Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Terrorism Bill third reading

After last week's debacle over the police failing to press terrorism charges against the Urewera 17, you'd think that the government would be taking a more cautious approach with anti-terror law. But no - the Terrorism Suppression Amendment Bill will be receiving its third reading in the House today. While it’s being spun as necessary to comply with UN obligations (only if you think that those obligations include autocracy and the removal of judicial oversight on designation decisions), the bill is aimed fairly and squarely at non-existent domestic terrorism. So it creates a new general offence of "committing a terrorist act" with a penalty of life imprisonment, and removes the defence that it is not a crime to collect funds "for the purpose of advocating democratic government or the protection of human rights" from the terrorist financing section. With the police already over-reaching with existing terrorist laws, these are not steps we should be taking. Unfortunately, both major parties are firmly behind the US line and shit-scared of being labelled "soft on terror", so it will be law by the end of the week.

As for what I'd like to see instead, we do have UN obligations, so we do need a designation system (with ancillary offences of participation and financing). And it is appropriate that the primary decision-maker in designation is the executive rather than the judiciary. However, that system should apply only to foreign groups, and it should have full judicial oversight; if the UN is designating groups for political reasons on no evidence, then our courts should be able to say that. The ancillary offences should also protect the human rights of New Zealanders by making it clear that participation and financing must be intentional rather than reckless, and aimed at enhancing the ability of the group to engage in terrorism. The existing defence for supporting democracy and human rights should be retained.

As for domestic terrorism, this should be prosecuted under ordinary criminal law. Every act of "terrorism" is already by definition an act of murder, assault, criminal damage etc, and those crimes are well-understood and have sufficient penalties. This will have the added advantage of keeping the police's attention where it should be - on crime - rather than sniffing around looking for "subversives" to persecute. Because if the last month has shown us anything, its that a police anti-terror unit with nothing to do will create work for itself, at the cost of all our human rights.