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Amnesty Calls For Freedom or Fair Trial For Zaoui

Ahmed Zaoui: Amnesty International Calls For Freedom Or Fair Trial

The New Zealand section of Amnesty International today called on the Government to either release Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui from prison, or ensure he is given a fair trial.

Ahmed Zaoui has spent over nine months in solitary confinement in Paremoremo maximum security prison since he arrived in New Zealand claiming political asylum in December last year.

Last month the Refugee Status Appeals Authority (RSAA) found that because of his peaceful political activities he has a well-founded fear of persecution if returned to Algeria and that there is no evidence that he has been associated with terrorism or other serious crime.

He continues to be detained on the basis of "classified intelligence information" to which neither he nor his legal counsel have access, and faces removal from New Zealand despite being granted refugee status.

"Ahmed Zaoui's continued detention on the basis of secret non-contestable information that may well have originated from authorities responsible for thousands of cases of abduction, torture and death in Algeria raises serious questions about due legal process and New Zealand's part in the 'war against terrorism'," said Amnesty's New Zealand director, Ced Simpson.

"Terror cannot be defeated by riding roughshod over the very human rights that are essential to protect people against it."

"The current New Zealand process by which the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security reviews the classified information that is being used against Mr Zaoui does not meet the standards established for such situations by, for example, the European Court of Human Rights."

"Amnesty International deals everyday with unfair detention, unfair trials, torture and killings in the name of 'national security'; we look to the New Zealand Government to make human rights the standard for taking action against terror," Mr Simpson said.

He said he was particularly concerned that some commentators on the Zaoui case appear to be contributing to the process described by the RSAA as one "by which highly prejudicial misinformation?quickly acquires the status of received 'facts' ? a process reinforced by the diffusion and recycling of these 'facts' by the media/internet as well as between intelligence services and immigration and other officials in a range of countries."

The call from Amnesty International coincides with the release of its latest report on the continuing human rights crisis in Algeria: Steps towards change or empty promises?

The report states that the human rights situation in Algeria, although improved since the mid to late 1990s, remains of serious concern. Around 100 people continue to be killed each month by armed groups, the security forces and state-armed militias, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence in indiscriminate bomb explosions or targeted armed attacks.

Cases of girls or women being abducted and raped by armed groups are still reported. Torture in state custody continues to be widespread and is systematic in cases linked to what the authorities describe as "terrorist" activities. Investigations into human rights abuses, whether they were committed by state agents or members of armed groups, are rarely carried out, maintaining a climate of impunity and fear.

For further information contact:

Ced Simpson BH 0-4-499 3349 AH 0-4-938 0716 mobile 021 371 205

See attached background information: also available at www.amnesty.org.nz

Background Ahmed Zaoui (42), an Algerian national, professor of religion and political activist, fled Algeria in 1993 because of increased harassment from the Algerian authorities who blocked Algeria's first democratic election after his party, the FIS (Front Islamique du Salut), gained a majority of votes in the first general election round on 26 December 1991, and seemed virtually certain to win the second round and to form the next government. The allegations

He had been dogged by unsubstantiated allegations since he left Algeria. He was prosecuted on a range of charges by a government that has claimed to have "neutralised" 20,000 "terrorists" since 1991. He was convicted for:

· "acts of aggression to destabilise state institutions and inciting armed rebellion to carry out assassinations and to destroy property" (sentenced to life imprisonment December 1996) · "plotting against the state, criminal conspiracy, inciting armed rebellion and assassinations [and] destruction of property" (sentenced to life imprisonment February 1997) · "belonging to armed groups and for weapons trafficking" (sentenced to death 1997).

He knew little of these charges or trials; they were all heard in absentia, and in common with most political trials in Algeria, they appear to have failed to meet basic international standards for fair trials.

As the numbers of arbitrary detentions, torture cases and deaths rose into the tens of thousands back in Algeria, he continued to pursue peaceful political activity while living in Europe. He was approached by the prestigious peace-making body, the Sant'Egidio Community, to help broker a solution to the continuing human rights crisis in Algeria. But although he was at first able to live peacefully, the influence of the Algerian security services appeared to reach even European authorities.

He faced charges in Belgium and France of "being high up in the GIA" (an extreme armed "terrorist" group in Algeria), being "the head of the association of criminals", and passport offences. Despite these charges being determined to be without foundation by both a lower court and an independent tribunal in Belgium, he was convicted on the vaguer charges by courts in both Belgium and France.

Denied refugee status in Belgium, he fled to Switzerland where he again claimed asylum. On 28 October 1998, before his claim was heard, the Swiss authorities detained him and his family and flew them to Burkina Faso in West Africa, where they gave him a living allowance for a year. Fearing that the Algerian authorities were closing in on him, he fled to Malaysia, travelling through Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Korea before coming to New Zealand.

