Goff: NZ's international police deployment
Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade
13 October 2005
New Zealand's international police deployments
Speech to the NZ Police
Association Annual Conference
James Cook Hotel, Wellington
Delivered at 9.30am
Thank you for the invitation to talk to you about the role New Zealand police officers are playing internationally.
One of the privileges of my job as Foreign Minister has been to see at first hand the work our country has done as a good international citizen.
We have been working to promote peace and nation building in areas such as Bougainville, East Timor, Afghanistan and the Solomon Islands.
We have responded to calls for help when natural disasters such as the Boxing Day Tsunami have hit.
We have contributed to countering terrorism and trans-national crime, focussing on the Pacific and working closely with traditional friends such as Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, and new partners such as Thailand and Indonesia, to respond to these threats.
As a small country in population terms, what has made our contribution stand out has been the professionalism, commitment, and the ability to relate to and get on with local people, which New Zealand police, defence personnel and other officials have shown.
In one sense, our small size is also our strength. We are not seen to constitute a threat. We are not seen to be pursuing agendas other than to help as a friend and a good neighbour. Our personnel establish good rapport with local people. We get on and do the job quietly and effectively, treating the people in the countries where we work with respect.
For those reasons, New Zealanders are much sought after for deployments in international operations by organisations such as the United Nations, and by other countries.
We have had to be selective in the roles that we have chosen to undertake, having regard to the constraints on our resources and our inclination to work in areas closest to us and which we know best, such as the Pacific and increasingly South East Asia.
However we have also played important roles in more distant places, such as the Middle East and the Balkans.
Numerically our largest deployments have been from our defence forces. Their placement overseas is part of the essential role they are set up to perform.
More and more however, we are approached to deploy police personnel because police are trained in the performance of functions critical to averting civil strife; helping with nation-building and the achievement of good governance, and dealing with issues relating to internal security such as terrorism and crime.
We could be, and I would like to see us, doing much more with our policing skills internationally, but the obvious constraint is the need not to detract from police ability to carry out their domestic role. That is why with any larger or long-term deployment, we follow the practice of backfilling; that is replacing those serving overseas through additional recruiting.
Deployment of police overseas involves costs other than the obvious financial ones. It will frequently involve personnel working in areas where there are risks, and those have to be carefully calculated and weighed up prior to any decision to deploy. For the officers involved, there is also the cost in terms of separation from families.
But there are obvious benefits as well. It is a way in which New Zealand can contribute to international wellbeing and security. There is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that we do well a job that needs to be done. The experience that personnel gain and the force as a whole acquires is valuable. It can bring to individuals a new and interesting dimension to their career and experience within the police force.
I would like to touch on the role that we have played in a number of deployments, and in particular those with which I have had some first hand experience.
In Bougainville, New Zealand played a key role in helping bring an end to a civil war that directly and indirectly cost around 10,000 lives. We currently have five officers deployed in Buka, providing training in community policing.
In a country that has suffered so much internal strife, and where civil infrastructure is often entirely lacking, a workable system of policing is essential to entrench stability and security for the local community. We have contributed towards achieving this.
Drawing on our background as a multicultural society and a Pacific nation, in Bougainville, as elsewhere, we have established a good rapport with the community and a good reputation.
In East Timor, ten New Zealand police officers were sent as part of the UNAMET team to ensure conditions that would allow for a genuine exercise of self-determination in the referendum of August 1999.
I went to East Timor as one of a group of parliamentary and Foreign Affairs election observers and worked alongside our police officers. The conditions could best be described as pretty basic and the risks were very real, with an armed militia intent on preventing East Timorese independence.
I have a vivid memory of arriving at an inland town called Ainaro on the evening before voting and being greeted by then Constable Rangi Maniapoto at a place euphemistically named the Super Sumar Inn – it had wire netting walls and cold water – where we stayed the night.
We had travelled over rough roads for six hours to get there, only to be welcomed by Rangi with the words, "You shouldn't be here. I tried to warn you. It isn't safe." Indeed later intelligence reports indicated that the militias had intended to kill foreign observers there as a message to others, but fortunately aborted the plans for reasons unknown.
Rangi, a fellow New Zealand officer and a member of the Australian Federal Police, had earlier come under attack at their office in Ainaro by a group of men armed with machetes. Fortunately the East Timorese are rather small, and Rangi is about six foot three, and that's across the shoulders.
Smashing a coffee table, he picked up one of the table legs and charged towards the mob yelling in the best traditions of King Country rugby at the top of his voice. The militiamen, confronted by a giant and seemingly possessed Maori charging towards them, paused and then fled from the office. Rangi is now a legend in Ainaro.
Following the overwhelming vote by the East Timorese for independence and the destructive rampage by the militias, New Zealand police officers also worked in further UN deployments up to December 2001 to help establish from the ashes a newly independent state.
In the Solomon Islands, New Zealand police officers served first in the International Peace Monitoring Team and continue today in the Regional Assistance Mission. This is our largest deployment, with current staffing of 35 police officers.
The Solomons were on the verge of becoming a failed state, mired by corruption, poor governance, ethnic cleansing and militias that effectively ran Honiara with minimal interference from authorities. This situation has now been turned around, and stability and normal law, order and governance restored.
The Royal Solomon Island Police Force leaders were totally corrupt, and its personnel ill-trained and ineffective. It was part of the problem not the solution.
New Zealand police officers, together with colleagues from Australia and 11 other Pacific Island countries, first helped to restore security. They are now working alongside the Royal Solomon Island Police officers, assisting them with training and to build the skills and values needed for the RSIP to be an effective force.
My most recent visit to police officers serving overseas was in early January this year in Thailand, in an area called Khao Lak, which was the area most devastated by the Boxing Day tsunami.
Our officers, working in three-week rotations, were involved in Disaster Victim Identification, and did a fantastic job in conditions that most New Zealanders would regard as a nightmare. A temple called Wat Yan Yao had been converted into a morgue. When I was there it contained the remains of over 2000 people, mainly tourists, who were killed in the tsunami and whose bodies had been outside in high temperatures for about eight days. Refrigerated containers had only just been brought in. The sight, smell and taste of death were overwhelming.
I pay tribute to the work done by our officers and other New Zealand personnel, for their effectiveness and professionalism, which won the respect of those they worked with and the Thai government. We still have four officers in Thailand on work associated with the disaster.
In other areas, most recently we have deployed two police officers to be part of our Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan, Afghanistan, working to train local police in the skills they need.
Elsewhere we now have, in the post 9/11 environment, liaison officers posted in London, Washington, Canberra, Suva, Jakarta and Bangkok. They play a key role in coordinating efforts to prevent terrorism, drug and people trafficking and other forms of trans-national crime.
These phenomena, like natural disasters, don't recognize and don't stop at national borders. In the ever-shrinking global village in which we are now living, it is critical that countries cooperate together to prevent these threats to our wellbeing and security.
The theme of your conference is 'Proud to Police'. I think that New Zealand has every reason to be proud of the contribution New Zealand Police officers are making internationally alongside defence and other personnel from our country.
The need and the demand for our contribution in overseas deployments can be expected to increase rather than decrease.
In face of this, the New Zealand Police have developed an International Service Group to manage our overall international engagement.
It is important that we coordinate and focus the efforts that we are being called upon to make internationally. We need to anticipate the challenges we will face in doing this and to maximise the benefits.
Thank you for what your members are contributing internationally. They and we have good cause to be proud of how they have performed and what they have achieved.
All Phil Goff’s media releases and speeches are posted at www.beehive.govt.nz