Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Amendment Bill

The Green Party will be supporting this bill. It is important that the International Criminal Court – a very important international institution – is able to function freely, without any restraints on the judges, witnesses, and others who are granted immunity under the provisions of this bill. It is important that the international community and New Zealand does advocate that there are no restraints whatsoever on the functioning of the International Criminal Court.

Unfortunately, one nation – the most powerful in the world – is restraining the functioning of this International Criminal Court very substantially. Of course that country is the United States. Peter Dunne refered to the problems with the application of justice by the United States, and, unfortunately, it is not putting itself under the jurisdiction of the ICC.. It has not signed or ratified the Rome Treaty, but even worse it is going around the world trying to force other Governments to sign up agreements with the United States so that United States citizens, and members of the United States armed forces are not under the jurisdiction of the ICC; that those countries agree not to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court in terms of the prosecution of such United States citizens, even when they are deemed to have offended the provisions of the ICC Treaty in relation to such things as crimes against humanity or war crimes. They will not be brought to justice.

It is unfortunate that under the provisions of the ICC,, that will see judges coming in to try cases, having the immunity to try those cases free of interference, and there will be the witnesses, and all those other people who are given immunity under this bill, but in several countries, but not New Zealand, the defendant, if it is a United States citizen, may not show up because of, I think, article 98 agreements that the United States Government is signing with these particular countries.

It may be said: “Oh, well, we don’t really need to worry about the United States; that it is just asserting its sovereignty, and any offenders against human rights, crimes against humanity, war crimes, etc. will be taken back to the United States and tried effectively under the jurisdiction of the United States.” But, unfortunately, this will not necessarily be the case.

[The House rose before Keith Locke completed his speech. Continued on Tuesday 29 July below]

When I was speaking last Thursday I was expressing the Green Party’s support for this bill, which allows the International Criminal Court to function more freely through granting immunity to judges and others involved.

Unfortunately, the United States is challenging the ability of the court to function by going around the world and signing agreements with countries to exempt its citizens from the jurisdiction of the court. For example, we could have a situation where United States soldiers commit crimes under the Rome Treaty, but because of these exemptions they do not fall within the jurisdiction of the court. That may already be a very practical problem, in that Amnesty International issued a report last week slamming the United States occupation forces in Iraq for torture and ill treatment of prisoners, beating prisoners with rifle butts, and killing people. It said that reported methods of torture included prolonged sleep deprivation and prolonged restraint in painful positions, sometimes combined with exposure to loud music, prolonged hooding, and exposure to bright lights. Then on the television news last week we saw the United States commander north of Baghdad explicitly threatening to punish a village and bulldoze crops, which is the sort of collective punishment deemed to be a crime against humanity under the Rome Treaty.

To give members an idea of the scale of Bush’s campaign to get Governments to sign up to such exemptions for its citizens, the 3 July edition of the New Zealand Herald reported that 44 Governments had already signed article 98 exemptions for US citizens, and seven countries had secret agreements — that is, their Governments were scared to tell their own people that they had caved in to the US administration on that matter. The Bush Government is trying to blackmail 35 other Governments into signing such agreements by announcing a cut-off of military aid to those particular countries. It is no doubt using the carrot of more aid to get other countries in line, which is perhaps why Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu have signed up to those exemptions. It is disappointing that our Government took no diplomatic steps whatsoever to stop that from happening, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade admitted that in his answers to written questions from me.

I think we should do more to challenge United States’ efforts to undermine the International Criminal Court in the South Pacific. Unfortunately, New Zealand’s support for the court — which is reinforced by the very good bill before us — is compromised by the nature of our commitment to Afghanistan in terms of the hundred or so troops who will be going there shortly to join Operation Enduring Freedom, which is a US-run operation. That operation does not have a Status of Forces Agreement with the interim Karzai administration in Afghanistan, specifically so as to allow US troops to do anything they like without any reference to the Karzai Government. If US troops should do anything that would be classified as a crime under the Rome Treaty, there is no possibility that they will fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

There is a problem here for New Zealand and our troop commitment, because if the New Zealand forces take prisoners in Afghanistan and hand them over to American jurisdiction, and if they are mistreated by the United States, then those crimes will not be under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. We already know that the world community is outraged by some of the things that the United States has done, both in Afghanistan and to prisoners held at the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. There were reports in our papers not long ago from a coroner’s report showing that the US forces in Bagram Airbase had tortured two prisoners to death. The treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay also amounts to torture.

On 8 July the United Nations Commission on Human Rights issued a press statement expressing alarm over the military trial of detainees, and criticising the military trials that America tends to implement in Guantanamo Bay. Those trials will be a travesty of justice. Those accused are not allowed even the right to have their own lawyer. They will be quite the opposite of the very fair trials that will exist under the provisions of the International Criminal Court that we are supporting in this bill, which are very careful trials with proper defence and good quality international judges. We should not do anything in Afghanistan that might in some way compromise our position in that respect.

Reading further into what Amnesty International came out with last week, it is very disturbing to find the way that war crimes may be being committed by the occupation forces in Iraq. Its press statement talks about the death of one innocent person, Saadi al- Ubaydi. It says that several soldiers forced their way into a house in and beat him with their rifle butts. He ran out of the house to get away from them, but they shot him a few metres away, and he died immediately. It talks about soldiers forcing neighbours in a community to the ground, and one of the people involved being killed. That is the sort of thing that is going on in Iraq, and in other countries around the world.

I have concentrated here on the United States because its Government poses a problem of jurisdiction for the International Criminal Court, but war crimes are going on in Liberia and in other places around the world. We want a proper universal system to enhance that process of justice, and this bill will support that, but we should not do anything else that would assist the United States in encouraging other countries not to sign the Rome Treaty, or to exempt its citizens from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.


First Reading Speech in Parliament