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UN Committee Warns NZ On Human Rights

Friday, 21 May 2004

Un Committee Warns Nz On Human Rights

In a report having clear implications for the Government's handling of the Ahmed Zaoui case, New Zealand has received a mixed report card this week from the UN committee overseeing the country's compliance with the Convention Against Torture.

In its regular review of New Zealand' performance the Committee against Torture praised a number of initiatives, such as the development of a national plan of action on human rights, the declared intention to ratify a protocol that would allow independent inspections of places of detention, and New Zealand's cooperation with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

But the Committee has also warned that the lack of adequate safeguards in New Zealand's security risk certificate process may lead to a breach of international law, said the director of Amnesty International NZ, Ced Simpson.

With obvious relevance to the case of Ahmed Zaoui, the Algerian refugee imprisoned in Auckland and facing possible deportation as a 'threat to national security', the Committee expressed concern that a person could be sent to face torture with no adequate opportunity to mount a defence because the authorities had no obligation to give detailed reasons or to disclose classified information to the concerned person and there were limited possibilities of effective appeal.

The Committee also expressed concern that cases of over-prolonged non voluntary segregation (solitary confinement) may amount, in certain circumstances, to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment a breach of article 16 of the Convention. Ahmed Zaoui was held for ten months in solitary confinement in Paremoremo maximum security prison. In September 2003 Dr Tony Taylor, an expert in isolation and trauma, recommended his immediate removal from a prison environment. Zaoui is now being detained at Auckland Central Remand Prison.

In one of eight recommendations, the Committee has urged that the Government to take immediate steps to review the legislation relating to the security risk certificate, in order to ensure the effectiveness of the appeal made against the decision to detain, remove or deport a person, extend the time frame given to the Minister of Immigration to adopt a decision, and ensure full respect of article 3 (of the Convention aimed at protecting refugees from return to danger of torture).

The Committee's report comes as the Court of Appeal considers the Government's application to ensure the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security does not have to take human rights considerations into account in his review of the secret intelligence information giving rise to Ahmed Zaoui's security risk certificate.


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