Thursday, December 19, 2013

The HRC destroys its mana

Six years ago, black-clad police stormtroopers blockaded and searched the village of Ruatoki as part of Operation 8. The raid, and the investigation that led to it, was a massive human rights violation - both of the ordinary people of Ruatoki, who were detained, photographed and searched illegally, and of some of the suspects, who later won court cases against intrusive and illegal surveillance. The Independent Police Conduct Authority later found that the police's treatment of civilians was "unlawful, unjustified and unreasonable".

But people didn't just complain to the IPCA - they also complained to the Human Rights Commission. As the pre-eminent human rights body in New Zealand, you'd expect the HRC to have something to say about the abuse of anti-terror legislation, unlawful searches and the terrorisation of a community by police. But they didn't. Now, after having stayed silent for six years, they've finally released their "analysis" of the raids. Given the timing - the week before xmas, when the holiday silly season has started, you'd think they were embarrassed about its contents. And you'd be right. Because what we have here isn't an "analysis" - that would require that it drew conclusions. It doesn't. Instead we've got a statement of the law (as it stood in 2007) around terrorism, roadblocks and searches, with no effort made to apply it to the facts.

Partly this seems to be because they simply outsourced much of their work to the IPCA. But in other areas, not addressed by the IPCA report, its because they simply couldn't be bothered. One of the core complaints was that the police would never have treated a Pakeha community the way they treated Ruatoki. So was the police's behaviour discriminatory or not? The Human Rights Commission refuses to say. They talk about the law around discrimination, but not whether it applies in this case. Ditto on whether the rights of children were violated. As for the highly contentious issue of the use of the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 to gain interception warrants against political activists when terrorism charges were later dropped (engaging the rights to freedom of expression and association as well as against unreasonable search and seizure), the Commission remains silent. The most they will say is that

the nebulous terminology in the terrorism suppression Act increases the possibility that it could be misused.

No shit, Sherlock. But as a human rights body, shouldn't you be having a bit more to say about that? I mean, its only our political freedoms on the line here.

Overall, this report is an embarrassment to the Commission which has eroded its mana and its credibility. And the message is clear: we can't look to them to defend the human rights of individuals against the state, even in egregious cases like Operation 8.