Seeking sanctuary in New Zealand

Ahmed Zaoui presented himself to an Immigration Officer at Auckland Airport on 4 December 2002 and asked for asylum as a refugee.

Since his arrival he has been held in detention ? first at a police station, then Paremoremo maximum security prison ? apparently on the basis of this history, unsubstantiated allegations repeated in various media, and secret unchallengeable information originating from certain unnamed foreign intelligence services.

His application was turned down by the Refugee Status Branch (RSB) of the Immigration Service. The RSB concluded that, although he had a "well-founded fear of persecution", there were serious reasons for considering that he had committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, or a serious non-political crime outside New Zealand ? which, if true, would be valid grounds under the Refugee Convention to deny refugee status.

>From his prison cell Ahmed Zaoui immediately appealed to the Refugee Status Appeals Authority (RSAA) ? an independent tribunal whose members include senior legal practitioners and retired judges.

Granted refugee status at last

On 1 August 2003, following an exhaustive examination of his case, the RSAA decided that Ahmed Zaoui should be given the sanctuary he sought in our country.

In a comprehensive 223-page decision it found that Mr Zaoui had "a well-founded fear of being persecuted?if returned to Algeria", that there were no serious reasons for considering that he has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, or a serious non-political crime outside New Zealand.

We are in no doubt that the appellant will be persecuted if returned to Algeria. On arrival he will be detained and almost certainly tortured. We can only speculate on whether the appellant would survive the torture. [RSAA, 449]

It also found Mr Zaoui to be "an articulate, intelligent, committed and principled individual, who, despite the hurdles placed before him over the last ten years remains a passionate advocate for peace through democracy in Algeria."

The Authority declared that his original asylum claim appeared to have been denied largely on the basis of a contested "admission" by him that he was a member of a terrorist group*, extremely dubious legal proceedings overseas, and accumulated unsubstantiated innuendo re-hashed in newspaper and intelligence reports.

The RSAA analysed the allegations and proceedings against Ahmed Zaoui in Belgium, Switzerland and France. In a scathing indictment of the extent to which political expediency appears to have won over respect for human rights and the victims of terror, it concluded that the convictions were "unsafe" and "not probative or reliable evidence" of Zaoui's involvement "in acts of terrorism or any other non-political crimes".

Information provided to the Authority by New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) was "superficial and, to the extent to that it reflects the official biases of the Algerian regime, contentious" and did not provide "serious reasons for considering that the appellant is, or has been, a member of the GIA or any other Algerian armed group."

"Victim of a self-validating legend"

The RSAA concluded that Ahmed Zaoui "appears to have become the victim of a self-validating legend" based on "an intentional strategy of the Algerian regime and its allies" and "western journalists' and officials' ignorance of Algeria and their preconceptions and fears about Islamic 'terrorists'." It was, the panel said, a "process by which highly prejudicial misinformation?quickly acquires the status of received 'facts' ? a process reinforced by the diffusion and recycling of these 'facts' by the media/internet as well as between intelligence services and immigration and other officials in a range of countries."

Still in jail, still at risk

Despite the RSAA ruling Ahmed Zaoui remains in jail.

Under the Immigration Act a genuine refugee can be detained without trial, and deported, if a "Security Risk Certificate" has been issued by New Zealand's Security Intelligence Service (SIS).

The Certificate is based on unchallengeable "classified security information" ? information that, in the opinion of the Director of the NZ Security Intelligence Service "cannot be divulged to the individual in question or to other persons" because, for example, it may expose the source of New Zealand intelligence information (which may not be desired by the source), and disclosure may damage New Zealand's relations with other governments or intelligence agencies.

Such information can only be reviewed by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security ? a retired High Court judge appointed by the Prime Minister, although the eventual decision concerning Ahmed Zaoui is in the hands of the Minister of Immigration.

The human rights balance

Although the Immigration Act asserts that "the balance between the public interest and the individual's rights is best achieved by allowing an independent person of high judicial standing to consider the information and approve its proposed use", the current Minister of Immigration, Lianne Dalziel, strongly opposed the Security Risk Certificate process when it was being introduced in 1999 and she was in Opposition:

"I am frightened ? that there will be people who will have a security risk certificate issued against them and they will not know why. They will be fighting windmills. They will be unable to defend themselves against specific charges because they will not be informed as to what those charges are. Lianne Dalziel, 24 March 1999

She was not alone in believing that the Immigration Act did not explicitly provide for the fair and transparent procedures required by international human rights standards, and that there needed to be a fair judicial process judging whether a refugee was to be detained, or deported to face possible unfair imprisonment, torture or death.

The European Court of Human Rights has heard a number of cases in which the right to "national security" needed to be balanced against the rights of refugees.

