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Archive for the ‘Foreign Affairs’ Category

NZ and the disarmament agenda – where are we?

Posted by on December 19th, 2013

The nuclear disarmament agenda has been gathering pace internationally in 2013 but our government has been ignoring, or just missing, every opportunity to do anything to advance it.

We had a great statement on it read at the UNGA recently by our disarmament ambassador, but that was despite Murray McCully, not because of him. She has been withdrawn from Geneva and sent back to Wellington, and the poor sole rep in Geneva is left there defending our interests and trying to advance the agenda without any instructions from government in Wellington.

The humanitarian rationale for non-proliferation and dismantling of nuclear weapons is gaining traction internationally. The impact of even one nuclear bomb being detonated (they are so much more powerful now than in 1945) will have catastrophic implications for the global environment and climate, food production and security, economics and politics, that winding back our collective arsenals and decommissioning nuclear warhead production is the only sensible way forward.

There are more or less 17,270 nuclear weapons in the world right now, of which 4,400 are on high alert, or ready to be used immediately. $1.75 trillion USD is spent annually on military expansion. Just 9 countries spend $100billion USD per annum, that is nearly $300million USD daily, on nuclear weapons. Just imagine what we could do if……

NZ had an opportunity to assist Obama and the US in his ambitious programme for the de-escalation of this threat to humanity, but John Key only saw it as a photo op. What a waste. It’s time he moved over and let someone who actually cares about NZ’s role in the world take over. David Cunliffe will do nicely.

TPPA : Will you make the TPPA process transparent? Labour Leadership Q&A #3

Posted by on September 11th, 2013

14 Questions for 2014

Virtual Hustings Meeting – Question 3

TPPA : Will you make the TPPA process transparent?

Explanatory Note: From September 10th to 14th 2013 as part of the official selection process for a new leader the New Zealand Labour Party is holding a “Virtual Hustings Meeting” hosted by Red Alert and organised by Scoop Amplifier. Over 7 days questions were solicited from eligible voters in the election. The questions and answers are now being posted as a set of 14 posts at the Red Alert Labour Party Blog starting yesterday (Tuesday 10th September), till Friday 13th September. At Red Alert all-comers are welcome to discuss the answers in the comment section of the blog. The three candidates are expected to participate in these discussions at times over the five days till Saturday 14th September.


Question : What are your views on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement? Will you make the TPPA process transparent?

Submitted by : Cushla Dillon, Auckland



Answer from Grant Robertson

The TPPA is more than a normal trade agreement and needs to be treated as such, with caution.

I am a supporter of trade agreements that gain our exporters access to markets that will mean they can create jobs here in New Zealand. But we have to ensure that our rights to make laws, regulate and protect our people and environment is upheld.

In the case of the TPPA we must set clear bottom lines. No change to the PHARMAC model, protection of IP and copyright law, and ensuring our sovereign right to regulate and make policy is supported.

We do need more transparency in the way we deal with trade. I would set up an independent trade advisory group with representation from across the community to ensure there is public participation and understanding of our approach to trade agreements. We must be at the table for these sorts of negotiations, but it is vital that it is a Labour Government at the table.


Answer from David Cunliffe

I am concerned about the TPPA. We cannot trade-away our ability to set government regulation. I am worried that John Key and his Government will continue to keep us all in the dark about the text and its implications and I fear they will then present us with the final text some time near the end of this year and insist that we accept it otherwise we will harm our trading relationships.

This will leave us with little or no opportunity to consult with our communities about its potential implications.

We must protect Pharmac, ensure intellectual property provisions are suitable for New Zealand business, and we must not accept limits on our sovereign right to regulate. Any agreement must be in New Zealand’s best interest.


Answer from Shane Jones

A very challenging issue. It is vitally important we retain the capacity for our Parliament to regulate for public good.

It is essential that this deal does not hobble our technical industries through punitive patents. Ultimately however I do not want to see our Trade partners in a club without us.


