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Flavell: Crimes of Torture Amendment Bill

Crimes of Torture Amendment Bill (Second Reading)

Tuesday 7 November 2006

Te Ururoa Flavell; Member of Parliament for Waiariki

Tena tatou katoa, te whare.

The reality of people who have suffered the fate of systematic and brutal murder, slaughter, human rights abuse, physical and mental oppression, dis-possession and extermination – the Crimes of Torture – is readily available through reading the histories of colonisation.

Injustice Against Mokomoko

In fact, in my maiden speech to this House, I referred to the Crime of Torture enacted amongst the people of Te Whakatohea in the mid 1860s, following the murder of the missionary, Carl Sylvius Völkner. This House will recall, Volkner had been implicated in the passing on of information to Governor Grey about the movements of Maori in the New Zealand Wars.

In the weeks after his death, British troops stormed Opotiki and captured four Maori, including an esteemed chief of Whakatohea, Mokomoko. The four men were arrested, condemned and executed for the murder of Völkner.

Not satisfied with these four deaths, the Government also mounted a harsh assault on Whakatohea, confiscating their best arable land, destroying their shipping and stores. The basis of an effective economy was ruined.

Mokomoko had always denied his involvement, and indeed was supported by the legal and historical research that followed. Mr Speaker, a grave miscarriage of justice had occurred.

Over a century later, his whanau were able to exhume his remains from Mt Eden jail to be buried in his ancestral urupa. In June 1992, the descendants of Mokomoko were finally granted a full acquittal for him. His words at the time at the scaffold, and his song, are also remembered, and I quote:

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Violent shaking will not rouse me from my sleep
They treat me like a common thief
It is true that I embrace eternal sleep
For that is the lot of a man condemned to die.

Mr Speaker, the condemnation that we bring to this House today against torture is undeniably influenced by experiences such as these. We come to this Bill, remembering the plea of Mokomoko, not to die for a crime he did not commit.

It is ironic that when we stand in this House in support of the Optional Protocol adopted by the UN General Assembly, it is often implied that we are opposed to the use of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in far off places, when in fact scrutiny of our own situation might be very revealing.

New Zealand History of Execution and inhuman punishment

The use of execution, the application of the death penalty as a punishment with murder, was inherited with other common law from England in 1893, alongside hard labour, flogging and whipping.

My research tells me that from 1842 until 1961, 54 people were put to death in Aotearoa; one woman amongst the list. The last person to be executed was Walter Bolton who was hanged at Mt Eden Prison on 18 February 1957 for the murder of his wife.

And today, the stone walls and towers of Mt Eden Prison remind anyone who visits there, of our own shameful history of human rights abuses. Our public libraries also contain records of executions that were free entertainment for a morbid crowd who would congregate above the Mount Eden stockade to witness the events.

Loss of Young Lives

Mr Speaker, other legacies remain. There are eleven graves at Mt Eden Prison that forever remind prisoners of the tragic history of execution. And just over a decade ago, between 1991 and 1999, another eleven lives were lost. Eleven of thirteen teenagers who committed suicide in prison in that period occurring in Mt Eden.

The question was asked at that time, whether the actions of the past had ever been reconciled, or whether that legacy remains as long as Mt Eden stands.

Mr Speaker, I understand that the report on New Zealand prepared by the United Nations Committee Against Torture in June 2004, expressed concern that the fact that juveniles are sometimes not separated from adult detainees, and have been detained in cells, owing to a shortage of CYFS facilities.

The hideous culture of the Mount is clearly inappropriate if our young people are driven to suicide in adult prisons.

The recent tragic death of Liam Ashley points to the pressing need to address the issue of juvenile safety raised by the UN Committee Against Torture.

Asylum Seekers

Now that UN Committee Against Torture report also expressed concern about the significant decrease in the proportion of asylum-seekers who are immediately released without restriction into the community upon arrival, and the detention of several asylum seekers in remand prisons, who are not separated from other detainees.

Mr Speaker, this week marks two years of such detention for Thomas Yadegary, an Iranian, who has been imprisoned without charge or trial in Auckland’s Mt Eden prison.

Thomas has lived in Aotearoa since 1993 and applied for refugee status, an application which was declined. On 1 November 2004 he was taken into custody at Mt Eden to await deportation.

The Government has exerted pressure on Thomas to sign an agreement, absolving the Minister of Corrections from any responsibility in the likelihood that Thomas is arrested, tortured or killed on his return to Iran. Thomas has refused to do so, and so in effect, he remains as a hostage in prison.

Last month, Global Peace And Justice Auckland released a statement; and I quote:

Thomas’s continuing incarceration is a travesty of natural justice and a disgraceful abuse of human rights. We have our own little Guantanemo Bay right here in the heart of Mount Eden.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party stands in this house to argue for consistency in the application of our human rights; to restore our international reputation through compliance with international law.

And yet here, under our own very eyes, is another instance where a person has been deprived of liberty, seemingly violating the human rights conventions we are so quick to refer to in other countries.

We all want to believe that the criminal justice system is reliable, fair and infallible. Unfortunately there is a huge discrepancy between what we may wish to believe and fact.

The UN Committee, also expressed their considerable concern about

- prolonged periods of solitary confinement; and,

- the findings of the Ombudsman regarding investigations of alleged assaults by prison staff on inmates, in particular the reluctance to address such allegations promptly and the quality, impartiality and credibility of investigations.

The Maori Party has consistently raised our own concerns about these problems, and supports the focus that will come from the increased monitoring by the United Nations of our prisons.

This can only enhance the confidence of the public and demonstrate transparency if a United Nations sub-committee can provide rigorous advice that we listen to.

Guantanamo Bay

Finally, Mr Speaker, the Maori Party of course wants to ensure that the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture is applied not just at home, but across the globe.

No one in this House can deny the facts of the United Nations investigation into the treatment of prisoners at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay which revealed it was effectively a torture camp where prisoners had no access to justice.

The final report of the investigation undertaken by five UN experts, accused the United States of practices that "amount to torture" and demanded that detainees either be allowed a fair trial or released. We were told that torture was a daily occurrence at the prison camp for terror suspects, suspects accused of having links to Afghanistan's ousted Taleban regime or to al-Qaeda.

Yet in this prison camp, rife with terrorists, only a handful have been charged. The United Nations has shown the world that a prison exists outside normal international standards of justice. A prison where 490 men has been held for ‘absolutely nothing’; a prison that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan demanded must be shut down.

Consistency: take the rope from my throat

Mr Speaker, Mokomoko's dying words were 'Tangohia mai te taura i taku kaki kia waiata au i taku waiata.' (Take the rope from my throat that I may sing my song.)

With this Bill, we hope that others might note that the rope should be taken from the throat of those in Guantanamo Bay; those seeking asylum in Aotearoa, and our own youth in prison on remand.

We hope that the song that will be sung will be one of a justice system aimed at preventing crime before it occurs, wherever possible, and at supporting people who are affected by crime.

Whether it is murder, slaughter and dispossession through the gallows, cannon, sword, legislation or a prison camp is irrelevant in defining torture - cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The key point is we must continue to vigorously oppose all human rights abuses; we must condemn all acts of torture; and we must build hope, in restoring our international reputation as a land that values human rights and due access to justice.


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