The Green Party is opposed to this bill. Of course we are opposed to people financing terrorist acts themselves – real terrorist acts, bombing, injuring, or murdering people. They are crimes, and the perpetrators of those crimes must be punished accordingly. But are terrorist crimes any different from similar crimes that are not committed with a political, ideological, or religious purpose in mind? Murder is murder, whether one murders someone in a bank raid or in a politically motivated terrorist act. It is still murder and should have the same penalty.
Our Crimes Act already punishes people if they finance criminal activities or conspire to commit such activities. The Terrorism Suppression Act also at present penalises financing of such activities, although it problematically introduces different penalties for supporting such crimes of violence than exists in the Crimes Act.
There is also the problem of the definition of terrorists or terrorist groups in the Terrorism Suppression Act, which I will discuss a bit later on.
However, this current bill goes beyond what is in the current criminal law, as I understand it. It penalises people who are not financing terrorist activities as such, but who are helping “an organisation that is involved in terrorism, e.g. the payment of general routine expenses such as rent, etc.” That is a bit from the explanatory notes of the bill.
This means that if we were doing this under ordinary criminal law this would mean, for example, punishing a family for paying the rent of a family member who might happen to be involved in a criminal gang, who happens to live at home with his or her family, or someone who does something similar for a flat mate who happens to be involved in criminal activities. I am indicating that because it gets us into a much more difficulty and a greyer area.
This problem can be even worse in the case of alleged terrorists or terrorist groups because to be designated as a terrorist or terrorist group under the Terrorism Suppression Act the said terrorist does not need to have any record whatsoever of having carried out a terrorist act. The person or group only needs to be deemed by the Prime Minister of the day to have such an intention. So we are in a grey area, particularly when the designation of who is or who is not a terrorist is done by political authorities, not by judicial ones. Mistakes are made in this regard, because when we give that power to a political figure the political prejudices and agendas that operate at the time can lead to the designation of some groups and individuals as terrorist when they should not be.
We just need to look at a parallel case – that is, at how Ahmed Zaoui has been treated by authorities in New Zealand. In effect he has been treated as a terrorist. True, he has not been officially designated as a terrorist under the Terrorism Suppression Act so the Dominican friars who are currently covering his rent cannot be thrown in jail under this amendment. However, members will see the problem. The so-called war on terrorism operates a bit like the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s when all sorts of people were labelled as communists. Rumour and media stories became proof that someone was a communist.
The Refugee Status Branch of our Immigration Service acted in precisely this way in the Zaoui case. It actually wrote in its decision that because of all the media accusations that the Refugee Status Branch had got from the Internet against Mr Zaoui it could not take the chance of giving him refugee status.
Fortunately, the Refugee Status Appeals Authority did a more objective and thorough determination and overruled the Refugee Status Branch. Much later in the saga around Mr Zaoui we had a police error. Last year the police were wrapped over the knuckles by our Prime Minister, Helen Clark, because they confused Mr Zaoui’s Islamic Salvation Front with the terrorist Algerian organisation, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA).
The whole designation process is so loose. In the 3 years of the operation of the Terrorism Suppression Act not a single individual or group operating in New Zealand, or even outside of New Zealand, has been designated as terrorists after a specific analysis by the New Zealand Government authorities.
The list of terrorist individuals and organisations on the lists so far have simply been transferred from the UN list. However, there are problems with that UN list – as the United Nations high panel reported last year when it indicated that people had been “wrongly placed or retained” on such lists. It is pretty clear that people end up on such UN lists mainly at the behest of the United States Government.
I think we know that the Bush administration does not particularly care if it gets things wrong in matters of who is and who is not a terrorist. We only need to look at what has been happening in the American detention centre in Guantanamo Bay where alleged terrorists have been kept there for years without explicit evidence, trials, and without the right to see a lawyer. Many of those who have finally been released, such as last year four Britons, have been found to have had nothing to do with terrorism. The Britons I refer to just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But so far as I can tell there is no hint of an admission of error, apology, or compensation for their wrongful detention from the Bush administration.
One of the clauses in the bill is to extend for 2 years the 318 designations of al-Qaeda and Taliban related terrorist entities under the Terrorism Suppression Act that will otherwise expire in October this year unless each designation is extended by the High Court. The particular problem with this is that we know from Kofi Annan’s high-level panel that some of these designations are almost certainly wrong, and as the panel indicated the whole list needs reassessment. So how can Parliament knowingly renew these terrorist designations without any analysis when it knows that some of them are almost certainly wrong. This is not conscionable.
We can cause great upset and injustice when we start criminalising fund raising not for terrorist acts, but for community groups allegedly associated with terrorism, particularly with all the political agendas running in the Bush administration and elsewhere.
We could take, for example, a US group called Global Relief that was the second-largest Islamic charity in the US. Three years ago two dozen FBI agents raided its headquarters in Chicago without warrant, carted off all its records, and froze $900,000 of its assets. Later, it was designated a terrorist organisation by the US Treasury Department and is now effectively shut down, even though none of its principals have been charged with any crimes. Those principals have not been able to challenge effectively the Government’s actions in court, because they were confronted with a barrier of statements like: “The evidence we have against you is classified and we can’t tell you what it is.” That has shades, of course, of the Zaoui case. It has turned out in the United States that what has surfaced in terms of some of the evidence against Global Relief has come from newspaper clippings.
In the explanatory note to the bill, the Government claims that the amendments are:
“…necessary to ensure that New Zealand fully complies with international standards for counter terrorist financing, as set out and assessed by the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF)”.
I have looked at the special recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering on terrorist financing, and I cannot see that those would require such an amendment.