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Amnesty International welcomes Zaoui decision

Amnesty International welcomes Ahmed Zaoui decision

Amnesty International has welcomed the decision announced today by the Director of Security to withdraw the security risk certificate against Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui, saying that it makes clear that a substantial threat to New Zealand's security must exist before the human right to asylum from persecution is ignored.

The decision comes almost five years after Ahmed Zaoui arrived in New Zealand and four years after the Refugee Status Appeals Authority concluded that he should be granted asylum following his experiences in Algeria and in exile.

'The Ahmed Zaoui case has highlighted the fragility of our commitment as a country to basic human rights,' said Amnesty's International's Executive Director in New Zealand, Ced Simpson.

'Too many New Zealanders, including members of Parliament who should be more aware than most of the importance of human rights, were content to ignore the August 2003 decision of the Refugee Status Appeals Authority and condemn Mr Zaoui without access to the facts.'

'Too many were prepared to make cheap jibes about how a survivor of torture who had been in enforced exile for a decade and kept for 10 months in solitary confinement in a New Zealand prison was "abusing New Zealand hospitality", "costing the taxpayers too much", and was "free to jump on a plane at any time".'

Mr Zaoui's counsel has had to fight summary justice all the way as they challenged what has been the first security risk certificate issued in New Zealand, Mr Simpson said.

'It is important that the right lessons are learned. Security and human rights are not polar opposites; they are mutually reinforcing. While New Zealand should rightly enhance our security against terror in all its forms, this cannot be at the cost of the very rights we seek to uphold.'

'The facts have now been reviewed, belatedly, and the Authority's decision vindicated. An apology is due to Mr Zaoui for New Zealand's poor handling of his case. His family should be able to join him at the earliest opportunity, as called for by UNHCR.'

'Many of the details released by the Director of Security as he explained his decision today would have been expected to have come to light if a fair hearing had been held much sooner,' Mr Simpson said. 'The explanation highlights why refugee claimants must receive a prompt and fair judicial hearing in which they can respond to information tabled by those making accusations against them.'

Amnesty International made representations to the Government in late 2002 urging that Mr Zaoui's case be handled in accordance with the high human rights standards proclaimed by New Zealand.

After the Refugee Status Appeals Authority decision in August 2003 Amnesty International called for his release from detention unless the government could ensure a swift fair hearing of the allegations against him.

In its 2007 annual assessment of human rights globally, the organisation noted the delay in concluding the review of the certificate.


ENDS

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