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Ahmed Zaoui – The Real Terrorist Threat to Liberty

Ahmed Zaoui – The Real Terrorist Threat to Liberty

Horowhenua Business Breakfast Forum
Kowhai Reception Lounge, Levin. – 28 January 2004
Address by Gregory Fortuin; Former Race Relations Conciliator of NZ

Before I launch into the invited subject of Ahmed Zaoui, let me state loud and clear that I am here as a believer with a faith in God that demands of me to love the Lord my God and equally (not secondly) to love my neighbour as myself. Unlike those who pick and choose, my faith does not allow discretion as to who is my neighbour. I am here because Ahmed Zaoui is my neighbour.

After passively sitting on the sidelines, “not wanting to get involved and disturb my comfort or the comfort of others”, I had a call from an Afrikaner lady who courageously stood up and was counted when our humanity was being trampled on under an Oppressive Apartheid Regime. She reminded me that as the oppressed in an Apartheid South Africa, we demanded then that others would speak out against our injustice. How could I be silent now? I am embarrassed it took me almost one year to respond to the plight of a fellow member of the human race, Ahmed Zaoui.

If someone had said to me that a fellow human being had been incarcerated for 2 Christmases and 2 Birthdays as a “threat to national security”, without even knowing what the alleged accusations were, never mind the evidence being tested in an open court and 10 months of that time was spent in solitary confinement – Could I guess the Country? I would without hesitation have said that based on my experience the security police was at it again under a state of an emergency in Apartheid South Africa. Even if the person said “No it is not South Africa and the year is 2003” I would have said Zimbabwe and still not have guessed New Zealand.

Ahmed Zaoui has revived memories of many dear friends who were incarcerated without trial and deprived of their freedom. All of those detained without a trial found it torturous, those deprived of human contact in solitary confinement found it inhumane. The irony is that during those dark days it was the efforts of thousands of fair-minded New Zealanders that ensured “the warm rays of sunshine shone in the dark corridors of Robben Island” to quote Mandela – yesterdays alleged terrorist who is now heralded as today’s Statesman of the century.

43 year old professor of religion and political activist; Ahmed Zaoui’s crime is that as a leading figure in the Islamic Political Front (FIS) they won the election in Algeria in December 1991. A military coup followed and Ahmed Zaoui fled fearing for his safety in 1993. Understandably he has opposed the Algerian Military Government who one day needs to give an account for the tens of thousands of villager that have been slaughtered under their watch over the past 10 years.

I wonder what our response would have been if a New Zealander was being held under similar circumstances in Africa, Asia or the previous Iron Curtain. I can only imagine the indignant cries of Injustices from the rooftops. We have quite rightly stood up to Human Rights abuses by Mugabe and his ilk, but charity must begin at home...ELSE WHERE IS OUR MORAL AUTHORITY…or are we no different to the other tragic hypocrites of this sad planet.

This is not a challenge to New Zealand’s sovereign right to protect its borders, but an appeal to its continued sense of fairness and reputation for justice. This is bigger than Ahmed Zaoui. Any democracy is only as good as to how it treats its most vulnerable and marginalised. Right now Ahmed Zaoui is as vulnerable as they come.

“From Cambodia's ghastly killing fields to the silent silhouette of horror of the Death camp at Auschwitz, from the blood-soaked soil of brutality and massacre of my Beloved Africa, to Asia and Latin America; from crime-ravaged urban streets to the dungeons of depraved justice; from the dispossessing stench of refugee camps to the perfumed glamour of beauty and fashion; from the garbage-dump villages of the Philippines to consumer-bloated marketplaces of Wall Street; from cowering eyes of defenceless victims to the tyrannising stare of men possessed by power – there is a heart- rendering cry for the light to break into the black night of inhumanity, inequity and injustice” to quote Ron Nickel.

I find myself increasingly affected by the brokenness and suffering, dripping from callous hands of inhumanity and injustice. I am a part of mankind, this is not someone else's problem, it is mine. One day when I give an account it will be with a clear Christian conscience that I did not cross to the other side of the road like the Priest and the Levite in the parable that Jesus told.

