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NZ Washes Its Hands of Defending Human Rights

For Immediate Release
Wednesday, 3 June 2009

NZ Washes Its Hands of Defending and Promoting Human Rights

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – MFAT has informed Harmeet Sooden that it will not act on his official complaint regarding his mistreatment by Israeli authorities when he attempted to enter Israel on 14 June 2008 as a human rights volunteer for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).

Mr Sooden was assaulted and injured, threatened, held in solitary confinement, denied the right to legal counsel and consular representation, and unlawfully deported on 18 June 2008. Israeli authorities told Mr Sooden that he was being deported because he constitutes “a threat to the security of the State of Israel”.

In a recent letter, MFAT told Mr Sooden, “You have advised that you were travelling on your Canadian passport at this time. In this case, New Zealand would not have expected to be notified of your detention because you did not seek to enter Israel on your New Zealand passport”.

“I am a New Zealand citizen,” Mr Sooden counters, “and I would expect the New Zealand Government to act to protect its citizens overseas. MFAT is failing to consider evidence that I was denied the right to request consular assistance from New Zealand.”

Mr. Sooden believes this raises serious questions for New Zealanders with dual citizenship, who travel abroad on a passport of their other nationality (many New Zealanders hold British passports).

“Should they, too, expect no assistance from NZ in dire emergencies?” asks Mr Sooden, “MFAT’s decision not to pursue this matter with Israel implies that our Government thinks it’s ok for NZ citizens to be held incommunicado for 4 days overseas—a critical period during which serious harm could come to them.”

He says MFAT has not taken his complaint seriously: “When I was kidnapped, supposedly by an ‘official enemy’, the Government’s response was overwhelmingly compassionate. Now, under these circumstances does one stop being a Kiwi?”

MFAT’s response to Mr Sooden’s complaint is consistent with the Government’s failure to condemn Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza; its decision to withdraw from seeking election to the Human Rights Council in favour of the US; and its boycott of the 2009 UN World Conference Against Racism. “These decisions are not informed by a concern for human rights or the rights of human rights defenders, but rather accommodation to US foreign policy, particularly US policy towards Israel,” says Mr Sooden.

Mr Sooden’s deportation from Israel appears to be part of an ongoing Israeli policy to prevent human rights defenders from documenting and exposing Israel’s human rights violations in the OPT.

ISM is an international human rights organisation composed of Palestinians, Israelis and internationals who monitor the human rights situation and protect human rights in the OPT. Several Palestinians affiliated with ISM have been killed or severely injured by the Israel Defense Forces in the past year—a fact largely unreported in the West. An ISM volunteer from the US, Tristan Anderson, remains in a coma after being shot in the head with a high-velocity tear-gas projectile by the Israel Border Police on 18 March 2009. “The fact that I was seeking redress not only as a representative of ISM but also on its behalf appears to have made no difference,” says Mr Sooden.

Mr Sooden and three others were kidnapped in Iraq on 26 November 2005 while participating in an international Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation. One member of the group, US citizen Tom Fox, was murdered on 9 March 2006. Mr Sooden and the remaining hostages, Canadian James Loney and Briton Norman Kember, were freed two weeks later.

ENDS

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