Showing posts with label United Nations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label United Nations. Show all posts

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Labour will restore democracy in Canterbury

Yesterday, Labour issued a press release saying that they were complaining to the UN Human Rights Council about the government's denial of democracy in Canterbury. And buried at the bottom was the commitment I've been waiting to see:

Labour will return the right of Canterbury people to elect their regional councillors immediately.

Its implicitly been their position, but its good to have them say it in an election year. So, Christchurch voters: if you want your democracy back, you need to vote for a change of government.

As for the UN complaint: its unclear whether this is a complaint under the HRC complaint procedure or one under the ICCPR's First Optional Protocol. But either way, it will be an uphill battle. The HRC expressly screens "political" complaints (ignoring the fact that the struggle for rights is inherently political) and those based exclusively on media reports, and both require the exhaustion of domestic remedies (which are still possibly live - can the Minister's decision to suspend the council, or an explicit decision not to restore it, be subject to review under the Ombudsmen's Act?). And either way: any ruling will arrive long after the situation is resolved. But it does highlight the issue and it will hopefully focus even a little international attention on the government's actions.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

How convenient

A team of UN investigators has been refused permission to enter Nauru to investigate Australia's gulag there:

The Nauru government has told United Nations human rights investigators not to go there.

The cancellation of the sheduled trip to investigate the treatment of asylum seekers Australia sends to Nauru is understood to have originated in Canberra.

So, Australia is pretty nakedly attempting to cover up its crimes, using its client regime to do the dirty work. Its a clear sign of a guilty conscience, and of knowledge that their policy of mass-detention violates international law (not to mention basic humanitarian principles). But if the UN can't visit, they can't officially say that.

Isn't it time new Zealand stood up for human rights and criticised our neighbour's abhorrent behaviour?

So much for that good human rights record

One of the things we like to think about New Zealand is that we have a good record on human rights. But according to the report of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention after visiting New Zealand, its a lie. The working group visited to review our detention ystem; they visisted 16 prisons and consulted extensively with officials. And they found serious infringements of international law. The summary from Rethinking Crime and Punishment:

The Public Safety (Public Protections Orders) Bill, currently before Parliament, breached international law; prisoners who have served their sentence cannot be further detained under the label of civil preventive detention;

The 2005 Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act 2005 was in breach of international law. This Act prevents a prisoner who makes a successful claim against the Crown, from keeping any compensation received.

There were indications of systemic bias against Maori at all levels of the criminal justice system. The Working Party urged a review into the degree of inconsistency and systems bias, including the impact of recent legislative reform. It noted that four previous UN reports have identified the same issue.

Seventeen year old offenders continue to be treated as adults, despite recommendation from the UN that the protection measures available under the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989 be extended to this age group.

There were insufficient protection measures available to persons with mental or intellectual disabilities, who were detained.

They also had serious concerns about the advice Parliament is getting about our international human rights obligations. But its clearly not a question of bad advice - its a question of Parliament systematically ignoring it and violating those rights when politicians think they can gain politically by doing so. It is a conscious, deliberate crime of successive governments. It would be good if there was a working international system to hold them to account for it.

The Working Group's full report is here [PDF].

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

International justice for North Korea

The Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has found that the North Korean regime is committing crimes against humanity on a scale not seen since Nazi Germany:

A prisoner is forced to haul emaciated corpses up a mountain ready for burning so their ash can be used as fertiliser but sees that the flesh on their faces has been gnawed away by rats. Horrified inmates watch as a guard angered by the crying of a baby forces its mother to drown it face down in a bucket of water.

These are just two in a litany of alleged “unspeakable atrocities” described in a nearly 400-page report released by an independent UN panel of inquiry into the North Korean regime and its decades-long subjugation of its citizens through incarceration, enforced starvation, torture, rape, enslavement and sexual abuse. “Hundreds of thousands” of detainees have lost their lives over 50 years, it claims.

Presenting the report in Geneva, the panel chairman, Michael Kirby, said some of the crimes described evoke those committed by the Nazis, like forcing prisoners to load corpses into pots for burning. “At the end of the Second World War so many people said ‘if only we had known... if only we had known the wrongs that were done in the countries of the hostile forces’,” he said. “Well, now the international community does know... There will be no excusing of failure of action because we didn’t know.”

