Protest Rights at the APEC Summit

11 March 1999

The aim of my submission here tonight, on behalf of the Auckland Greens, is to uphold the democratic right of protest during the APEC summit, and assist the Council in ensuring the protests are peaceful.

I have participated in many pickets and marches myself, as an advocate of international human rights and social justice. Currently, I am the Foreign Affairs spokesperson for the Green Party.

In the light of events at previous APEC meetings, we can expect some arguments as to where marches or pickets should take place.

At the Vancouver summit in 1997, the Indonesian government told the Canadian authorities it didn’t want President Suharto exposed to protests. Unfortunately, the Canadian authorities tried to accommodate this demand.

No doubt, the New Zealand government will come under similar pressure regarding this APEC meeting. Auckland City has a vital role to play to make sure our government does not buckle to any anti-democratic pressures from other states.

It is possible that “security” could be used as a reason for keeping protesters out of sight of visiting dignitaries. However, I think the security problem is greater if effective protest is not allowed. The sense of injustice this engenders can upset some protesters and cause them to act rashly.

There has already been a security over-reaction by the government. Last Friday, a Chilean exile here applied for a restraining order on the police, alleging harassment. It seems that the police have been overkeen in interrogating Chileans and Peruvians about APEC protests, and these people are getting scared.

The government also has a bill before Parliament to allow foreign security guards to carry guns here. That is very dangerous, because some could be trigger happy. Last month, for example, last months Germany discovered that Israeli guards in its country had a rather brutal response to protest. They shot three Kurdish protesters and wounded others at the entrence to their Berlin embassy.

The protests around APEC will be big, because of the significance of the occasion. Some protest will be directed against APEC itself, primarily around its free trade agenda. Other protest will be against heads of states responsible for human rights violations, in places like East Timor, Malaysia, Tibet and Peru. The Green Party will be actively involved in several of these protests, so we have a vested interest in making sure they go off well.

The venue for the APEC Leaders’ Gala Dinner, on September 12, is in this building, the Auckland Town Hall. Allowing the right of effective protest would mean that as the Leaders were driven to the Town Hall (either along Queen St or lower Greys Avenue) they could see the protest groups and their banners.

The place of democratic rights in APEC was a controversial issue at last year’s gathering in Kuala Lumpur. US Vice President Al Gore and Prime Minister Jenny Shipley were on opposite sides, with Gore quite critical of the Malaysian government’s human rights record and the trial of Anwar Ibrahim. Jenny Shipley was more accommodating to Prime Minister Mahathir.

The spotlight this year will be on Auckland. Wouldn’t it be great if we could present our city as a model of how to accommodate concerns about social justice. Wouldn’t it be good if, unlike in Vancouver, we had peaceful protests where the authorities didn’t try to marginalise the demonstrators.

Wouldn’t it be good if we could present ourselves as a model democracy in this respect.

I think the motion on your order paper tonight shows respect for the right of protest, and sets a good framework for council as it discusses these questions with the government’s APEC Taskforce.


Speech Notes for Submission to Auckland City Council