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Progressives: To thine own self be true

To thine own self be true

Progressive MP Hon Matt Robson, speaking to the annual meeting of Amnesty International – New Zealand section, challenged MPs to be sincere in their commitment to human rights.

“A commitment to human rights must extend to all without fear or favour. It must extend not only abroad, but also within New Zealand. To do less would mean that we were not true to ourselves. A commitment to human rights cannot be a ‘respectable career move’ to be ‘airbrushed out’ when it becomes inconvenient,” Matt Robson said.

“Many around the world fight for the right to free speech – a right that Winston Peters and my colleagues in Parliament take for granted. Those rights under international law are there even if others find them absurd and disagree. Even if the free speech is inaccurate. Even if the free speech is used to make outlandish claims.

“And Amnesty International, thank God, has been there for over 40 years to defend their right to freedom of the bigot as well as the freedom of the humanitarian.”

However, Matt Robson said, our democratic structures give us a greater responsibility to work for human rights in a world where so many are denied even the basic human rights. And it gives us a greater responsibility to make sure that we are squeaky clean.

The treatment meted out to Ahmed Zaoui has tested the trust of many. How did we treat an asylum seeker, one found by an independent body to be a genuine refugee? We imprisoned him for over two years, nearly half in maximum security. We imprisoned him without charge or trial. We opposed habeas corpus and bail. Only after a mammoth legal battle did the Supreme Court find allegations of “terrorism” to be insufficient to overturn human rights. We subjected him to allegations of “terrorist” during Parliamentary Question Time and in the media, and the majority of the eight parties in Parliament seemed to concur.

“This whole episode is not one that throws credit on our parliamentary commitment to provide natural justice to an asylum seeker.

“Any New Zealand MP with a commitment to human rights should ask themselves if they have spoken out more loudly for the oppressed in Burma or Burkina Faso than the oppressed in New Zealand. And if their voice has been louder for those abroad, the MP should turn red or blue (depending on political colouration) with shame,” said Matt Robson.

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