The Commission of Inquiry is recommending that the UN security Council refer the North Korean regime to the International Criminal Court, or in the event of a big power veto, for the UN General Assembly to create an ad-hoc tribunal to do it instead. I agree. The international community has looked the other way on atrocities like this for too long; its time for international justice to prevail.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A big change in our foreign policy

New Zealand is now officially allied with Israel at the United Nations:

JUSCANZ (pronounced “juice cans” — really!) is UN-speak for a collection of non-European Union states that often form a negotiating bloc at UN bodies and committees. The acronym stands for Japan, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which were the original members. Over the years, its membership was extended to Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Andorra and Switzerland.

And now, JUSCANZ can add another member to its bloc at a key UN committee: Israel.

This is, of course, America's doing. But it has significant impacts for New Zealand and our credibility with the rest of the world. And to point out the obvious, being allied with a nuclear-armed warmongering apartheid state which practices torture, assassination and indiscriminate warfare is not going to assist us when we are arguing for peace, disarmament and human rights.

And as usual: we weren't consulted. Foreign policy is something our government does to us, not on our behalf. This has to change.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

NZ's Universal Periodic Review

Last night New Zealand appeared before the United Nations Human Rights Council for its Universal Periodic Review of human rights. The UPR process examines our performance under all international human rights instruments. While New Zealand's is generally good, it identified a few areas where we can do better:

Member states of the United Nations have commended improvements to New Zealand's human rights record, but have expressed concern over levels of violence against women and children.

Some states recommended the Government develop a national strategy to prevent violence and abuse against children.


Some states also recommended New Zealand do more to minimise discrimination against Maori and other ethnic groups.

Meanwhile, its worth noting: in response to the 2009 UPR, the National government accepted recommendations to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and accept the individual complaints mechanism of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. We haven't. They agreed to several recommendations to protect the economic and social rights of Maori and Pacific Peoples, and to reduce institutional bias resulting in their over-representation in the criminal justice system - but they did nothing about either (and arguably, their employment relations and "tough on crime' policies have made things worse in both cases). National doesn't take this process seriously, and never has; the Minister they sent to represent us, Judith Collins, is the biggest eroder of human rights in recent memory. And this won't go unnoticed. Every time we break our word like this, the mana on which our foreign policy depends is eroded and undermined. And eventually, that is going to have consequences. After all, no-one likes dealing with a cheat - on human rights, or on trade.

We need to change this. Our government should have respect for human rights, not contempt for them. The present government doesn't, so its time to vote it out and replace it with one which properly represents our values.

Monday, July 01, 2013

New Fisk

Britain’s problems with a veto on Syria go right back to Yalta

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Whose side are we on?

Palestine goes to the UN today in an effort to gain recognition as a "non-member observer state" - a step up from its current status, and one which will grant it greater rights under international law (including, potentially, the right to take Israel to the ICC for its war crimes). The move will of course increase pressure on Israel to end its unlawful occupation of the West Bank, and so it is likely to be hotly contested by Israel's proxies, including the US. But it will pass by a wide margin, as those proxies are outnumbered and the US can't (ab)use its veto.

So where does our government stand? Sadly, they won't tell us, and deny even having made a decision. The suspicion is that they will take their lead from the UK and abstain, but that's just a cop-out. This is a serious matter of justice and international law. As a supposed supporter of both, the only credible position we can take is to recognise Palestine. Failing to do so will be inconsistent with our values and undermine our standing in the world, as well as our mana-based foreign policy. But then, National has been doing a lot of that recently...

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Human Development Report

The United Nations has released its annual Human Development Report, showing that New Zealand is the fifth most developed country in the world. This is dramatically at odds of the perception our business class tells us, of a country of economic losers in need of NeoLiberal "reform" to get us back to the top of the ranking tables, so what's up? Simple: The HDR takes into account not just living standards, but also life expectency and education, things NeoLiberals do not care about. And on those measures, we do very well indeed. The result is that we rank a full 30 places above our GDP ranking, just behind the United States.

