Amnesty International Report: NZ poor on spying, Maori imprisonment and refugees

Amnesty International

Amnesty International wraps up global human rights in its Annual Review.

New Zealand has received a ticking off over its spying record, the Maori prison population and a practise of housing asylum seekers alongside remand prisoners.

In this year's Amnesty International Annual Report, New Zealand's role in the Five Eyes international spying network came into question. 

Reports in March last year, that appeared to show New Zealand was spying on its Pacific neighbours on behalf of the United States, were concerning.

Asylum seekers should never be detained alongside other prisoners, Amnesty International chief says.

Asylum seekers should never be detained alongside other prisoners, Amnesty International chief says.

According to The Intercept, the documents suggest New Zealand ramped up its spying in 2009. Previously, it kept only some of the information it intercepted on specific targets.

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"The evidence that pointed to New Zealand security services being involved in full-take collection in the Pacific particularly, are extremely concerning," Amnesty NZ chief executive Grant Bayldon said. 

"Mass, indiscriminate surveillance can never meet human rights standards."

New Zealand also copped a slap over its "token" refugee intake. 

"New Zealand showed glimpses of human rights leadership in 2015 in its role on the UN Security Council in pushing for veto restraint and humanitarian access into Syria, yet its credibility to create meaningful change was dampened by its failure to increase its own tiny refugee quota," Amnesty said in its report. 

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Bayldon said an announcement by Prime Minister John Key last year, after a photo of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach prompted international outrage, was a start.

But it was not enough. 

"New Zealand's own announcement to take an emergency intake of 600 Syrian refugees over three years was a welcome and life-saving response but didn't come anywhere close to doing its fair share in the global refugee crisis.

The time has passed for token gestures, New Zealand must take its global responsibilities seriously," he said.

New Zealand's refugee quota of 750 per year, is coming up for review by the Government midway through this year. It's stood at the same rate for 28 years but Key has so far refused to comment on it, not wanting to pre-empt the process. 

The report also notes concerns over the practice of asylum seekers alongside remand detainees and the disproportionate representation of Māori in the criminal justice system.

"Asylum seekers should never be detained alongside other prisoners. We need to remember that asylum seekers are people not accused of any crime and they're extremely vulnerable," Bayldon said. 

It was not a common practise in New Zealand, but rules did allow for it and cases where it did occur were a breach of basic human rights. 

The UN Committee for Arbitrary Detention in 2014, specifically reported on New Zealand, finding it was using the prison system and police stations to detain irregular migrants and asylum seekers although there was no mandatory detention policy. 

The Amnesty report also noted that both the UN Committee against Torture and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concern at the disproportionate representation of Maori in the criminal justice system.

Maori, who were 15 per cent of the general population, made up 51 per cent of the total prison population and 65 per cent of the female prison population.

"With rates that high we can't pretend this isn't a major issue that we should be looking at."

The release of the Annual Report coincided with Key's visit to Sri Lanka and Amnesty called on him to represent "more than just New Zealand's trading interests while in the country".

"Despite the Prime Minister's overly positive comments about Sri Lanka's reconciliation process, Amnesty International continues to have grave concern about Sri Lanka's human rights record," said Bayldon.

"New Zealand should be leading the way in speaking out on human rights abuses, we cannot allow our economic self interest to overshadow the grim reality of the human rights situation in countries we're trading with, such as Sri Lanka or Saudi Arabia."

 - Stuff

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