UN human rights watchdog slams NZ on Zaoui detention law

Green MP Keith Locke says the Government should rethink its detention of Ahmed Zaoui in the light of strong criticism from the UN Committee Against Torture.

The Committee has just released a report (Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 19 of the Convention: Conclusions and Recommendations of the Committee against Torture, dated May 19, 2004*), which challenges the legislation under which Mr Zaoui is being detained and processed.

“This United Nations criticism is yet another reason why Mr Zaoui should be freed from jail immediately,” said Mr Locke, the Green Party’s Human Rights Spokesperson.

“The Committee makes it clear that Mr Zaoui will not get a fair hearing under the present Security Risk Certificate procedure, because the lack of an obligation to disclose classified information to the concerned person ‘limited possibilities of effective appeal’.

“The Committee also criticised the Security Risk Certificate legislation for giving the Minister of Immigration only three days to decide whether to deport the person concerned. They assert that, taken together, the procedures might breach Article 3 of the UN Convention Against Torture.

“Mr Zaoui’s 17 months behind bars, much of it in solitary confinement, would also breach Article 16 of the Convention which prohibits ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment’ short of torture. The Committee criticises New Zealand for ‘cases of over-prolonged non-voluntary segregation’ (solitary confinement), contrary to Article 16.

“The Committee wants the Government to ‘take immediate steps to review legislation relating to the security risk certificate’.

“New Zealand’s international reputation as an upholder of human rights is being seriously eroded. Our chances of gaining a place on the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), as desired by the Government, are fast disappearing.

“There is no way that Mr Zaoui should continue to be a guinea pig for a discredited piece of legislation antithetical to human rights. He should be freed to take up the refugee status granted to him by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority,” said Mr Locke.