Friday, December 31, 2004

2004: Our year in human rights

With everyone and their dog doing retrospectives at the moment, I thought I'd add to the chorus - by doing one on the progress of human rights in our country over 2004. Unfortunately, the progress was almost all downhill. The shining pieces of good news were the passage of the Civil Unions Act 2004, Paul Hopkinson's victory in his case over flag-burning, and a string of court victories for Ahmed Zaoui, culminating in his release on bail earlier in the month. But in general, the trend was one of erosion. Lowlights include:

  • The introduction of the Identities Bill, which allows the government to deny or revoke the passport of any New Zealander (thus preventing them from travelling) on suspicion;
  • Phil Goff's eagerness to introduce chemical castration for sex offenders;
  • The deportation of a 16-year-old Sri Lankan girl back to her abusers;
  • The introduction of majority verdicts on juries to make it easier for the crown to gain a conviction;
  • Erosion of protections against double jeopardy;
  • Imposing pregnancy tests on Tongan women wanting to visit New Zealand;
  • Denying David Irving entry into New Zealand, essentially on the basis of his (repugnant, if it really needs to be said) views on the Holocaust;
  • Phil Goff's attempts to prevent prisoners from being compensated for abuse or unlawful detention, in violation of our international commitments and the basic principle of equality under the law;
  • Attempts by National MPs to require parental notification (or even consent) for teenage abortions;
  • The prolonged incarceration of remand prisoners in police cells, under conditions worse than those required for the keeping of dogs;
  • Phil Goff's plans to seize the assets of (in his words) "criminals who ha[ve] been acquitted of criminal charges";
  • The laying of sedition (in addition to criminal damage) charges over the axe attack on the PM's electorate office.

I think this list shows that we have a lot more work to do if we want to live up to our international commitments and ideals on human rights.

By way of awards, I think dishonourable mentions have to go to

  • The Solicitor-General, for saying that it would be acceptable for Ahmed Zaoui to spend five years in jail without charge;
  • David Benson-Pope, for screaming "put him on the plane" during a Parliamentary question on Ahmed Zaoui; and
  • The entire National, ACT, and New Zealand First parties for seemingly abandoning the idea of human rights entirely.

But as for an overall award, for the person who did the most to undermine human rights in New Zealand in 2004, I think the answer is obvious. One name features prominently in the above litany of shame: Phil Goff. His utter lack of concern for procedural safeguards, the rights of the accused (or convicted), actual guilt or innocence - for justice, in other words - really speaks for itself. This year, he gets the golden raspberry for egregious overachievement in the undermining of human rights standards. Maybe I'll send him a certificate...