New deployment in Aghanistan wrong decision

Posted by on February 20th, 2013

The decision by the National Government to embark on a new deployment of New Zealand Defence Force personnel to Afghanistan is wrong and unprincipled.

Last year the Prime Minister, John Key, said New Zealand troops would be out of Afghanistan by the end of April 2013.

This u-turn is not the result of New Zealand’s judgement and the values our foreign policy should be based on but rather the pressure that the government came under from another country.

National has reneged on its responsibility to make its own decisions as an independent and sovereign nation.

The consequence is that New Zealanders’ lives will continue to be put at risk without the hope of a positive outcome to the conflict there and on behalf of a government in Afghanistan that does not merit the sacrifice of Kiwi lives.

The Prime Minister’s justification that they won’t be at much risk because they are “inside the wire” doesn’t have much credibility.

Time and again allied soldiers in Afghanistan have been shot in the back by soldiers in Afghan National Army uniform who have no real loyalty to their own government.

There is no good reason why Kiwi lives should be put at risk to preserve the Afghanistan Government. Wikileaks revealed that the Afghan Vice-President was found leaving the country with a bag packed with millions of US dollars. Drug traffickers, with the concurrence of the Afghan government, supply 90 per cent of illicit opium trafficked to  Europe. Corruption is pervasive, human rights are constantly abused.

The Karzai administration after a decade has failed to win the support of its own people.

In 2001, New Zealand rightly deployed its troops to Afghanistan to suppress a terrorist organisation, Al Qaeda, based in Afghanistan which had launched international terrorist attacks against innocent people culminating in 9/11.

It did so consistent with a United Nations resolution which had overwhelming international support.

Today, Al Qaeda is a force in Pakistan rather than in Afghanistan.

The war in Afghanistan has assumed more the nature of a civil war between two opposing sides, neither of which have values consistent with ours.

No matter how long we stay there or how many further lives we sacrifice, we will not determine the final outcome of that war.

New Zealanders understand sacrifice. In two world wars we have suffered more than our fair share of Kiwi lives lost. Like other New Zealanders, my family has lost members in both those wars and in Afghanistan as well. As a country we don’t shy away from involvement in wars on the basis only that lives may be lost.

But we should not be involved in conflicts where the loss of lives cannot be justified and where the cause is known to be futile.

Pleasing another country is not cause enough to put Kiwi lives at risk. After 12 years it is past time that New Zealand brings all its troops home from Afghanistan, rather than embarking on a new deployment.

Final 5 Interpreters Make Desperate Plea

Posted by on January 16th, 2013

Last night several MPs received a letter from a group claiming to be the last five Afghan interpreters who worked with the NZDF and wish to leave Afghanistan but have not been offered any package by the Government.

If there are indeed only five more families that wish to be relocated the Government should act swiftly to grant them asylum. There is no logical justification for denying these former interpreters when all others have had a satisfactory outcome. Their situation is no different to the others.

Here’s what they had to say:

To: Honorable NZ Prime minister, Cabinet and Parliament Members
From: Five former NZDF Interpreters

Warm Greetings!

First of all, we would like to thank on our behalf the Government of the Right Honorable John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand, for the resettlement offer to the interpreters (our brothers and countrymen). The decision will surely save many lives as all interpreters fear retribution from the Taliban.

Secondly, please kindly consider this letter as an application for the extension of the asylum offer to the five former NZDF interpreters who served the New Zealand Defense Force alongside the Kiwi soldiers in Bamyan Province for several years in the early days of their deployments in Afghanistan, as interpreters/translators and cultural advisers. During our assignments with NZDF soldiers, we accompanied them on numerous patrols all over the province and even outside of the province, as well as on countless meetings with key government officials, warlords/Taliban, Mullahs, village elders and other locals. As most of these meetings were held in public or in contentious areas of the province, it has exposed us as a person working for the coalition forces. We have also appeared in the Media as allies of NZDF. By the end of our time with NZDF, we were very well-known amongst the Taliban, warlords, locals and security forces for having a strong working background with NZPRT. This fame has already put our lives in danger and might end our and our families’ lives once the ISAF/NATO forces leave Afghanistan and the insurgents/ Taliban start re-gaining power.