What I find most disturbing is the fact that the so-called civilised world is allowing the hypocritical Bush Government to set the standards for an American Imposed Democracy. This is the country that invokes the Geneva Convention when it is convenient, but leads the world in its non-ratification of UN Human rights resolutions. It stands alone with a few despot nations that have refused to ratify the Convention for Children. This is the country that talks about Freedom and Liberty, but demands that no-one queue to go to the toilets on planes.

I am convinced that a future American Leader will one day be forced to apologise for the atrocities at Guantanamo Bay. What has that to do with Ahmed Zaoui you might ask. EVERYTHING I SAY. This is where the new standards for our so-called democracy are being determined. This is about a “Legal Hell Hole” to quote a British Judge that denies human beings their humanity, irrespective of the fact that they were either volunteers or forced conscripts of al-Qaida or the Taliban or God-forbid innocent old people like 105 year old Faiz Mohammed who happened to visit the village that was being bombed or the toothless old man walking with his cane or many teenagers or even the mentally impaired. But don’t just accept my view on the matter.

Here is what one of the top 3 judges in Britain (Judge Johan Steyn) had to say about Guantanamo Bay in November last year: “As A lawyer brought up to admire the ideals of American Democracy and Justice I would have to say that I regard this as a monstrous failure of justice”

Even the Supreme Court (the very appointees of his father that appointed Bush jnr. as President although he had ½ million votes less than Gore) expressed their concern about unchecked presidential powers re Guantanamo Bay in November last year in deciding to review a case that upheld the Bush policy, which denied court access to the prisoners at the base.
Then 2 days prior to Justice Williams restoring the credibility of the New Zealand Judicial System on the Zaoui matter in December last year, two separate federal appellate court rulings in America swept away crucial parts of the Bush administration's legal strategy that terrorist suspects could be handled outside the criminal justice system and be incarcerated indefinitely without access to lawyers or to the evidence against them.

Two federal appeals courts ruled that the Bush administration overstepped its bounds in detaining suspected terrorists, issuing decisions that favoured key civil liberties over the power of the government in the post-Sept. 11 legal era.
The decisions, issued separately by U.S. courts of appeal in San Francisco and New York, are significant rebukes to the administration's dangerous approach in combating terrorism and affirm the rights of both foreigners and American citizens considered suspect by the government.
In one case, judges in New York (not far from the Twin Tower site) ruled that President Bush did not have the power to order that a U.S. citizen captured in America be held indefinitely as an enemy combatant.
Hours later in San Francisco, federal judges ruled that the administration's policy of imprisoning about 660 non-citizens on a naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without access to U.S. legal protections "raises the gravest concerns under both American and international law."
These decisions have reaffirmed the courts' critical role in providing a check on unilateral powers be they by the President of the United States or the SIS in New Zealand.

"We simply cannot accept the government's position,'' wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt, "that the executive branch possesses the unchecked authority to imprison indefinitely any persons, foreign citizens included, on territory under the sole jurisdiction and control of the United States, without permitting such prisoners recourse of any kind to any judicial forum, or even access to counsel, regardless of the length or manner of their confinement."

I have tried to point out that no human being should be incarcerated without due process. We should all be afforded the principle of innocent until proven guilty. No one should ever be judged guilty without even knowing what the accusations are, never mind having the evidence tested in a court of law. It is “a monstrous failure of justice” (to quote Judge Steyn) to have the case reviewed by a Judge who not only expressed his preconceived views prior to sitting in judgement, but would have been required to give an account in any country with a decent constitutional court for arrogantly doing the interview.

The Refugee Status Appeals Authority is a credible New Zealand body that has done an excellent job in reviewing the Zaoui case. Their over 200-page decision speaks volumes of their diligent efforts – as opposed to the internet search and the reliance on those who boldly made statements about weapons of mass destruction by our so-called “intelligence service”. The RSAA has found Ahmed Zaoui a genuine refugee under the UN Charter. Let’s release Ahmed Zaoui or at the very least let’s give the man a fair trial. And while we are at it, if we disagree with the RSAA, let’s disband them and scrap all their previous decisions.

New Zealand has an excellent human rights record – let’s keep it that way. ELSE WHO KNOWS - TOMORROW YOUR OR MY LOVED ONES COULD BE THE NEXT AHMED ZOAUI. Let’s be clear who the real threats to FREEDOM are.

I thank you.

Gregory Fortuin

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