NZ Government Must Respect Zaoui's Human Rights
FOR ATTENTION OF: CHIEFS OF STAFF
16 October 2003 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Government Must Respect Zaoui's Human Rights
"It is time one country had the courage to treat Ahmed Zaoui with both humanity and scrupulous procedural fairness." - AINZ
Amnesty International today called on the New Zealand Government to live up to its 1999 promise "to create and sustain a world-leading human rights environment" by adopting fair procedures for handling the Ahmed Zaoui case.
"Ahmed Zaoui must not be allowed to become a sacrificial lamb in the 'war against terrorism', said Amnesty's New Zealand director, Ced Simpson.
"This is a test case of the Government's commitment to its 1999 election pledge: it must maintain international respect for New Zealand's human rights record and ensure that Mr Zaoui is given either freedom or a fair trial."
The human rights organization was responding to rulings by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security who is currently reviewing the Security Risk Certificate that has kept Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui detained solitary confinement in Paremoremo maximum security prison for eleven months, and an announcement by Mr Zaoui's lawyers that he is seeking a High Court judicial review of the handling of his case.
The Inspector-General, retired judge Laurie Greig, has indicated that he feels unable to allow Mr Zaoui or his lawyers to answer the specific allegations that have resulted in his detention and which may result in his being returned to face the danger of torture or death in Algeria.
"International human rights standards require the opportunity to challenge the grounds on which someone is being detained," said Mr Simpson said. "This is particularly important when someone's health and very life is at stake."
Last month an expert on the effects of isolation and trauma, Dr Tony Taylor, reported that Mr Zaoui's mental and physical health was in a precarious state and recommended his prompt removal from maximum security confinement, saying that he was presently in "no fit psychological state to participate in a hearing" in his own defence.
On 1 August NZ's Refugee Appeal Authority concluded that Ahmed Zaoui was a genuine refugee with a "well-founded fear of persecution" if returned to Algeria, where he has been sentenced to death by both the Algerian authorities and the armed group with which it has been alleged he has links.
The Inspector-General has argued that the conditions of Mr Zaoui's detention, and the human rights issues involved, were not relevant considerations in his review.
The Attorney General and the Minister of Justice have referred Amnesty International's concerns to the Minister of Immigration, who has consistently argued that her hands are tied during the Inspector-General's review.
The Immigration Act allows the Minister three days to respond following the Inspector-General's final decision, with provision for her to consider "other information" apart from the Security Risk Certificate when deciding whether to release or expel Mr Zaoui.
"But there is no clear legal provision allowing Mr Zaoui to respond to any specific grounds for judging him to be a 'threat to national security', and the Minister is on record saying that she will be guided by the Inspector-General's decision," Mr Simpson said.
"Amnesty International does not deny the right and duty of governments to protect their citizens from genuine threats, but in the words of the European Court of Human Rights, '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'."
"The European Court is quite clear: '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'."
"It is clear that the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security cannot play that role, and nor can the Minister of Immigration. The onus is on the Government to come up with a fair procedural solution that meets its human rights obligations, policy commitments, and New Zealanders' sense of fairness and integrity."
For further information contact: Ced Simpson (Executive Director , AINZ) mobile 021 371 205 office 0-4-499 3349
For an extensive coverage of the Ahmed Zaoui case and the issues it raises visit www.amnesty.org.nz
Addressing Parliament in 1999 on the Security Risk Certificate process the current Minister of Immigration, Lianne Dalziel, said: "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."
?/3 Last month Phil Goff, Minister of Foreign Affairs & Trade, and Minister of Justice, declared before the UN General Assembly: 'In combating terrorism?we should avoid undermining the very values we are seeking to uphold. The fight against terrorism should not become an excuse to justify actions that do not conform to international standards of humanity.'"
The European Court of Human Rights has established what those standards are in cases involving refugees and matters of national security. The Court has referred to procedures followed in Canada, for example, where allegations can be challenged in closed hearings by security-cleared counsel acting for the defendant.
Amnesty International is concerned that so far no-one has taken responsibility for ensuring that Mr Zaoui's human rights are respected.
The Inspector-General has said that the District Court is responsible for his continuing detention. The District Court has felt unable to challenge the Security Risk Certificate, based on information to which it has no access, that has been used as the pretext for his continuing detention in maximum security. The Immigration Service has said his detention conditions are up to the Corrections Department. The Corrections Department has been guided by the NZSIS and the police. The Inspector-General has said human rights considerations are for the Minister of Immigration. The Minister of Immigration has said everything is in the hands of the Inspector-General at this stage. Meanwhile Mr Zaoui remains in solitary confinement with no idea of the reasons and with no idea of when or if he will see his wife or four sons again.
A moderate Islamic scholar, Ahmed Zaoui has been involved in political activity in exile since the Algerian military blocked the country's only democratic election in 1992, when in the first round of voting his party, the Islamic Salvation Front, gained 80% of the vote. He would almost certainly have been elected a member of parliament. After a decade of exile in a number of countries, and attempts by the Algerian authorities to have him designated a "terrorist", Ahmed Zaoui arrived in New Zealand where, he has stated, he hoped to get a fair hearing, to avoid both the Algerian authorities and extremist groups, and to find sanctuary for himself, his wife and four sons.
The Algerian Government claims to have "neutralized" 20,000 "terrorists" since 1992 in a conflict in which 1-200,000 people have died.
New Zealand's Refugee Status Appeals Authority (RSAA) declared that his original asylum claim in New Zealand 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.
Analysing allegations and proceedings against Ahmed Zaoui in Belgium, Switzerland and France, 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".
The RSAA stated that information provided to the Authority by the 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."
The Authority described Ahmed Zaoui as "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."
Ced Simpson AHMED ZAOUI: FREEDOM OR FAIR TRIAL www.amnesty.org.nz Executive Director, Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand
AINZ Campaign Office, International Human Rights & Development Centre, PSA House, 11 Aurora Terrace, PO Box 793, Wellington tel: +64-4-499 3348 fax: +64-4-499 3505 AINZ is a member of www.humanrights.net.nz...sharing information to pursue progress in human rights