It was our hope that peace would prevail in Afghanistan, but unfortunately security across the country has deteriorated. The insurgents are on the offensive across most parts of the country gaining control and eliminating those of us who had connections with coalition forces especially interpreters. We have become prisoners of our country and are unable to make a living freely out of fear of the murderous Taliban. As many of us went into hiding due to direct and indirect threats received from Taliban, insurgents, local warlords and corrupt government authorities threatening to kill either us or our family members. These threats were the reason for most of the NZPRT interpreters to quit their jobs or to flee to another country in order to find a safe shelter to save their lives. We, five former interpreters were/are unable to make our way to a safer place and have been seeking assistance from NZ government to resettle us and our families in New Zealand.

Based on the latest announcement from NZ Government, the initial resettlement offer (released on October 2012) was extended to six former NZDF interpreters, but only two out of six are currently living in Afghanistan and have accepted to resettle in New Zealand, the rest (four ex- interpreters) have already resettled in abroad.

Thus, we five former interpreters who are excluded from the resettlement package, humbly requesting NZ Government to consider our cases and include us in the current resettlement offer. We, five former interpreters have full records of our services with NZDF/PRT in Bamyan and have resigned our assignments prior to December 2010.

It is worth mentioning that we are thankful from Immigration Minister, Nathan Guy who stated that we can request the grant of residence under section 72 of the Immigration Act 2009, if we apply through United Nations our cases will be considered sympathetically. We would have applied through UNHCR if, it was even a bit possible for us. According to the UNHCR asylum policies one has to move to another country as a refugee to apply for the third country. If we do so, then our families will starve to death, as most of us are the sole worker at home.

As we all know, once the coalition forces leave, the security will further deteriorate.

As soon as the insurgents regain power or get strong enough would start hunting us down. We are sure they would not let us go just because we are former interpreters and no longer work with coalition forces. We will be dealt equally with current ones.

We are extremely proud of our achievements and affiliation with the New Zealand Defense Force. We hold the women and men of the NZDF in high regard for their bravery, hard work and dedication to the people of Afghanistan.

Your kind consideration for a safe and prosperous future in New Zealand is most timely for us, our families as we live in fear in Afghanistan for what the future holds. Therefore, we are humbly requesting the Government of New Zealand to extend the current asylum offer to us (the only five remained interpreters) as well, as we have been loyal and dedicated employees of NZPRT over the past years.

We are looking forward to hearing a positive response from Honorable New Zealand Government authorities in this regard.

Former Interpreters of NZPRT

If there is any good reason these or any other interpreters are being denied, the Government should make that clear. If not, their continued discrimination is unjustified.


Aung San Suu Kyi to NZ – was anybody listening?

Posted by on November 25th, 2012

What was Aung San Suu Kyi’s word to the west during her recent European tour? “Yes – we welcome foreign investment, but ethical investment and people-centred aid please.” Did John Key hear any of this before he swanned off for another photo opp?

His post-Burma visit interview with Audrey Young was a lesson in how to learn nothing from one of the world’s greatest and most principled democratic leaders. It was like watching a child trying to speak adult language. And as for the Boy’s Own Annual approach to Foreign Affairs –  of the East Asia Summit: “It was a pretty interesting meeting just generally….I know…all these guys. I’ve met them lots now” – one wonders what Key thinks he is there for. And did he not know how ASSK might react to the name Myanmar?

