Zealanders are a compassionate and generous people, and dug deep into their pockets to help the tsunami victims.

The Greens want our country to be seen as a good international citizen, helping development, and upholding all the United Nations human rights conventions — including those preventing discrimination against women, children, workers, and the draft on indigenous rights. The Greens are against all forms of discrimination, be it on the basis of nationality, ethnic origin, religion, political belief, gender, gender identification, sexuality, marital status, family and reproductive status, age, disability or socio-economic background. We want the extension of our anti-discrimination laws to achieve this.

In the human rights field, we can’t rest on our laurels. Right now some politicians are cultivating hostility towards those new migrants who don’t happen to be white. They are being portrayed as a threat to the New Zealand way of life. The Greens take the opposite view. We welcome diversity and celebrate the way each ethnic group adds to and enriches New Zealand culture. The Greens stand for a tolerant, diverse society, where everyone gets a fair go.

Winston Peters sees New Zealand in only two colours, white European and Maori, and views other ethnic groups as alien. The Greens, to the contrary, champion a New Zealand of many colours, where people of every race and religion live together in harmony. Championing such a multi-ethnic society, in no way contradicts our adherence to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and respect for Maori as the tangata whenua in Aoteaora/New Zealand.

Our multi-ethnic society is being built on the bi-cultural foundation established by the Treaty, and at the ethnic functions I attend I usually find the organizers have gone to considerable effort to involve Maori. This bi-culturalism is advanced by Maori being involved at all stages of the immigration process — from policy formation to education for new migrants.

The Greens strongly support a tolerant multi-ethnic society on bi-cultural foundations. If you give your party vote to the Green Party this election you are voting for stronger government effort against racial intolerance and more support for ethnic associations and councils. We will fully support the Race Relations Commissioner and others in the Human Rights Commission in their work to counter prejudice and discrimination, give full backing to the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, and establish a stand alone Ministry of Ethnic Affairs.

While we already have a Minister of Ethnic Affairs, currently Chris Carter, we are in the ludicrous situation that there is no Ministry to properly promote this work. One task of the new Ministry would be to encourage and assist ethnic associations to reach out into the wider community, particularly through the schools, so that the whole society has a better multi-cultural understanding.

Of course, we would also be providing better education for new migrants about history, culture and human rights in New Zealand — including providing everyone with a copy of the New Zealand Bill of Rights and the Treaty of Waitangi in their preferred language. We would also provide adequate resources for an English as A Second Language course for all migrants who need them, and make sure they have adequate housing and health services. New migrants are usually driven to get into the workforce, but often suffer discrimination in hiring. This problem has to be addressed, with employer awareness programmes and improved migrant training. It is shameful that so many migrant professionals have been left adrift with too few places in bridging courses, and a lack of opportunity to prove their ability through on-the-job supervision.

Refugees deserve special consideration in our re-settlement programme. There are 20 million refugees in the world, many just surviving on the barest essentials in camps. Unlike some heartless politicians, we welcome the opportunity to take in refugees who have suffered so much in the home countries — and will increase New Zealand’s refugee quota from 750 to 1000. Unlike Mr Peters, we don’t see refugees as a threat but as a great asset to our multi-cultural society. The Algerian asylum seeker, Ahmed Zaoui, is already making a significant contribution in his lectures around the country on Islam, the West and religious tolerance — despite a totally unwarranted Security Risk Certificate hanging over him.

A vote for the Greens is a vote to get rid of such Security Risk Certificates, whereby a politician, the Minister of Immigration, can override the decisions of a judicial body, the Refugee Status Appeals Authority. This must stop. All approval processes for visitors, migrants or refugees must be fair and transparent and with any evidence from overseas agencies subject to the normal rules of evidence, and with full judicial appeal rights. The Greens would get rid of all laws and procedures which have come in under the guise of the “war against terror” that undermine our civil rights. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act would be strengthened to make sure all new laws meet its requirements.

One of the blackest marks on the present Labour government has been the two year imprisonment of Ahmed Zaoui. The Greens would ensure that all asylum seekers are treated humanely, and detention only used in exceptional circumstances, where there is a genuine security risk.

We also support freer movement of people from Samoa to New Zealand. No member of the Barmy Army had any trouble coming into New Zealand, visa free, and Kiwi employers, short of labour, are now busy trying to recruit them. Yet despite our special relationship with Samoa, reflected in our Treaty of Friendship, Samoan people are not even allowed a visitor’s visas to seek work in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, the present government has panicked somewhat in the face of Mr Peters’ scaremongering about people coming here from Iraq and other war-torn countries. The approval systems are now even more discriminatory against people from poorer countries — and MPs like me are fielding angry complaints from New Zealand residents who can’t even get their relatives here for a short visit.

A party vote for the Green Party is a vote to stand up to Mr Peters’ smearing on refugees and migrants from non-European countries.

The Green Party stands for a New Zealand which upholds the rights of all communities, which celebrates diversity and which gives everyone a fair go.

We champion a world where people live in peace, where everyone’s contribution is respected, and where we work together to use the world’s resources equitably and sustainably.