The Human Rights Commission submission to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee this afternoon on the Countering Terrorist Fighters Bill makes specific recommendations relating to passport denial; increasing safeguards around visual surveillance by the SIS; and limiting the time allowed for warrantless emergency surveillance.
Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford stated that legislation is only one way to prevent terrorism and that the Committee needed to engage with communities likely to be marginalised by short-term measures such as this Bill.
“The answer to these problems around terrorist activity does not lie solely in legislation and law reform. The long term answer to dealing with the issue of foreign terrorist fighters lies with involving peace loving New Zealanders in creating solutions to minimise extremism in our communities,” Mr Rutherford said.
The Commission says this Bill adequately balances many issues and recognises that this legislation is an interim measure and will be reviewed early next year along with other security legislation. However, there are significant issues that need to be addressed by the Select Committee.
“The Commission is asking Parliament to give full weight to the human rights dimension in its consideration of the Bill, consistent with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2178,” Mr Rutherford said.
The right to freedom of expression and privacy and the right to life and security are the most obvious human rights engaged in the context of surveillance and therefore any restrictions need to be carefully considered.
The Commission is concerned that the powers to carry out surveillance of New Zealand citizens without a warrant are unnecessary.
“The case for surveillance without a warrant is not made here. If it is to remain, the Select Committee should investigate how long this should be as we believe that 48 hours is too long.
“The Commission wants this legislation tightened up around the provisions for visual surveillance.
The Commission is concerned that a person that has their passport cancelled does not, in the current Bill, have a fair appeal process available to them and this is unfair.
“Any appeal of a decision to not issue a passport must be lodged within 28 days. This could create problems for potential appellants as an appeal could be difficult to activate in the permissible time frame if the person is out of the country and unable to return,” he said.
“The Bill should provide for an extension of appeal timeframes in certain circumstances. The possibility of issuing emergency travel documents would also be one way to ensure appeal rights are fully accessible.”
“Classified information may be withheld in some cases to maintain confidentiality. This can make it difficult to challenge. This is inconsistent with the right to justice. We suggest that consideration is given to establishing some form of independent review to address this concern.”
“We’ve been concerned about the use of urgency for many years. The problem seems to be that the very Bills that affect our human rights most are the Bills that are considered under urgency,” Mr Rutherford said today.
“The Commission is concerned that insufficient time has been given to properly estimating the benefits and costs of its introduction – the fact that the legislation is “time limited” is not a sufficient answer to this.
“The legislation will last until 2018. Three years is a not inconsiderable period of time when there is the possibility of abrogating human rights. This period should be set to the absolute minimum to enable the upcoming review to take place and new legislation to be in place.
“A shorter operative time period for the interim legislation should be considered by the Committee. The sunset clause should allow for sufficient time for a considered review allowing for civil society engagement while providing an incentive for the government to draft any necessary legislation.”
The Commission strongly recommends that there is engagement with affected communities and civil society to reinforce government measures.