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Human Rights Litmus Test Of Govt's Moral Substance

Human Rights A Litmus Test Of A Party’s Moral Substance

By Selwyn Manning – Scoop Co-Editor

If a human rights record is a litmus test of a party’s moral substance and suitability for leadership then Labour had better seek help. Clearly, the Labour-led Government is now offside with traditional political allies over the Ahmed Zaoui case to a degree that it must now seek a course of resolution.

Amnesty International has run a nationwide daily newspaper advert campaign challenging the government to resolve what has now become a New Zealand First-styled stand-off in Labour Party clothing. On one side the government stands staunch on its position against Ahmed Zaoui - on the other a rising tide of evidence displays departmental incompetence, security intelligence irrelevance, and human rights disregard.

Last week the Council of Trade Unions’ president Ross Wilson said: “The CTU has been concerned for some time that Ahmed Zaoui is being held in prison without charge, and is subject to a flawed and unfair process. It is fundamental that the Inspector-General should have to take into account Zaoui’s human rights and the Court of Appeal decision should be acted on without further delay.”

However, the government has remained determined to have human rights banned from consideration during the cited review of whether a security risk certificate was rightfully lodged by the SIS against Ahmed Zaoui.

Since his arrival at Auckland International Airport on December 4 2002, Ahmed Zaoui's sheer presence has challenged New Zealand's immigration laws and the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service's ability to accurately and independently acquire information.

By denying reference to the likely impact that death threats and arbitrary incarceration would have on Zaoui's wellbeing smacks of shades of totalitarianism.

However, unlike most nouveau totalitarian states, the New Zealand government is not beyond poll review. It is vulnerable to public scrutiny.

The Beehive’s embarrassment was palpable last week when the Supreme Court refused to accept an application from Attorney General Margaret Wilson to further gag Zaoui from being interviewed by Television New Zealand.

And while Labour reeled from a potentially ruinous issue of John Tamihere’s alleged taxation anomalies, a sad and silly outburst from its ‘backbone club’ rightwing faction member, Cabinet minister David Benson Pope, almost went unnoticed.

During Thursday’s question time Benson Pope’s interjection “Tell him [Zaoui] to get on the plane!” would have been typical had it been belched out from New Zealand First’s second-bench.

The fact that this insult came from Labour’s treasury benches is testament to how far along the centre-right road it has lurched since coming to power in late November 1999, and, how stuck in a ditch it is on this political crisis we know as the Ahmed Zaoui case.

Also significant from a political point of view is how National Party MPs have most recently been largely silent on this case. Lately, when the issue has been raised during question time, National has abstained from delivering supplementary questions. Scoop contacts within the conservative folds of National say there is widespread acknowledgement that the Zaoui case has been a departmental and political botch-up right from the start.

National may also be reticent to castigate the government on its handling of the case due to it being responsible for the failed and failing sections of the immigration laws that passed through the House in 1999.

But while in August, during question time, Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen pointed his finger across the House and suggested National was responsible for the law’s failings on issues of timeliness, Labour cannot blame any other but itself for dragging this case out on matters of face-saving legalese.

At almost every juncture, Labour’s strategy has backfired. Time and again the judiciary has paraded before the executive rulings and judgments clearly designed to compel the government to draft legislation and to regulate so as to aid a rightful outcome in the Zaoui case.

On all aspects - whether they be matters of unjust imprisonment due to the law not allowing alternative avenues of detention, the denial of the right to free speech for the individual and the fourth estate, or having Zaoui’s human rights assured irrelevant when the inspector general reviews whether or not to uphold the SIS’s security risk assessment of Zaoui – the government has continually and determinedly blocked legislative and administrative progress as recommended via the assessments of this country’s most experienced and regarded legal minds.

One gets a sense Labour is not the party it was when in opposition. Hypothetically, had Labour been in opposition at this time it would have championed the rights of Ahmed Zaoui and engineered a powerful lobby machine via the unions and NGOs. The resulting human-rights-juggernaut would have debatably ensured Zaoui be a free man by now.

As overseas trends show, the longer Third-Way governments remain in power, the more pronounced is the slide toward centre-right and beyond. This trend is not confined to the economic axis but clearly impacts on social-justice axis ideals, especially those aligned to foreign policy.

It is a disturbing trend, particularly for those who subscribe to a view that a government’s record on human rights grounds is a litmus test of moral substance. And particularly disturbing for those who hold this value as most important when assessing a party’s suitability for taking office.

Beyond this, the government has not only allowed the Zaoui case to become politically charged, it has ensured this be so. And it is this point that will likely lead to an erosion of public confidence in its assurances that it has acted in the nation’s best interests by incarcerating Zaoui while denying a most vulnerable family its rightful place and protection in New Zealand.

As the Sunday Star Times editorial said on the weekend: “the government does not seem to realise just how much harm it is doing itself. Clark and Wilson used to belong proudly to the intellectual, academic, liberal wing of the party. But the government, by its actions has betrayed the most sacred principles for which that group stood: respect for human rights; intellectual honesty; human decency.”


An event to promote the book on the Ahmed Zaoui case “I Almost Forgot About The Moon – The disinformation Campaign Against Ahmed Zaoui” will be held in Wellington in the Beehive foyer, Parliament Buildings, on Wednesday October 20 at 5:45pm.

Speakers will include the book’s co-author Selwyn Manning, CTU president Ross Wilson, Amnesty International’s New Zealand director Ced Simpson, and Ahmed Zaoui’s counsel Deborah Manning.

To attend you will require an e-invitation from the MP hosts Matt Robson and Keith Locke. It can be acquired by emailing or

I Almost Forgot About The Moon is published by Multimedia Investments Limited and costs just $17.00 inc GST and including postage costs inside New Zealand.

  • For more on the Zaoui book see Scoop Readers Can Order Zaoui Book Online
  • Or e-mail Selwyn at directly with your order.
  • Or see for a promo of the book and credit card purchasing options.
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