Which just goes to show that these rankings are a matter of what you care about. If all you care about is money, then you hide our real achievements as a nation. And if you impose austerity and neoLiberlaism, then those achievements stand a good chance of being destroyed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A question

On Friday, Palestine is expected to apply for membership of the UN, effectively (re)declaring a Palestinian state. This will kick of a diplomatic shitstorm, highlighting the isolation of Israel and its patron, the United States.

So, here's a question: how will New Zealand vote? Our history as a supporter of human rights and internationalism would suggest that we would vote in favour. But the current government has shown itself to be more than willing to compromise on that where American interests are concerned.

I think its time they were put on the spot about this. Does National support human rights and the right of all peoples to self-determination? Or are they just American toadies? Voting minds want to know.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Why New Zealand agreed that disconnection violated international law

Back in April, the National government abused urgency to ram the final stages of a guilt by accusation copyright law - including the option of mandatory disconnection from the internet - through Parliament. Then, in June, it surprised us all by joining with other nations on the international stage to declare that such laws violated international law and basic human rights standards. Then, the next day, it denied it had approved any such declaration.

What was going on? The Creative Freedom Foundation attempted to get to the bottom of things using the Official Information Act, asking MFAT for documents and emails relating to the endorsement. MFAT naturally withheld most of the relevant data - it apparently being harmful to our international relations if the government is honest with its own citizens about what it is up to. But the document it did release shows that they were informed of the declaration by our permanent mission to the UN, who has given support in principle on the basis that

In line with your instructions this would appear consistent with our traditional backing of freedom of expression within the broad context of civil and political rights
Clearly, that wasn't overruled - and rightly so. But again, it leaves the government in an odd position of supporting "freedom of expression within the broad context of civil and political rights" abroad, but not at home. If it really supports those principles, then it needs to repeal this law. Otherwise, we're simply acting like hypocrites - a disaster for a small country pursuing a mana-based foreign policy like us.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Speaking out of both sides of our mouth

Yesterday, I noted that the New Zealand government had endorsed the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression which found that disconnection from the internet is grossly disproportionate and a violation of international law. Today, Labour's foreign affairs spokesperson Maryan Street asked in parliament whether this meant that they would be repealing the disconnection provision. The government gave a surprising response, denying that we had endorsed the statement.

Except that we have. Here's the statement, and here's the preamble to it:

I have the honor of addressing the Human Rights Council on behalf of

Austria, Bosnia, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Lithuania, fmr Yugoslav Rep of Macedonia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palestine, Peru, Poland, Senegal, South Africa, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, the United States, Uruguay

Our name did not get on that list by accident. New Zealand diplomats will have formally agreed to be on it, and formally agreed to the exact text of the statement being made in our name. And MFAT will have the documents to prove it (though our chances of extracting them via the OIA are about zero, given MFAT's dislike of democratic oversight).

Finlayson has now put those diplomats in a difficult position. Because of his wriggling to avoid domestic political embarrassment, their word can no longer be trusted. And, by extension, neither can ours. On the international stage, we are now speaking out of both sides of our mouth, not practicing what we preach. And quite apart from being dishonest, this undermines our entire mana-based foreign policy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

NZ government agrees disconnection violates international law

Back in April, the New Zealand government abused urgency to ram through a "three strikes" guilt by accusation IP regime which would see people disconnected from the internet for repeat violations. The law was indirectly criticised by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression, who declared that such regimes were grossly disproportionate and a violation of international law. And now, the New Zealand government has endorsed the Special Rapporteur's report:

Michael Geist notes that on Friday, Sweden made remarks at the UN Human Rights Council that endorsed many of the report's findings, including the criticism of "three strikes" rules. The statement was signed by 40 other nations, including the United States and Canada. The United Kingdom and France, two nations that have enacted "three strikes" regimes, did not sign the statement.

"All users should have greatest possible access to Internet-based content, applications and services," the statement said, adding that "cutting off users from access to the Internet is generally not a proportionate sanction." It also called network neutrality and Internet openness "important objectives."

