New Zealand Government Is Not Fit to Sit on UN Human Rights Council

A Highly Unsuitable Candidate

The New Zealand Government must be stopped. At home and abroad.

On 14 September this year, the New Zealand government and three other governments (Canada, USA and Australia) shared the dubious distinction as the only states to vote against the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On Friday, it announced its candidacy for the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council, for the period 2009-2012. The announcement came at the end of a shocking week where Maori sovereignty campaigners, environmentalists, and other activists had been arrested in a major series of Police raids throughout the country, under the post-9/11 Suppression of Terrorism Act, and where armed paramilitary police besieged and terrorized the Tuhoe Maori communities of Ruatoki and Taneatua, in the “Bay of Plenty” region in the east of the North Island. Some 15% of Aotearoa/New Zealand’s population of just over 4 million are Maori. Ruatoki Maori charge that among many other outrages, armed police in black commando gear traumatized children by searching school buses.

Clearly Helen Clark’s supposedly centre-left Labour Party-led social democratic government has no shame. The Maori Party Minister of Parliament and co-leader Dr Pita Sharples said that the raids had taken race relations in New Zealand back 100 years. Many agreed, while a torrent of racist anti-Maori sentiment flowed forth in the nation’s media. Meanwhile, prominent Tuhoe Maori sovereignty campaigner, community worker, and artist, Tame Iti, his nephew Rawiri, and 15 others have been arrested. Most have been denied bail and remain in jail. Activist homes and offices were raided, searched or visited by police in several centres, on a major fishing expedition against those who would challenge the status quo. Protests against the raids, and in support of those targeted, have been organized in a number of cities and towns throughout New Zealand, with an impressive 1500 people turning out in the small, largely Maori East Coast town of Whakatane where Tame Iti was arrested at gunpoint last Monday. Placards included: “He taonga te mokopuna [our children are treasures]”, “We are not terrorists, we’ve been terrorised” and “Don’t point the gun at me! I’m under 5″. Solidarity protests have taken place in Australia, Germany and other countries. More are planned.

The New Zealand state, built as it is on the dispossession of Maori and the continued colonization of Maori lands, lives and resources has always inherently equated Maori resistance and decolonization initiatives with subversion, sedition and criminality. Perhaps especially so in Tuhoe territory, for whom this is yet another very real wave of armed invasion and occupation.

Almost a century ago, in 1916, the Tuhoe settlement of Maungapohatu in the bush-clad Urewera ranges, a pacifist, religious community, was raided by armed constabulary in the same way as Ruatoki was raided last Monday by what some are calling a “ninja army” of police. Back then, two men were shot dead and the remainder ended up in prison, “guilty of moral resistance”. The government unsuccessfully tried to charge Tuhoe leader Rua Kenana with sedition.

Maungapohatu’s crime was reluctance to engage in World War One. Back then, they called it “sedition” and “treason”. Now, Maori resistance is being called ‘terrorism’. As elsewhere, 9/11 has provided a whole new pretext for surveillance of domestic dissent. With the Cold War over, state security agencies in New Zealand and elsewhere, including police forces, have had to find new enemies within to justify their budgets and powers. Yet in colonial-settler states like New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the United States, the new enemies are often the old enemies – Indigenous Peoples who have survived generations of genocidal policies, and who continue to assert their fundamental rights to self-determination. Creating and sustaining a climate of fear is to the benefit of those in New Zealand who would rather conveniently forget some hometruths about the basis for New Zealand’s much-vaunted democratic welfare state. Invasion and colonial occupation. We may well be living in the 21st century, but colonialism is alive and kicking.

An earlier Labour Party government imposed the most radical free market reforms in any OECD country in the 1980s, which transformed Aotearoa/New Zealand into an investment playground for transnational corporations which often bought up privatized former state-owned assets at firesale prices. The social costs were high, and the country’s Maori and Pacific Island communities bore a disproportionate part of the negative impacts. But for many Maori this came as nothing new. Many Maori saw the commercialization, privatization and deregulation process as yet another wave of colonization; the further appropriation and commodification of their lands and resources. Prior to corporatization and privatization, these had been stolen from Maori. Some of the strongest challenges to the economic reforms have come from Maori, through legal challenges, direct actions and other methods.

Commenting on the police offensive, a recent editorial in the country’s largest circulation daily newspaper, the New Zealand Herald was critical: “When police in other countries foil plans of apparent terrorism, they usually act quietly and invariably they quickly give the public a reasonable account of what they have discovered. The New Zealand police this week have done neither.

