Kiwis lead world in human rights protection

Kiwis lead world in human rights protection

March 3, 2015

President Barack Obama last month challenged us to "put an end to the cycle of hate" in the world by expanding human rights, religious tolerance and peaceful dialogue. This is work that New Zealand is among the best in the world at.

Proof can be seen in the peacekeeping and community development work of our defence and police forces in Bougainville, Timor-Leste and Afghanistan. It's also seen at home with the work being done today by police in partnership with iwi and ethnic communities.

It has also been seen in our leadership in establishing bodies that protect the human rights of all New Zealanders -- such as the Human Rights Commission, Children's Commission, Privacy Commission, Independent Police Conduct Authority and Office of the Ombudsman, among others.

Before we search in Australia, Britain or the United States for ideas on how to fight for freedom, human rights and democracy we should recall the words of our own writer John Mulgan.

The NZ Army Second Division fought to defend life, freedom and democracy, human rights and justice in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. Mulgan said of those New Zealanders: "They had confidence in themselves such as New Zealanders rarely have, knowing themselves as good as the best the world could bring against them, like a football team in a more deadly game, coherent, practical, successful."

We have the experience and capability to have this same confidence in how we counter terrorism in New Zealand. As we did before, we should listen politely to the advice of our past colonial masters and others who think they know better but we should have confidence in our own way.

We have and we should cut the path. They have plenty to learn from us because we are very, very good at expanding human rights, promoting religious tolerance and peaceful dialogue. We can be and are coherent, practical and successful in how we do it.

To be quite clear, we must maintain both faces. Again our army is a good example. It calls itself Ngati Tumatauenga - the tribe of the God of War - but it trains to maintain the face of Rongo - the God of Peace - at all times unless mortally threatened. New Zealand understands that as tough as making war can be, making peace is harder.

It is impossible to disagree with President Obama that "when people spew hatred towards others because of their faith or because they're immigrants, it feeds into terrorist narratives ... It feeds a cycle of fear and resentment and a sense of injustice upon which extremists prey. And we can't allow cycles of suspicion to tear the fabrics of our countries."

However, most New Zealanders know that. Our friends know we know.

Other things feed the cycle of fear and resentment and the sense of injustice. Cycles of suspicion are fed when we do not act in a coherent and practical way that respects the dignity and rights of those who observe what we do.

If we learn from the mistakes of Operation 8, which the police have apologised for, we will think deeply before we act about the collateral damage of those actions. Hopefully, we will not in years to come have Muslim children visiting our Parliament as part of an apology, truth and reconciliation process as we saw recently for the children of Tuhoe.

A coherent or practical counter-terrorism strategy would be to consider practical, New Zealand-centric ways to deal with the people we might arrest and jail, and their families and friends. Treat them with dignity and respect and we cut the ground from under those who might make them martyrs for their cause.b

By not thinking the consequences through, we do the violent extremists' job for them. We create a bigger "them and us".

Peacemaking at home will require the same common sense and courage that saw us go to Bougainville with nothing more than guitars, a kapa haka group and our reputation.

Treating people with dignity and respect looks like this: people are imprisoned only after due process with proper legal representation; once detained we do not dehumanise people and are sure to alert relevant watchdogs.

It demonstrates to all that we have the welfare of their sons, daughters and friends as much in mind as we do the potential victims of violent extremism.

This op-ed originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald

Dig Deeper:

The Commission presented a paper explaining its position on the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill. Read more here.

Chief Commissioner David Rutherford

David Rutherford was appointed Chief Human Rights Commissioner on September 2011. Prior to his appointment, he was the managing director of Special Olympics Asia Pacific and based in Singapore.

He has held senior executive roles in building materials and agribusiness businesses operating in New Zealand and Australia, has been chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Union and has worked as a corporate, securities and commercial lawyer in New Zealand and Canada.

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