Consistency in Human Rights, Peace and Aid

The Prime Minister, in her first speech for the year, said that: “we have forged an independent foreign policy record we can be proud of. We continue to place disarmament, human rights, and engagement in peacemaking at the forefront of foreign policy.” The Green Party certainly supports such an approach, and there is much we can be proud of in that respect.

New Zealand continues to promote complete nuclear disarmament as part of the New Agenda coalition of countries, we have done good peacekeeping work in East Timor and the Solomons, and we are among the best countries in the promotion of international human rights.

Phil Goff stuck his neck out in promoting an international tribunal to bring to justice the Indonesian military officers who oversaw the massive violations of human rights in East Timor before independence. The importance of such a stance has been shown by the acquittal of every military officer brought to trial in Indonesia for offences committed in East Timor. That has left the military with the attitude that they are above the law, which, unfortunately, is what we see in Aceh today. That arrogance has seriously impeded the delivery of aid to the many victims of the tsunami. The Indonesian military seems more interested in continuing the war against the Free Aceh Movement and lining its own pockets than in helping the people of Aceh in their hour of need, despite a ceasefire order from the new President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

However, it does not help us to advance human rights on a world stage when our Government is undermining them in some serious ways at home. On this very day, in the Supreme Court just across the road from Parliament, our Government is arguing that the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security should not have to take into account our New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and international refugee law in ruling on the security risk certificate against the former Algerian MP Ahmed Zaoui. On that matter, it is unlikely that the Government will be any more successful in the Supreme Court than it was in the High Court, the Court of Appeal, or all the other court cases against Mr Zaoui, all of which it has lost. Just before Christmas the Supreme Court issued a warning to the Government that it cannot keep a refugee like Mr Zaoui in jail indefinitely without charge. After two horrible years in jail Mr Zaoui is now on bail, and is loving living in the real New Zealand – the one without the bars on the windows – and loving mixing with ordinary Kiwis.

In some areas, such as in the passage of the Civil Union Bill last year, Labour members do respect human rights, but when the pressure comes on from George Bush for nations to fall in line with his war on terror, and all the breaches of human rights that go with it, then this Labour Government buckles. Be it by using the security risk certificate procedure against Mr Zaoui, by bringing in legislation like the Terrorism Suppression Act, or handing the police and security services more surveillance powers, unfortunately, the traffic is in one direction. It is to reduce the freedoms and rights to privacy of ordinary New Zealanders and to increase the power of politicians and civil servants over what we can do, which is less and less constrained by the courts.

We have all seen, at Abu Ghraib prison, at Guantanamo Bay and, most recently, among British soldiers in Iraq, what happens if we take the judicial restraints off soldiers, prison guards, and other officials, when we let them put into effect George Bush’s so-called war on terror. Human Rights go out the window. New Zealanders are waking up to this, which is why there has been so much support for Ahmed Zaoui , and why the Government is not getting a free run with its Identity (Citizenship and Travel Documents) Bill that gives the right to a political figure – that is, a Minister – to take away a New Zealander’s passport on very loose national security grounds.

This year the Greens will be trying to convince Labour to take another path: to consistently uphold human rights, to promote peace, and to pull our weight in overseas development aid.

As a nation, we must have a timetable to get us up from the pitiful 0.23 percent of Gross National Income currently devoted to overseas aid, to the international standard of 0.7 percent, which we committed ourselves to at the UN millennium summit a couple of years ago. We should take note of the petition launched today by the Council for International Development here in New Zealand — that a definite timetable be established to reach that target by the year 2015.