Their swoop on a suspicious camp in the Ureweras and the homes of activists in several causes was carried out so conspicuously that news cameras were able to catch some of it. But when it came to explaining the raids, Police Commissioner Howard Broad was circumspect in the extreme. Over ensuing days, when the arrested were brought to court, judges too have closed the door.

Consequently the country is still in the dark at the end of a week in which its confidence in its internal security, and in its police and law, has been put to a test.” (20 October 2007).

The Herald editorial pointed out that those who are arguing that this is a case of major police overkill can indeed derive support from the fact that thus far, charges laid against the 18 arrestees have all been under the Arms Act, not the Terrorism Suppression Act. But the headlines throughout New Zealand have been replicated uncritically throughout the world proclaiming the existence of “Maori terror camps” – although a growing number of people are now asking some harder questions about the operation, and the nature of police intelligence behind it all. Plenty of people in the Ureweras own firearms. Tuhoe consider the forest their food basket, and hunt for pigs and deer. There is a disturbing mindset and operational culture within parts of the New Zealand police which frequently equates challenges to prevailing political and economic orthodoxies with criminal activity. While their operations relate partly to narcotics and vice, the police’s Criminal Intelligence Service (CIS) also monitors political activities which the police consider may involve a breach of the criminal law, though how such activities are assessed is anybody’s guess.

The service conducts similar surveillance operations to the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) and there is strong liaison between them. For many years, the CIS has clearly granted itself a broad mandate to collect information on people on the basis of their political beliefs and sympathies, and views formed by police intelligence officers. Their work in this area seems to have much in common with political elements in police forces elsewhere in the world which routinely monitor, harass and criminalize legitimate political organizers and activities.

By deeming many groups and individuals as having a sufficient propensity to commit criminal offences on the basis of their perceived political views and affiliations, the CIS is contributing towards the criminalization of dissent in New Zealand. Whatever data gets fed into a filter or frame such as that constructed by police intelligence in relation to political activism, inevitably gets twisted and manipulated every which way. In turn, this encourages front line police to exercise contempt and a cavalier disregard towards people’s rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. In May 2000, two dozen unions, academics, religious and political leaders called on the justice and electoral select committee to hold an inquiry in to the CIS’s role in targeting political organizations and activists. Predictably, this call went unanswered. Maybe it needs to be restated even more forcefully now.

Critics of successive expansions of Police and state security intelligence agency powers, both before and after 9/11, have pointed out that such laws are likely to target a wide range of organizations that are working for social change in Aotearoa/New Zealand. New technology in the hands of the New Zealand police is a bit of a worry. In 2003, it was revealed, embarrassingly, that the National Bureau of Criminal Intelligence, in its threat assessment of an Algerian refugee, Ahmed Zaoui, until recently detained on secret evidence under a security risk certificate issued by the NZSIS drew “evidence” from a cult website of convicted fraudster, cryptofascist and conspiracy theorist, Lyndon Larouche which claimed that Mr Zaoui had links with a terrorist organization.

So what would the New Zealand government have to gain by the stormtrooper tactics unleashed last week? The raids and accompanying “domestic terror” hysteria add extra impetus to a Terrorism Suppression Amendment Bill now before Parliament. They create both a climate of fear while modelling a strong “no-nonsense” government. Getting tough on “crime” is a tried and tested formula in the lead-up to an election.

So is racism. Not that New Zealand governments need much help in scapegoating Indigenous Peoples. But they seem to be taking a clear leaf from Australia’s John Howard, who habitually campaigns on racist get-tough policies against Indigenous Australians (especially 1998 and this election – maybe his outrageous militarization of Indigenous communities in Northern Territory in the name of child welfare gave Helen Clark some ideas), refugees (2001) and the war on Iraq/”war on terror” (2004 and this year). The Clark government must hope that this macho demonstration of state power being unleashed against Indigenous Peoples who have the temerity to believe in rights to self-determination and decolonization will play out well for them in the polls. The chilling effect this operation will have on people who advocate for social justice, and healthy political debate in Aotearoa/New Zealand is of great concern.

There’s nothing “postcolonial” about the era that we live in. This week’s actions clearly illustrate that the governments of colonial settler states, like leopards, don’t change their spots, but just stalk their prey in other ways, to paraphrase Maori lawyer Moana Jackson. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, the non-Maori majority have a responsibility to challenge the New Zealand government’s actions now and in the future, and resist a new wave of McCarthyism which threatens to cast a chilling spell on all who dissent against the status quo. If they do not know it already, non-Maori need to learn the real history of not only the Tuhoe people and their territory, but also the history of colonization in Aotearoa. And to understand that this process continues. Elsewhere, people would do well to see through the mythmaking prancing and posturing of the New Zealand government on the world stage as it boasts about how progressive it is. As a friend said to me yesterday, if this were happening in Burma, the story would have much more airtime. If Burma was applying for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, there would be outrage and protests around the world. Why should the New Zealand government be able to terrorize whole communities and criminalize Maori sovereignty activists and their supporters and not expect strong challenges to its colonial hypocrisy?