Interestingly, the report is signed by New Zealand, which enacted legislation in April that sets up a special Copyright Tribunal for expediting file-sharing cases. The penalties available to the New Zealand government include Internet disconnections of up to six months.

So, does this mean that the government has realised it is wrong on disconnection? if so, it should introduce a repeal bill immediately. Alternatively, they could just be hypocritically trying to have it both ways, criticising these laws while still keeping them on the books here. But they'd never do that, would they?

Friday, March 18, 2011

A no-fly zone

The UN Security Council has authorised the imposition of a no-fly zone in Eastern Libya to protect civilians from attack. At the same time, it has specifically excluded the use of ground troops. This is what Libya's rebels wanted and have been begging for; at the same time, it may now be too late. And of course, there's the usual risk, almost always realised, that military intervention will make things worse. But now the decision as been made, we just have to cross our fingers and hope it turns out for the best.

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Human Development Report

The United Nations has released its annual Human Development Report. And in a bit of a shock, it ranks New Zealand as the third most developed country in the world. Oh, sure, our GNI is low compared to other western nations - but our non-economic indicators, things like health and education, more than make up for it.

The reason its a bit of a shock is because previously NZ has ranked much lower, in the high teens. The reason our ranking has improved is not because of any improvement in the underlying data, but because of a methodological change in the way they are combined (previously, they were simply averaged; now they use the geometric mean, which results in a lower score where there are wider gaps between the dimensions. This means that instead of being three of four places above our GNI rank, we are now thirty.

(Not that our underlying scores are anything to sniff at. NZ's life expectancy is pretty standard for a developed country. But our mean length of education is two years higher, and our expected length of education four years higher. In other words, we do well because we have a high school-leaving age, a lot of ECE and mass tertiary education. Together these mean our combined non-economic value is 0.98, compared to ~0.9 for most other developed nations).

The UN has also introduced a subindex which corrects for the effects of income and gender inequality. Unfortunately, there's no data on this for New Zealand, but it tends to result in substantial decreases, which get worse the less developed a country is. At the bottom end, some countries lose 30 - 40% of their score on this measure, which tells you that development is spread very unevenly. Its a good addition, especially in light of the recent focus on the effects of inequality, and hopefully it will lead to a greater focus on equal development rather than on development for the rich.

You can download the full HDR here [PDF, large].

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

This morning, the government announced its support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Good. As a country which supposedly supports indigenous rights, and which thinks of itself as having got its relationship with Māori right, we should have been supporting it all along. Labour's 2007 refusal to support it was utterly shameful, and a black mark on that party's history.

Some think the Declaration is a racist document which grants special rights to people on the basis of their ethnicity. This is bullshit. The rights affirmed in the Declaration - rights to life, non-discrimination, self-determination, language, culture etc - are primarily reaffirmations of rights already affirmed in other international legal instruments such as the UDHR, ICCPR and ICESCR. In most cases, these rights are clarified to give guidance on their implementation in the specific context of indigenous peoples, particularly in light of their past treatment. Even the "new" collective rights against genocide, dispossession, assimilation, forced integration and relocation fall into this category - they already exist in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. In other words, what the Declaration affirms is the same damn rights everyone else has. And like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, its necessary precisely because those rights have been ignored and violated so often in the past.

Even the "controversial" Article 26, which affirms the right of indigenous peoples to retain their land, falls into this category, in that Article 17 of the UDHR affirms a right to own property and not to be arbitrarily deprived of it. But beyond that, this article is what the entire Treaty process has been about: coming to terms with the fact that we stole this country from its rightful owners, and doing what we can to make recompense for it. That has been a core principle of Treaty policy for 30 years now, and we should be upholding and promoting it on the international stage - not denying it.

(As an aside, anyone else find it ironic that ACT - the party of propertarians - thinks affirming the right of Māori to their property is wrong? I guess they really just are the party of Pakeha racists then...)

What should be controversial about the Declaration is not that we are supporting it, but the manner in which National has gone about it: flying a Minister to New York in the dead of night, making no mention of the fact in their media briefings, expunging it from the Minister's official diary (which, BTW, probably violates the Public Records Act, not to mention the spirit of the OIA. Someone should be prosecuted there). This extraordinary secrecy seems to have been aimed at one of the government's own support parties, who went nuclear in the House today and accused them of breaking their coalition agreement. It was disrespectful and dishonest.

