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Howard's End: International Laws That Bind

Watching the politicians outline their 10-year vision during the leaders debate on TV3 last night, you had to wonder whether New Zealand will even exist in the form we know today in 10 years, because there are over 40,000 international agreements and treaties in existence with the force of international law. Maree Howard writes.

Cast your mind back to last week when High Court Justice, David Baragwanath, found the Government's stricter detention regime, introduced after the September 11 attacks, breached the United Nations Convention on Refugees which New Zealand has ratified.

The Government is to appeal the decision.

But that ruling was just the latest in a long line of international judicial rulings which have held that once a country signs and ratifies an international agreement, it signals to its people and to the world that it intends to abide by it.

The Government can't have it both ways.

According to the Treaty Section of the Office of Legal Affairs of the UN there are more than 40,000 treaties and international agreements in existence which mostly have the force of law.

The next controversial agreement to be ratified by the Government is the Convention on Climate Change (the Kyoto Protocol) to which the Prime Minister plans to commit New Zealand at an international conference she will attend in South Africa in September.

None of the international treaties, conventions or agreements which New Zealand signs and ratifies are debated in Parliament. The Government, exercising the Crown prerogative, retains that power alone.

The volume of international agreements affecting globalised trade, tax, medicines, finance, terrorism, international courts, to name just a few, have enormous impacts on New Zealand's ability to control its own destiny.

More often, today, we hear about how our world is interdependent. This is considered a good thing.

However, every time I hear the word "interdependence" glorified, I think that when a treaty or international agreement is ratified and then an unelected committee situated in some far-off country is able to decide what we can, or cannot, do and is given the force of law, then we become serfs doing the bidding of others in the corridors of international power.

In other words, interdependence is simply another form of dependence.

Over the years we've been told that colonialism has caused most of the problems of the third-world and contributed to much poverty and despair.

That may be true, but isn't the direction we are moving in today nothing more than super-colonialism where the world is also ruled by some bureaucratic official in a far-off country not even remotely connected to New Zealand?

Yet the reason the Government gave for wanting to abolish appeals to the Privy Council was that it no longer had meaning for New Zealand. Meanwhile, it's happy to give its sovereign power to other international organisations with even less relationship, or interest, in us.

It simply doesn't make sense!

Still, as long as the Courts continue to give the force of law and rulings on international treaties, conventions and agreements which New Zealand has ratified, it is a form of check and balance against an executive government getting out of control.

We don't have an upper house as a check and balance and the Courts are filling the void. And that can't be a bad thing.

A 10-year political vision for New Zealand? In 10 years it's doubtful whether New Zealand will even exist in the form we know today.

So how important was the live TV3 face-off between the leaders last night? Not very, it would seem.

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