Aziz Choudy is based in Aotearoa (New Zealand). He is active in, among other causes, the struggle against colonisation and for the rights of Indigenous Peoples to self-determination. Read other articles by Aziz, or visit Aziz's website.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Russ Wellen said on October 22nd, 2007 at 9:59am #

    Maori terrorists? Didn’t know New Zealand gov’t was that heavy-handed. Thanks for that report on suppression of native peoples and general overview of political life there.

  2. o. rana said on October 22nd, 2007 at 10:13am #

    It is obvious that racism and colonialism is running deep in the four countries mentioned in the article. The ongoing violence against the first people of AOTEAROA are utterly shameful, and the the power elite who has announced the country’s candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council must be bared from that position.
    The four countries Australia, Canada, USA and New Zealand are all notorious violators of human right and are unfit for such positions.

  3. Shabnam said on October 22nd, 2007 at 2:00pm #

    O.rana:

    You have forgotten the most important country which is the brain of this extended family and that is BRITAIN. It is true that Britain is not the main imperialist and colonial power of our time but in fact is the mother of these four countries. This is an inseparable package that has destroyed civilization after civilization by most brutal and most destructive forces by the last 500 years. Don’t believe them when they preach “democracy” including New Zealand. This brutal package has been created by work of people like Cecil Rhodes who said Britain must sit his flag on every single corner of the world. They are pretty close to that and continue to do it to finish the job by any means including genocide, mass murders, placing puppets in power who are in fact British in brain and Arab, Pakistani or Indian in Blood and have used nuclear holocaust to hold on to their power. Their most destructive soft tool is the Mass Media which spreads lies and deception by Zionist control media to brain wash their ignorant citizens and continue to keep them as ignorant as they are to sell their weapons of mass destruction and waging wars after wars to continue killing and robbing other nations.

  4. David said on October 22nd, 2007 at 9:34pm #

    Why no critical commentary on the concept of rights for indigenous people?

    I can understand the motivation to push for these types of rights. However, is the differentiating of rights according to culture, historical disadvantage or other criteria the best approach?

    Wouldn’t a set of rights that is universally applicable be superior?

    Disadvantage might be easy to spot when it lies along racial or cultural ghetto lines. Addressing these obvious deficiencies in human relationships does not account for the myriad of others who suffer abuse but don’t conveniently fit an “approved” profile.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on October 23rd, 2007 at 5:00am #

    It’s quite simple David. Indigenous people lived in these lands for centuries, if not millenia. After initially disrupting the land, they generally learned to live at peace with their ‘country’ as the Australian indigenous people call it. Then along came racist, genocidal Europeans, who exterminated as many as they thought necessary, stole the land and threw the first inhabitants into squalour. Where genocide was complete, as with the ‘Indians’ of California, the Tasmanians and the Herrero of SW Africa, no rights remain for the indigenous. Elsewhere the remnants fight on, in the face of continual, bitter and intractable race hatred. The Europeans did not invent race hatred, but they certainly perfected it. All the garbage we constantly hear concerning ‘Western Civilization’ is simply the repetition of a vacuous self-interested mantra that has justified the murder and dispossession of untold millions up to the present day. Indigenous rights are just, and are needed as protection against further genocidal outrages. Not that the word of the European is worth much. The Yanks abrogated every treaty they made with the tribes of America, the New Zealanders treat the Treaty of Waitangi with contempt, and the US and Israel breach every solemn undertaking of international humanitarian law, particularly the Geneva Conventions, every single day. The ubermenschen of Judeo-Christian civilization simply see themselves as a higher type, as James Watson so pithily reminded us just this week.

  6. Ruben Botello said on October 23rd, 2007 at 9:05am #

    Let’s see, what do New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the U.S. have in common that they would all oppose indigenous rights? Is it because their ruling elites are the offspring of the colonial murderers, robbers, rapists and thieves who invaded and occupied these stolen lands not so long ago?

    The ancestral lands and freedoms of today’s indigenous peoples were stolen by the ancestors of these nations’ leaders, and this makes them and other offspring of the original criminals guilty of receiving stolen property “for so long as the rivers flow.”