Key announced $7 million in aid to go to Burma – $1 million in humanitarian aid to Rakhine state and $6 million in agricultural reforms. I blogged positively on the fact that he announced aid at all. But Key’s and National’s obsession with Foreign Affairs being reduced to trade shone through his announcement as did his disregard for everything for which ASSK stands – democracy, poverty elimination, reliable and accessible health care, accountable structures, rule of law, credible governance, anti-corruption.

Contrast Key with Obama’s brave and principled leadership shown in his speech at the University of Yangon: “Above all, when your voices are heard in government, it’s far more likely that your basic needs will be met. And that’s why reform must reach the daily lives of those who are hungry and those who are ill, and those who live without electricity or water.”

$6 million in agricultural reform assistance is another way of saying how can the NZ government make life easy for our biggest company, Fonterra? Somewhere down the track, that may be an appropriate question. Right now, instead of the developed nations circling like vultures over the next and possibly last untapped market in the world, why aren’t we concentrating on what Burma needs in order to get its people back on their feet so they can trade their riches of oil, gas, gems such as rubies and other minerals, as well as their fertile land, on their own terms and for the benefit of their people?

What business needs to flourish is the rule of law, transparency, a lack of corruption and democratic accountability. US businesses are not lining up to flood into Burma yet because they know the banking system is embryonic and capricious (crisp US bills only please, no bank accounts for foreigners, cash only). Check out what US businesses are saying here.

But to get to that stage, Burma will need health care and education. Our UnionAID programme training young Burmese leaders ($175,000!) is more likely to be effective in the long term than opportunities for NZ businesses. Getting some of the basics such as human rights, health care and education sorted are the priorities, not laying the ground for us to do well out of Burma in the future. Journos can see that. A real leader would see that.

Aid to Burma

Posted by on November 23rd, 2012

I am pleased that John Key has announced $7million in aid funding is to go to Burma, during his visit to that emerging country today. $1 million is to go to the strife-torn province of Rakhine in the western part of the country, where the Muslim Rohingya people remain stateless and in the most appalling need of aid and humanitarian support. I am pleased Key has been able to utter the words ‘human rights’ in Burma – how many decades of tyranny does it take for him to recognise that humans rights abuses exist?? – because he didn’t seem to be able to do so in Cambodia.

I was in Burma two weeks ago with the GAVI Alliance which distributes vaccines to the poorest parts of the world. 650,000 children will receive a new pentavaccine (diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and influenza B) in the next 6 months and 1.5 million children will get their second measles vaccination in the next 12 months. I saw it starting in poor, rural villages outside of Nya Pyi Taw. NZ doesn’t contribute to that. That would be a better to place to start than agricultural development in my view. Fonterra can be left to do that, because it will for its own interests – government aid money could more usefully go to the primary needs for health care for the next generation.

I came away from Burma convinced that the new President and some of his Ministers are indeed committed to reform. I hold more hope for the progress of democracy than I have ever had before. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will take her rightful place as the elected leader of Burma in my lifetime – something that has felt like a distant dream for such a long time.  It is time for NZ to stand alongside the real efforts being made to lift Burma out of poverty and deprivation. I know agricultural reform can help there. I don’t deny that. But health care for women and babies is always a good investment in the long term.

I just hope that Key also decides to continue putting $175,000 into a valuable NZ-based UnionAid programme which takes 6 young Burmese leaders every year and gives them English language training at VUW and exposure to democratic structures and community organisations. It is a small investment with big results. I met with some of these interns while I was in Yangon. They are in a think tank advising the President on monetary policy, taxation, fiscal policy and writing of budgets. They are working for the ILO on its Freedom of Association project setting up trade unions under our own Ross Wilson, or on training others for leadership roles. It would be a shame if Murray McCully axed this small but significant programme when he should be doubling it. He is considering axing it apparently because one of the interns refused to go home last time and was granted asylum by Immigration NZ. Fix the process, Murray. Don’t axe the programme.

And by the way, Mr Key, don’t call it Myanmar in front of ASSK. That was an embarrassment you could have avoided with a little thought or experience.

