PM should send Howard a message on human rights

Green MP Keith Locke is urging Prime Minister Helen Clark to raise human rights with John Howard during the Australian Prime Minister’s visit.

“We need to use our close relationship with Australia to try to encourage it to improve its human rights record,” Mr Locke, Green Human Rights Spokesperson said.

“New Zealanders have been horrified at the atrocious prison conditions of asylum seekers in Australia, and the Howard government’s scant regard shown for its own citizens imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.

“It would therefore be entirely appropriate for Ms Clark to raise such matters with Mr Howard, and consistent with her dealings with other Prime Ministers.”

Mr Locke said that when the Prime Minister met other foreign leaders with poor human rights records, such as the leaders of China and Myanmar, she stated publicly her intention to raise such issues during official talks.

Ms Clark would be reinforcing criticism of Australia’s human rights record by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other international bodies.

Mr Locke was particularly concerned at the case of Mamdouh Habib – an Australian citizen recently released from Guantanamo Bay – who claims Australian officials stood by and watched while he was abused in Pakistan.

“New Zealanders are appalled by the constant stream of stories coming out in the Australian media about abuse at Australian refugee detention centres. Just recently, there was the astounding case of Cornelia Rau, a German-born Australian resident who was mistaken for an asylum-seeker and locked up in Baxter Immigration Detention Centre for six months.

“Mr Howard should be reminded by the Prime Minister that New Zealanders hold the respect for human rights in high regard, and that we do not take kindly to the Australian Government giving our region a bad name.”