People in glass houses should not throw (Pol) Pots

Not long after the Greens came into Parliament in 1999, National, New Zealand First and ACT MPs tried to discredit the Greens’ strong human rights policy by portraying me as a supporter of the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot and his genocidal crimes.

I assured the House that those accusations were wrong, but, recently, with an election looming, both Winston Peters and Richard Prebble have been repeating those defamatory statements. I wish now to address the issue in more detail.

Thirty years ago, in 1975, the brutal corrupt regimes in Saigon and Phnom Penh, backed by the American government, were overthrown by insurgent forces.

Most New Zealanders who marched against the Indochina war, which included many MPs currently in this House, myself and Helen Clark for example — welcomed the collapse of those regimes because it heralded the end of a very bloody war.

The hope of antiwar New Zealanders (including myself) was that the new governments in Saigon and Phnom Penh would be better than the regimes they replaced. We thought it would be hard for them to be worse.

No distinction was made between the new Vietnamese and Cambodian governments, and many thought the Khmer Rouge were an adjunct of the Vietnamese communist forces.

Some time later the world found out that there was a difference and that the Khmer Rouge were acting in a genocidal way and we started to hear the name Pol Pot.

I was a young socialist activist at the time Pol Pot’s horrors were exposed to the world. I, along with other socialists, like British journalist John Pilger, did what we could to stop the Western nations giving him any support.

However, we found many governments were determined to back Pol Pot. These included the New Zealand National government, whose MPs included the very Winston Peters who has been so quick to call me a Pol Pot supporter.

That National Government was determined not to back the Vietnamese-supported Heng Samrin government that had taken over Phnom Penh in January 1979.

There was a Cold War on and the National government, including Mr Peters, treated the genocidal Pol Pot government as preferable to a Phnom Penh government aligned to Vietnam.

It is interesting that in the House on 11 December 1979 a then Labour MP Richard Prebble urged National’s Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Thomson to “no longer recognise the Pol Pot regime”.

But the National government, no doubt supported by the younger National MP Winston Peters, kept on voting for Pol Pot to represent the Cambodian people, at the UN and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, when Labour came to power in 1984 Mr Prebble and his colleagues changed their tune and voted for Pol Pot themselves in the UN. This continued right through the 80s.

When I became New Labour’s foreign affairs spokesperson I debated Labour Foreign Minister Russell Marshall on National Radio on this very topic, pleading with him not to support Pol Pot. He insisted his government would continue to do so. I have found no record that Richard Prebble ever disagreed with the Cabinet he was in.

I will table some documents on this history, for the enlightenment of the House.

The basic problem we faced then, as today, is New Zealand governments going soft on repressive regimes.

Sometimes it is because they see some short term diplomatic or trade benefit — as when National and Labour governments supported Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, or in more recent times when they played down human rights violations in ASEAN countries — like Malaysia and Singapore.

Everyone knows that the Green Party has a consistent record of promoting international human rights, most recently during President Musharraf’ visit, and during Chinese leader Wu Bangguo’s visit.

The Greens also promote human rights clauses in trade treaties. Sadly we failed to achieve an effective clause in the recent one negotiated with Thailand.

We also know that there is still, among some in this House, a subordination to the American administration. We don’t hear National Act or NZ First criticising the violation of human rights by the Bush administration in Iraq, Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay.

A National government would subordinate our foreign policy to America’s in the same way that the Holyoake National government did in taking New Zealand into the Indochina War, and the Muldoon National government (including Winston Peters) did in backing the ruthless Pol Pot.


General Debate, Parliament