Hey Steven Joyce – wanna see a real Road of National Significance?

Posted by on November 14th, 2012

This is the road to the Parliament in Nay Pyi Taw (Naypyidaw), the purpose-built new capital of Burma. It is 20 lanes wide – 10 each way and you could land a 747 on it – perhaps its original purpose? Except that it is a little undulating. And it clearly fixes congestion – there is no traffic! Or is that due to the fact that you need permission to visit Nya Pyi Taw? Whatever the situation, this is clearly a road of national significance. I think Steven Joyce lacks ambition for NZ……

Red Cross takes up anti-nuke agenda

Posted by on November 5th, 2012

Last Saturday I spoke at the Australian Red Cross conference in Adelaide called “Towards Eliminating Nuclear Weapons”. You can read my speech here.

It is a wonderful thing that the International Red Cross movement has chosen to take up and advance the nuclear non-proliferation agenda. Here is an organisation with well over a century’s history and experience in every modern theatre of war you can imagine, bringing its substantial reputation and credibility to the advancement of peace, on the grounds of humanitarianism. They are wading into the mixed international political agenda on grounds which are entirely irrefutable.

This is the first century of human existence when people have had the ability to destroy ourselves globally. This is the first century which has begun with nuclear weapons as a fact of life. The imperative to advance non-nuclear proliferation and the reduction of nuclear weapons to zero is greater now than it has ever been. Listening to one of the speakers talk about the impact of even a limited regional nuclear conflagration on the atmosphere, environment and crop production was enough to scare you witless.

We launched the NZ Red Cross branch of the campaign “Make nuclear weapons the target” earlier this year in Parliament. I was pleased to see so many young people getting in on this campaign. It is about their future after all. Try #targetnuclearweapons for starters.

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Visit by Leon Panetta

Posted by on September 24th, 2012

US Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta was well informed and engaging.  The meeting David Shearer and I had with him was scheduled for 15 minutes on Saturday morning.  It went for three times that long.

Fresh from the Otara market collecting signatures for the petition against state asset sales, I had changed into a suit expecting a relatively formal meeting.

He turned up wearing jeans and a casual shirt.

The meeting was an open and substantive one, involving a discussion ranging from Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Asia and the Pacific to the US Presidential election.

Panetta has a long and distinguished career including Director of the Office for Civil Rights, 16 years in Congress, Chair of the House Committee on the Budget, Clinton’s White House Chief of Staff and Director of the CIA before assuming his current position.

In the first visit in 30 years by a US Secretary of Defense, he took a significant step towards removing the last remnants of US sanctions imposed on New Zealand for declaring itself nuclear free under the Lange Labour Government.

Building on progress over the last decade, it was a welcome further move.  A strong and warm relationship with the US makes sense given its influence in the world and shared commitments on values like democracy and human rights.

But from my and Labour’s perspective, it does not place us on a path to resume alliance commitments, or nuclear ship visits.

New Zealand has moved on from there. Labour’s strong belief in speaking with an independent voice based on our values and interests has become part of the mainstream New Zealand belief system.

That’s why even though it might prefer to do so, National won’t openly signal a move back to alliances and nuclear ship visits.

As a small country, New Zealand gains respect and influence not by echoing anyone else’s voice but by taking considered and principled stands on international issues.

Nuclear ship visits, return to ANZUS or permanent stationing of US troops here would not be compatible with New Zealand’s desire to be seen as having an independent voice.

Hibakusha and a nuclear-free convention

Posted by on August 9th, 2012

When I taught English a lifetime ago, I used to teach John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”. This week I met two hibakusha (survivors of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) in person for the first time in my life. It was very affecting. She was 80; he was 73.  She is Shigeko Sasamori and he is Michi Hirata. They were inspiring. If you want to see some pictures of their visit, go to Mary Wareham’s flickr page . Thanks to Mary for those pics. To hear their stories is to go back to my 5th form English class and revisit why it was a good idea that Hersey’s work was part of the curriculum. It is still  a good idea.