Also dishonest are John Key's statements about what the declaration commits us to. As a small country with a mana-based foreign policy, we pride ourselves on our support for international law and on keeping our word. We make a point of not signing up to things unless we plan to implement them. But despite having his Minister of Māori Affairs announce our support for the Declaration, Key was today trying to argue that it was purely aspirational and that it meant nothing as it was non-binding. This is technically correct - its only a declaration, not a treaty, and even the latter have no effect unless implemented in New Zealand law - but at the same time it is grossly dishonest and two faced to say you support something in the morning and effectively denounce it that same afternoon.

Our government should stand by its public statements. If it did not intend to uphold the Declaration, then it should not have announced its support for it. It is that simple. Yes, such two-faced dishonesty is par for the course in the UN, as any student of UN human rights treaties would know. But we're meant to be better than that. Sinking to the level of dishonesty of China and Libya degrades us as a nation, and undermines the mana on which our entire foreign policy is based. And that is hugely damaging to our country in the long run.

Friday, November 06, 2009

New Zealand looks the other way on war crimes in Gaza

Back in September, the UN Human Rights Council's factfinding mission to Gaza found that both Israel and Palestinian militants committed war crimes in Israel's recent disproportionate campaign against Gaza. Today, the UN General Assembly voted to accept the report, demanding that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority conduct full and independent investigations into crimes committed by their forces, and charging the Secretary-General to report back within three months "with a view to considering further action, if necessary, by the relevant United Nations organs and bodies".

This is as fair and impartial a motion as you can get, demanding a full investigation by both sides. However, only 118 nations voted for it, with 18 opposed and 44 abstaining. New Zealand was in the latter group. That's right - on a fundamental matter of international law, we prefer to look the other way rather than uphold it. I guess the government didn't want to be called "anti-Semitic" for insisting that the law apply to all, and that neither Israel or Palestinian militant groups were allowed to murder civilians, use disproportionate force, and engage in collective punishment.

So much for being a "good international citizen" and a "strong voice for human rights"...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Israel committed war crimes in Gaza

That's the conclusion of the UN Human Rights Council's fact-finding mission. Israeli forces used disproportionate force, imposed a blockade which amounted to collective punishment, and deliberately targeted the civilian population. Their military operations were

carefully planned in all their phases as a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population.
The mission's leader, South African judge Richard Goldstone, concluded that these actions amounted to "war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity". The same charge is levelled at Palestinian groups for deliberately attacking civilian targets.

In both cases, Goldstone recommends that the Security Council require both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to investigate these crimes, and report in six months about their progress. If they do not come up to scratch - if crimes are denied or whitewashed, and if there is no serious investigation and good-faith prosecution - then the relevant parties should be referred to the International Criminal Court. Its a sensible solution. The way to end war crimes is to end impunity for war criminals. If these countries will not enforce international (and their own) law, then the international community will have to do it for them.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fiji: great news if its true

Last night Australian Prime Minister claimed that the UN was going to ban Fiji from future peacekeeping missions. It hasn't been confirmed yet by UN authorities, but its great news if its true. This is a measure which strikes directly at the Fijian military - at its prestige, and its income. It sends a clear message to every Fijian soldier that the regime has cost them a pile of tax-free US dollars. And it deprives the military of an income stream they use to both justify their excessive size and build up their capabilities for oppression. In short, it would be a highly effective measure; the real question is why they didn't do it sooner.

Friday, March 27, 2009


From the fuss being made over Helen Clark's nomination to head the UNDP, you'd think she was going off to head something big and important. And she is. But last night, I was shocked when I heard a reporter breathlessly mention the UNDP's total budget: US$5 billion, or about NZ$9 billion. NZ$9 billion for the entire world.

To put that in context, its just under an eighth of the NZ government budget [PDF], and smaller than our education, social development, or health budgets. We alone spend more money on any one of those things than the UN gets for the entire developing world.

Kindof puts it in context, neh?