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Human rights must be on agenda for Clinton visit

Amnesty International Aotearoa NZ
Media release
For immediate release
14 January 2010

Human rights must be on the agenda for Hillary Clinton’s visit to NZ

Amnesty International is calling for human rights to be a key agenda item during Hillary Clinton’s first visit to New Zealand as the United States of Americas’ Secretary of State.

Clinton’s visit occurs during the anniversary week of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre (January 11), which is why in a briefing to the New Zealand Government, Amnesty International has particularly highlighted human rights concerns surrounding the abuses committed in the name of the US “counter-terrorism” policies.

In light of growing NZ-US relations, Amnesty International is urging the New Zealand Government to use this opportunity to raise the United States’ legal obligations to uphold human rights and international humanitarian law. Such a call mirrors Hillary Clinton’s recent affirmation[1] that the “United States must lead by example in this area.”

“Almost a year after President Obama took office, abuses such as torture, enforced disappearances and indefinite detentions - that were a feature of the former administration’s ‘War on Terror’ - have yet to receive redress,” says Patrick Holmes, CEO of Amnesty NZ.

Amnesty International has consistently called on the United States to ensure that its counter-terrorism laws, policies and practices comply with international law and standards. That includes:
• Immediately releasing the 116 Guantanamo detainees already cleared for release, but who remain unfairly detained;
• Bringing to justice in fair trials those accused of involvement in the September 11 and other attacks, including the attempted Christmas Day bombing by Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
• Ensuring an independent commission of inquiry is set up to investigate the USA’s own detention and interrogation policies and practices since 11 September 2001.

Amnesty International is urging the New Zealand Government to offer international protection to Guantanamo Bay detainees at risk of torture or other serious human rights violations if returned to their home countries.

“These men remain detained for the sole reason that they have no safe place to go. New Zealand can contribute to a safe, just and lawful resolution to the Guantanamo detentions by accepting one or more detainee,” says Holmes.

“Afghanistan, and New Zealand’s involvement there, is also up for discussion and will provide an opportunity for both countries to commit to upholding international human rights and humanitarian law.

“New Zealand and the US must ensure that their human rights commitments transpire into practical realities – and are not simply an empty rebranding exercise,” adds Holmes.

Noting the Pacific’s particular vulnerability to climate change, Amnesty additionally urges both countries during Clinton’s visit to progress the need for a fair, ambitious and legally binding agreement, which the December Copenhagen conference failed to deliver.

[1] Recent remarks on the Human Rights Agenda for the 21st Century, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State, Georgetown University’s Glaston Hall, Washington DC, December 14 2009.


US counter-terrorism laws, policies and practices
Since the attacks of 11 September 2001, Amnesty International has been campaigning to ensure that the US’ counter-terrorism laws, policies and practices comply with international standards.

Whether in the USA, Iraq, Afghanistan or in countless destinations used for the purposes of illegal rendition, systematic human rights violations were committed against detainees, including the crimes of torture and enforced disappearance. The USA pursued indefinite detention without charge of hundreds of detainees it labelled as “enemy combatants”, and the subsequent unfair trial by military commission of those few individuals whom were selected for trial.

Guantanamo Bay detainees
Around 50 men remain trapped at Guantanamo Bay simply because they have no safe place to go. They have been essentially abandoned at Guantánamo. The plight of these men poses one of the most significant obstacles to the closure of the detention centre.

The international community, which has repeatedly called for the detention centre’s closure, can help in realising this aim by offering a safe haven to some of these men. Seven former detainees have been welcomed into European states as free men, and a further 10 have been sent to Palau and Bermuda.

In a December 2009 meeting with Amnesty International following the redeployment of New Zealand Special Air Services to Afghanistan, the Minister of Defence Dr Wayne Mapp affirmed this country’s commitment to upholding international human rights and humanitarian law.

Amnesty International continues to raise concerns at the USA’s arbitrary detention practices in Afghanistan and the lack of a consistent, clear and credible mechanism to investigate civilian casualties resulting from military operations there, and the need for these issues to be addressed.

Climate change and human rights
Climate change could have harmful impacts on the ability of individuals and groups to enjoy and realise their human rights. There is an intrinsic link between such environmental impacts as rising sea levels, increased frequency of temperature extremes, drought, flooding, tropical cyclones and the ability to realise a range of human rights. State failure to act effectively to curb climate change could result in widespread violations of the rights to life, health, water, food, and the right to housing. It is crucial that states apply a human rights framework when developing and implementing their climate change policies, to ensure that such policies do not themselves undermine human rights.


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