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NZ Appears In Amnesty International Report

RELEASED 10pm Wed 14 June 2000

NEW ZEALAND APPEARS IN AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT

New Zealand's inclusion for only the third time on Amnesty International's annual list of countries violating human rights is a wake-up call to our national attitudes about asylum-seekers, AI Executive Director Ced Simpson said yesterday.

"It is a terrible irony that New Zealand, a country where human rights are relatively well protected, adopted policies last year which make it more difficult for people fleeing gross human rights abuses to gain asylum from their persecutors," said Mr Simpson.

AI's annual report documents human rights abuses in 144 countries, and lists Australia and New Zealand for their contravention of international human rights obligations relating to people seeking asylum from persecution.

New Zealand last year introduced new legislation to detain indefinitely asylum-seekers who arrive without documentation, while Australia was included in the AI report because it has over 4000 refugee applicants and boat people detained without judicial control, the AI report found.

"Amnesty International welcomes the reviews currently underway into how human rights considerations can be put at the heart of New Zealand Government domestic and foreign policy," Mr Simpson said. "But New Zealand must ensure that it does not ill-treat those who have fled the human rights violations the Government rightly condemns elsewhere."

Mr Simpson said AI supported the return to their home countries of asylum-seekers who were found not to have genuine cause.

"However, it is simply wrong that people who have suffered torture, rape, and terror, often in prisons, can find themselves immediately detained in prison upon arrival in New Zealand, where they have legitimately sought sanctuary.

"While not convicted of any crime, these people have been subject to our penal regulations, depriving them of contact with non-approved visitors, the media, and resources necessary to prepare their refugee status applications. At the very least, their situation should offend every New Zealander's sense of fair play, let alone justice."

The AI annual report also details human rights abuses throughout the region, including in the Solomon Islands, East Timor, and the Indonesian province of West Papua.

"Events in our own neighbourhood last year proved more potently than ever the constant vigilance required to protect human rights, and the vital role that New Zealanders can play in restoring and building societies which respect human rights," said Mr Simpson.

The New Zealand section of Amnesty International welcomed the move by the previous government to make the realisation of human rights one of the central goals of New Zealand development assistance, but has called on New Zealand governments to work for more proactive and creative human rights strategies aimed at prevention of human rights violations, and a stronger human rights component to UN peacekeeping missions.

ENDS

Background

Amnesty International's Report covers the 1999 calendar year.

International human rights standards state that asylum-seekers should not normally be detained. In exceptional cases, for certain specified reasons, it may be permissible to detain an individual for a limited period, only after full consideration of all possible alternatives, and not with criminals. Moreover, if asylum-seekers are detained on any such grounds, the detention should be given a regular and meaningful review by a court or judicial body. Last year Immigration Minister Tuariki Delamere asserted that it was 'standard policy' to detain people with apparently 'manifestly unfounded' asylum claims.

The Court of Appeal has yet to hand down its decision following a Government appeal against a High Court order to reconsider its refusal to grant detained asylum-seekers conditional bail.

The Government is reviewing both New Zealand's domestic human rights mechanisms, and the place of human rights in foreign policy. The Parliamentary Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee is conducting a formal inquiry into the latter.

New Zealand last appeared in Amnesty's annual Report in 1994 and 1995.

For further information contact:

Ced Simpson BH 0-4-499 3348 AH 0-4-938 0716 / 0-4-938 0717 mobile 021 371 205


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