    This is why these four nations voted against the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. They refuse to accept responsibility for their ongoing crime.

  7. Terrorism - Page 5 - Interfaith forums said on October 23rd, 2007 at 11:39am #

    […] Re: Terrorism The reverberations of a declared "war on terror" continue to shake the world. Unfortunately in the general clamor, suppression of indigenous peoples, targets of terror for centuries, continues to be under-reported and generally unacknowledged, even as it escalates–another casualty in a "war" that aims at wiping out resistance and dissent. …[In New Zealand] Maori resistance is being called terrorism. As elsewhere, 9/11 has provided a whole new pretext for surveillance of domestic dissent. With the Cold War over, state security agencies in New Zealand and elsewhere, including police forces, have had to find new enemies within to justify their budgets and powers. Yet in colonial-settler states like New Zealand, Canada, Australia and the United States, the new enemies are often the old enemies Indigenous Peoples who have survived generations of genocidal policies, and who continue to assert their fundamental rights to self-determination. Creating and sustaining a climate of fear is to the benefit of those in New Zealand who would rather conveniently forget some hometruths about the basis for New Zealands much-vaunted democratic welfare state. Invasion and colonial occupation. We may well be living in the 21st century, but colonialism is alive and kicking. … Theres nothing postcolonial about the era that we live in. This weeks actions clearly illustrate that the governments of colonial settler states, like leopards, dont change their spots, but just stalk their prey in other ways, to paraphrase Maori lawyer Moana Jackson. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, the non-Maori majority have a responsibility to challenge the New Zealand governments actions now and in the future, and resist a new wave of McCarthyism which threatens to cast a chilling spell on all who dissent against the status quo. If they do not know it already, non-Maori need to learn the real history of not only the Tuhoe people and their territory, but also the history of colonization in Aotearoa. And to understand that this process continues. Elsewhere, people would do well to see through the mythmaking prancing and posturing of the New Zealand government on the world stage as it boasts about how progressive it is. As a friend said to me yesterday, if this were happening in Burma, the story would have much more airtime. If Burma was applying for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, there would be outrage and protests around the world. Why should the New Zealand government be able to terrorize whole communities and criminalize Maori sovereignty activists and their supporters and not expect strong challenges to its colonial hypocrisy? full article: Dissident Voice : New Zealand Government Is Not Fit to Sit on UN Human Rights Council […]

  8. Jum said on October 23rd, 2007 at 1:40pm #

    My goodness, I didn’t realise I was living in such a terrible country. I didn’t realise that the people I work with, play with, drink with, make the rules with, were suffering so much. As they sit in their positions of power and influence in government, I didn’t realise that their votes and their speaking rights were ignored. I didn’t realise that their steady rise in the more affluent side of the economy was so wrong. I didn’t realise that the education they are getting in our universities, under special fee packages were such anathema to them. I must tell my indigenous friends that they’re not meant to be happy. They’re not meant to enjoy the life they live in NZ. They’re meant to live in huts and wear flax skirts and beat the crap out of each other in the Ureweras, to make them tough Tuhoe. They’re meant to be tough men, beat up their women, which is precisely what happened when the All Blacks lost. There was a huge increase in women escaping from their loving men to the refuges, and that is across the colour divide and the economic divide. And here we have Aziz Choudry, that great Kiwi who happens to live in Canada, and is deliberately creating a bad face for New Zealanders. I will support fully any individual in my country who is being treated unfairly because as a woman, I fully understand how women are discriminated against by men, and therefore I hate discrimination of any kind. I’m sure Aziz Choudry would agree with that, since he is so incensed about the rights of Maori. Like Islam controls the way women dress, think, act, speak and controls where they go, who with and why, etc etc. People, Aziz Choudry, who hide away in another country and try to destroy the democratic rights of people in NZ by trying to put in place real control of citizens through racial discrimination and a type of society that would set women’s rights back centuries in New Zealand makes me angry. Come back to NZ and say what you have said to my face, because I am New Zealand. Every Kiwi is New Zealand. Whatever might be wrong with New Zealand and each of us is working on making our relationships better, I cannot imagine what living in Saudi Arabia or Uganda or the Congo or the Sudan as a woman would be like. What I am sure of is that my indigenous friends do not want to live in Aziz’s world, especially my women friends.

