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Sharples: Crimes of Torture Amendment Bill

Sharples: Crimes of Torture Amendment Bill

Tuesday 28 March 2006

Dr Pita Sharples, Maori Party; Spokesperson for Corrections

Tangata whenua have always valued the right to life, to liberty and to security of people, as articulated in Article Three of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We all know it goes further back than that, and we recognise the impact of the Magna Carta as human rights, of liberties, and freedom.

Clause 13 of the Magna Carta describes the guaranteed protection and recognition of what it called ancient liberties and free customs of the people in the land as well as the water.

All members of this House would of course recognise the close relationship of this clause to Article Two of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which preserves for our indigenous peoples ancient liberties and free customs that we enjoyed on the land as well as the water.

These are indigenous values, they are international values, they are values which we seek to uphold, they are values which instruct us on the reasons to oppose torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

They are values which therefore guide us on how we respond to the Optional Protocol.

Madam Speaker, Maori have always opposed human rights abuses. We have opposed all forms of torture and abuse, violence, rape, genocide.

We stand for the importance of 'truth' and 'justice', of freedom from abuse and terror.

We stand also for the need to restore our international reputation through compliance with international human rights law.

We therefore uphold and recognise the importance of Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment".

We know from the many United Nations Committee of Torture reports into the performance of this country, that our reputation around cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment is not that hot.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture recommendations to New Zealand Government in June 2004 included:

o the fact that juveniles are sometimes not separated from adult detainees and have been detained in police cells, owing to a shortage of Child, Youth and Family Residential Facilities;

o The findings of the Ombudsman regarding investigations of alleged assaults by prison staff on inmates, in particular the reluctance to address such allegations promptly and the quality, impartiality and credibility of investigations.

New Zealand responded by saying that for all allegations relating to control and restraint and use of force incidents, prisoners are "provided with the opportunity to lay a complaint about the incident with Police".

Provided with an opportunity hardly seems to hit the mark. Surely it should be said that this Government will do everything possible to ensure that control and restraint and use of force is not abused at the expense of well-being and human rights.

The Government response goes further to state, that although these incidents are not subject to a formal internal investigation, prison managers are required to review these incidents as soon as possible after they have occurred. One does have to wonder why, on earth, these incidents are not subject to formal internal investigation.

Is that saying we support such deplorable actions taking place?

Two years later, and just twenty days ago, another forum, the United States of America, issued a Country Report on Human Rights Practices in New Zealand.

Their report, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor on March 8, 2006, listed the following issues under prison and detention centre conditions as occurring during the twelve-month period ending June 2005:

- Prison over-crowding was a problem;

- Juveniles spent more than 600 detention nights in police cells;

- Eleven inmates from the Paremoremo Prison Behavioural Management Regime (BMR) were awarded compensation for 'breaches of their rights under the Bill of Rights Act';

- Management failings in the 'Goon Squad' allowed the unit to develop an 'inappropriate militaristic culture'.

Madam Speaker, this litany of failure is an absolute travesty of justice. It is an indictment on this country that we are still receiving reports condemning the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment meted out at Mangaroa, Paremoremo, and inside South Island prisons where Guards allegedly spooked and harassed inmates, waking them in the night, rattling "cages", dragging out anyone who gave them lip and locking them in punishment cells.

Madam Speaker, these incidents are not isolated or new.

We all have experiences and stories within our tribal histories which guide us into understanding the concept of torture.

My colleague, Te Ururoa Flavell, made mention of this in his Maiden address to this House, when he reminded us of the statement made by Mokomoko of Te Whakatohea being hanged for a crime he did not commit. He has since been pardoned.

Mokomoko said, "Tangohia te taura i taku kaki, kia waiata au i taku waiata". "Take the rope from my throat so I may sing my song". This, I believe was a reference to his desire to let the world know the truth about his conviction. We must never forget.

Tim Finn has pronounced to the world, the concept of torture as it relates to tangata whenua in his song, Parihaka. I will save you the torture of me trying to imitate Tim Finn by telling the story instead.

Let me take you back to 1863 when the Government of the day passed the Suppression of Rebellion Act. This Act defined Maori fighting for their land as rebels, who could be detained indefinitely, without trial.

During that period of non-violent unrest, hundreds of Taranaki Maori were arrested and kept in prison without trial. The conflicts between the people of Parihaka and the settler-backed government all came to a head in 1881. On the 19 October, Native Affairs Minister William Rolleston signed a proclamation to invade Parihaka.

On 5 November 1881, the peaceful village was invaded by 1500 volunteers and members of the armed constabulary. The soldiers were welcomed by the two thousand people of Parihaka, allowing themselves to be arrested without protest.

Te Whiti and Tohu were the first to be led away. They were imprisoned without trial and then taken on a tour of the South Island to show them all the progress and developments made by the Europeans.

The forced incarceration, the imprisonment of the people within caves, were all experiences of torture in a 19th century context. Yet Te Whiti continued to ask that his people be given justice, their freedom and the return of their tribal lands. Madam Speaker - Whakatohea - Parihaka -- create an infamous history of torture in this land.

The modern day Committee of Torture, and US Department Reports, create a new history - through the review of activities at Paremoremo - Mangaroa - and who knows where else?

It is to this end, that the Maori Party will of course support this Bill through to Select Committee.

While we support the wide scope of the Bill in covering all places where people are detained - hospitals as well as prisons - we are also mindful that there are discrepancies between the Optional Protocol and the Crimes of Torture Amendment Bill.

We do, however, have some reservations. In particular, we believe that having a United Nations body (the Sub-committee on Prevention) look into the conditions of detained persons in New Zealand would be valuable, particularly in terms of prisons which the Committee Against Torture has already raised concerns about.

An external independent agency which is functionally independent - which is able to apply scrutiny to the conditions of detention applying to detainees and the treatment of the detainees; and to make recommendations for improvement; is essential in a free society.

Madam Speaker, the Maori Party promotes a system based on justice that heals.

We promote a system which rejects any attempts to alienate victims and their families; or which dehumanises perpetrators and their families.

We stand for 'truth' and 'justice', of freedom from abuse and terror.

Ake, ake, ake tonu atu.

ENDS

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