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Greens' International Non-Aggression Bill defeated

International Non-Aggression and the Lawful Use of Force Bill defeated

by Peter Dyer

It is still legal in New Zealand for our leaders to deploy NZ Armed Forces overseas on an illegal mission. For now.

On Wednesday, 23 June, Green MP Dr Kennedy Graham’s International Non-Aggression and Lawful Use of Force Bill was defeated after its first reading in Parliament.

The vote was 64 to 58, with ACT and United Future joining National in voting no, and the Green, Labour, Maori and Progressive parties voting in favour.

The Bill, first introduced on 30 July, would have required NZ leaders, when requested by another country for armed assistance in foreign military operations, to seek a finding from the New Zealand Attorney-General whether the operation was in conformity with the United Nations Charter.

The UN Charter prohibits initiation of armed action for any reason other than immediate self-defence, before deciding on such a request. (Articles 2.4 and 39)

A special prosecutor’s office would have been created to investigate and possibly pursue charges that such a decision violated the United Nations Charter.

The Bill also would have provided a maximum penalty of ten years in prison for New Zealand leaders found guilty of aggression.

According to Dr Graham, the Bill had two principle purposes:

1) To ensure that the use of armed force by New Zealand is always in conformity with international law and in particular the UN Charter; and

2. To protect New Zealand leaders from external pressure to commit the New Zealand Defence Force to any illegal action overseas.

As Dr Graham said after the vote in Parliament: “Watch this space! The issue is not going away.”

Dr Graham spoke in Parliament just before the vote. The text is below. In addition, the transcript and YouTube recording are available on the Green Party website.

The Government cited these three reasons to oppose this International Non-Aggression and Lawful Use of Force Bill: it will surrender our foreign policy to a Security Council veto, it will divide out nation, and it will be blatantly misused. Each of those is effortlessly refuted, at least in logic.

The Minister of Defence is irritated by the veto and craves the freedom to circumvent it, yet in San Francisco, although we argued against the veto, we signed the charter in full acknowledgment of its inclusion and we abide by that reality today. Dr Mapp prefers the NATO interpretation that the doctrine of responsibility to protect enables Western powers, with New Zealand tagging along behind whenever summoned, to intervene militarily without UN authorisation. The same freedom for so-called legitimate if illegal actions of the Kosovo type is not extended to China or Russia. That level of hubris predates even 1945.

The rule of international law is contemptuous of outmoded notions of political superiority. At some stage, before long, the International Criminal Court will adopt the crime of aggression. New Zealand will agree, voluntarily or otherwise, and on that day the Government will discreetly forget what it has said in this debate.

Of course this bill will not divide the nation. Our New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987* imposed criminal liability on the Prime Minister to respect the prohibition on nuclear-armed warships in our harbours. Far from dividing the nation, the warships stopped coming. The nation remains united on the nuclear-free policy. Notwithstanding the historical rising of the National Party, the Prime Minister celebrates our nuclear-free policy before world leaders at the United Nations this week—hardly a nation divided.

Would the bill result in misuse? There is no greater risk of this legislation being abused than any other. Dr Hutchison has a low opinion of the judiciary; I do not. In fact, I find such a view expressed in this legislature to be quite reprehensible. We should be worth more.

Finally, the Government allowed itself a touching philosophical flourish. Dr Hutchison said that the bill is perhaps something that New Zealand must consider in the future—in other words, it is ahead of its time. To put the record straight, this bill is half a century behind. If it is premature to make national leaders liable in criminal law for aggression, then this country owes a formal apology to Japan for participating in the trial and execution of its leaders six decades ago. The House should then call upon the Prime Minister to convey that apology immediately after dispatching this bill to the void.

I am disappointed at the Government’s position on my bill, but I am not surprised. The bill would take a major step forward in civilising the world through civilising ourselves. Therefore, it requires vision and courage, so I am not surprised. But nor am I discouraged for it is clear to me, whether or not it is clear to my colleagues across the floor, that this bill, even in this failed incarnation, is a beacon to a better world to the country and to elsewhere. The bill has been distributed to over 100 Parliaments around the world, and it is already being seen as a model for other countries to emulate. Work has begun in the Argentine Senate. The disposition of each of those countries to adopt it sooner or later will reflect considerations that transcend the particular reasons for not proceeding so stated in this House today.

It is never difficult and it is always tempting to find rationalisations for not proceeding with a far-reaching initiative in politics. We can go home tonight knowing we have done our duty to this House. We have considered, deliberated, and pronounced. The only thing left to do is explain to our children tomorrow why we would not act today. Whether we have done our duty to the nation and to humanity is less clear. The Prime Minister and his Government have an opportunity today for statesmanship, and recoiled before the mirror. We are what we think, even to a Lilliputian degree. It is likely that future generations will understand us better than we, today, understand ourselves. Very well then; let us proceed to the vote.


  • New Zealand Prime Minister Arrested for Aggression
  • Interview: Dr Kennedy Graham
  • *************

    Peter Dyer is a freelance journalist who moved with his wife from California to New Zealand in 2004. He can be reached at

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