  9. Herb Christophers said on October 23rd, 2007 at 1:46pm #

    Aziz Choudry forgets to mention that the New Zealand Government’s Waitangi tribunal provides opportuntiy for indigenous Maori people to take their grievences to a panel and get confiscated land back, to confirm their role as equals in society and to strive to assert themselves in society. OK it aint perfect but it is proving to be an effective tool in meeting some of the needs and aspirations of Maori. Look at the Tainui and Ngai Tahu settlements which have made them real potent forces in the economy of New Zealand. Tinorangatiratanga – Self determination, is good but lets get things going well for all at the same time. Azziz talked about the Labour-led reforms of the 1980’s What does he want? – Continued total state control of many large businesses as it used to be in the 60s ? And cut this racist crap too. I am an ethnic minority from the Pacific Islands and I don’t look in the mirror everytime I do something to remind myself that the colour of my skin makes me different and my culture is supposedly inferior. I just get on with life and love and be a part of society. And NO I did not grow up in a priviledged household and yes, the school I went to was more than 50% Maori. Get out there do something constructive instead of using your pen to attempt to destroy a society that is addressing issues on inequality. And also, don’t prejudge the reason for the Urewera issues until you hear the full story. Stop sucking up your own exhaust fumes. Conspiracy is alive and well and living in your imagination.

  10. Glenn said on October 23rd, 2007 at 6:30pm #

    May I respectfully suggest Mr Choudy, in his eagerness to push his own barrow, has jumped the gun in this matter. It would also be helpful if he would not be so selective in his presentation of the facts, our history, and current society.
    Jum and Herb, thanks for your responses. I too am a Kiwi.
    Yes, its easy to become overcome with patriotic fervour and indignation when reading this article. But we do have to acknowledge that NZ is far from perfect. Yes, land was stolen. Yes, injustices were committed. But action has been taken in recent decades to attempt to at least partially remedy these things.
    Yes those injustices can be attributed to the arrogance of our early European settlers (predominantly British). But we now have our own identity, our own society, and our own way of doing things . Britain is of little relevance to us today.
    Our members of parliament are not selected from a ‘power elite’. Our political system ensures any New Zealander has an opportunity to represent their peers, IF THEY ARE MOTIVATED to do so.
    Many NZers are unhappy about what has transpired this week in our country. Many have been reminded of nefarious government actions of the colonial days. But we still have some faith in our justice system (though again we recognise it is imperfect). So we wait, to hear the other side of the equation.
    If justice and fairness is really what Mr Choudy wants, I suggest he show some patience too. For we will hear the alternative viewpoint, as the judicial process takes its course. If Mr Choudy truly understands Kiwis and Kiwi society, he will know that. And he will know that if injustice has been perpetrated by our police force, or this draconian legislation wrongly applied, there will be an almighty backlash.
    Personally, I am very concerned about the use of the Suppression of Terrorism Act, and doubt that such a statute is even warranted. But I for one will hold my anger at bay, waiting to learn of the arguments supporting this weeks police action, rather than coming to an uninformed premature conclusion.

  11. Kelly Patrick Gerling said on October 24th, 2007 at 7:23pm #

    I find the article interesting but also quite one-sided. I’m not a citizen of New Zealand but of the United States. When I’ve participated in Maori events in New Zealand, my impression is that Maori rights and New Zealand’s adherance to the Waitangi Treaty are much better than the record in my own country to our Indian groups. Compared to the US, the democratic system in New Zealand is a progressive paradise with its MMP-based, multi-party democracy free of money influences in elections and an absence of an imperial foreign policy, but rather having benign, non-nuclear-weapon-possessing, peace-keeping foreign policies. From my USA vantage point, New Zealand would be a welcome addition to the UN Human Rights Council.

    Here are two articles that offer some of the other side to the story regarding the rejection of the non-binding treaty:

    Māori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia on the UNDRIP Treaty
    http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/411368/1347674

    PM Helen Clark and others on the reasons for the rejection of UNDRIP:
    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0709/S00272.htm

    As for the recent police actions, I will await what happens regarding the charges, whether illegal weapons were seized, and how due process works.

  12. John Eades said on November 14th, 2007 at 4:59pm #

    Yea right
    The inference that part maori in New Zealand are treated different to other “New Zealanders” is bollocks…The only problem in NZ is that the Govt fail to reconize that all people born in NZ are New Zealanders..
    If you dont believe that have a look at all Govt form’s and see if you can find New zealander on it for ethnic group. Even the NZ census had every other group bar New Zealander..When I queried this with the census supervisor’s I was told to put it down under “other”..so as you can see the country does not have an ethnic group..we are other’s by birth right…NO WONDER NEW ZEALAND has an identity problem..
    No pride in who we are, divided by Govt decree..dont show the flag
    divide and rule