In the most recent (Al-Nashif v Bulgaria, 2003) the Court declared that:

"National authorities cannot do away with effective control of lawfulness of detention by the domestic courts whenever they choose to assert that national security and terrorism are involved ? Even where national security is at stake, the concepts of lawfulness and the rule of law in a democratic society require that measures affecting fundamental human rights must be subject to some form of adversarial proceedings before an independent body competent to review the reasons for the decision and relevant evidence, if need be with appropriate procedural limitations on the use of classified information?

"?The individual must be able to challenge the executive's assertion that national security is at stake. While the executive's assessment of what poses a threat to national security will naturally be of significant weight, the independent authority must be able to react in cases where invoking that concept has no reasonable basis in the facts or reveals an interpretation of "national security" that is unlawful or contrary to common sense and arbitrary."

These protections for the individual are particularly important when allegations may come from questionable sources. As the RSAA found, there are serious grounds for questioning allegations against Mr Zaoui that may have their origins with Algerian intelligence sources.

Victims of terror

Algeria has sought support for its view that the 'counter-terrorism' approach it had followed in the last decade has been vindicated in the wake of the attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001, hosting three international meetings on 'terrorism' during 2002.

The Algerian 'counter-terrorism approach' has seen the 'neutralisation' of 20,000 'terrorists' in Algeria since 1992, in a conflict in which thousands of men, women and children have been abducted, tortured and "disappeared", and 1.2 million people killed. Independent observers have assessed that many of the acts of terror that have been perpetrated against the civilian population have been the responsibility of Algerian security forces.

Amnesty International's concern is that a man who has not only been found to be a genuine refugee, but has been described by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority as a "committed and principled individual, who, despite the hurdles placed before him over the last ten years remains a passionate advocate for peace through democracy in Algeria" may continue in New Zealand to be the victim of the same forces of terror that caused him to flee Algeria in the first place.

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New Zealand's international obligations

Human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law are essential tools in the effort to combat terrorism - not privileges to be sacrificed at a time of tension. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, to the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee, March 2003 We cannot allow the rule of terror to replace the rule of law.' Phil Goff, to UN General Assembly 13 November 2001 This government will?lead from the front in advocating a New Zealand which is tolerant, decent, and inclusive?. we will certainly continue to meet our international obligations to settle refugees. Helen Clark, 28 August 2002 I am frightened ? that there will be people who will have a security risk certificate issued against them and they will not know why. They will be fighting windmills. They will be unable to defend themselves against specific charges because they will not be informed as to what those charges are. Lianne Dalziel, 24 March 1999

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The Universal Declaration Declaration of Human Rights, which has force in New Zealand through our ratification of various international human rights treaties and the New Zealand Bill of Rights, provides that

· Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person. (Article 3) · Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. (Article 14) · Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law (Article 8). No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile (Article 9). Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him (Article 10). Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence. (Article 11). · No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (Article 5)

Specifically New Zealand has international legal obligations under the

· International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights · Refugee Convention · Convention Against Torture

AINZ letters to the Minister of Immigration

"This government will?lead from the front in advocating a New Zealand which is tolerant, decent, and inclusive?. we will certainly continue to meet our international obligations to settle refugees." Helen Clark, 28 August 2002

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17 December 2002: We welcome your commitment to thorough investigation of his case, and the stated commitment of the New Zealand Government that it will make human rights the standard for taking action against terror.

19 February 2003: We?view the Algerian Government's record of sponsoring terror against civilians, and the claim to have "neutralized", as highlighting the dangers inherent in any hasty acceptance of allegations of "terrorism" made by foreign intelligence sources.

We would be extremely concerned if such allegations were the basis for detention conditions that contravened the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners or if, uncorroborated, they became the reason for New Zealand failing to meet its obligations under the Refugee Convention.

13 August 2003: Every state has what is generally regarded as an 'inherent' right to self-defence under both international and national law. Both internally and externally, one of the core obligations of governments is to protect society and its members. These basic considerations require issues of 'national security' to have their proper place in government activity. But they do not give unlimited power to security forces, intelligence agencies, the police, or anyone else.

The recent decision by the Refugee Status Appeal Authority examined all the known evidence that Ahmed Zaoui is a 'terrorist' who has advocated or been associated with activities of violence such as to constitute a threat to New Zealand's national security. Its conclusion appears simple: there is no credible evidence to that effect; rather, the evidence is that Mr Zaoui has been the victim of false allegations stemming from his opposition to the Algerian government, where he has been tried in absentia and sentenced to death.

For Amnesty International such clear judicial treatment of the available arguments that Mr Zaoui is a security threat, suggest that a high threshold of testable evidence will be necessary should any action now be taken against him in New Zealand on the basis of "classified information". In making your decisions, we draw your attention to the recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the Chahal case?.

Despite requests, AINZ has not yet received a direct reply to any of the concerns raised

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