 Today is the anniversary of the Nagasaki bomb. The Hiroshima bomb was dropped on 6 August 1945. On Sunday of this week (Aug 5), Grant Robertson and I attended the annual commemoration of the dropping of those bombs on Japan in 1945. At the commemoration, students from Heretaunga College spoke about why they, who have only ever been told stories and read stuff, are ardently in favour of a nuclear-free world. They were inspiring too.

Next week, Parliament will receive a report from the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee – an all-party report, with no minority report – proposing that New Zealand join with other like-minded countries to advance a convention prohibiting the development, stockpiling, transfer and use of nuclear weapons. This is in response to a petition from Edwina Hughes on behalf of the Peace Movement Aoteaora.  Officials advised us against it, as something which would not be supported by the major powers.  Sure, that might be so. Should that stop us from aiming for the stars? The committee said no. Officials said that about cluster munitions at the time, and we got a treaty on that. This could just be the start of the next step towards a nuclear-free world. Too idealistic? God (or someone) protect us from politicians without ideals. You can read the report here. I await the government’s response in 90 days.

Happy anniversary.





Reconciliation, not retribution

Posted by on July 27th, 2012

David Shearer, Morgan Tsvangirai, Phil Goff

It was a privilege to meet with Morgan Tsvangirai this week, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change and Prime Minister of Zimbabwe.

Both David Shearer and I were impressed by him.  His commitment to and courage in promoting change in Zimbabwe to restore human rights, democracy and social and economic progress is remarkable. He has been arrested, tortured and severely beaten and survived assassination attempts.

Like Nelson Mandela, however, he is driven by a desire for reconciliation with, rather than retribution towards his oppressors.

In his Prime Ministership, notwithstanding the difficulties in his relationship and differences with President Mugabe and the Zanu-PF party, he has led Zimbabwe on a path to economic recovery and restoration of basic public services. He is currently negotiating the creation of a new and more democratic constitution, which will go to a referendum later this year.

Thereafter there will be elections which the international community, including New Zealand, must support and do what we can to ensure that unlike previous elections they are kept free of violence, intimidation and rigging.

Mr Tsvangirai faces huge challenges.  While he would clearly win a fair election, those who currently hold power will be reluctant to pass it over.  The current elite enjoy the support of the military, the police and the Zanu-PF controlled media. That is why the strong support of the South African Development Community and the international community through the UN is vital to allow a proper democratic process that is accepted by those who stand to lose their privileged position.

We wish success to Morgan Tsvangirai in his drive to set Zimbabwe on the path to a democratic and successful Zimbabwe, that can put the past behind it, and will support  international efforts to ensure a free and fair election.


Timor Leste – Progress in a new democracy

Posted by on July 16th, 2012
The Fretilin party's election campaign cavalcade

The Fretilin party's election campaign cavalcade

For the people of Timor Leste, there was a lot more at stake in the 7 July parliamentary elections than simply the party they chose to govern for the next five years.  If the process was successful and there was acceptance of the results, it would mark a level of political maturity and stability vital for the country to tackle the huge development challenges it faces.

For the international community, a successful election would confirm that after a false start seven years earlier, the UN would be able finally to pack up and go home, confident that the new country was in shape to determine its own destiny.

We were in Timor Leste to observe the end of the campaign, election day and its immediate aftermath.  Five New Zealand parliamentarians from four parties, we participated in both a bi-lateral New Zealand team and an Asean Regional Forum group, marking its first role in a political process of this nature.

For me personally, it was my tenth visit to a country which 37 years earlier had been subject to a brutal invasion and occupation.  This had resulted in an estimated loss of life of up to 200,000.   The world had left the people of East Timor to their fate with many countries including ours effectively complicit or turning a blind eye to what had occurred.


Turning up

Posted by on June 28th, 2012

It was disappointing to see my Depleted Uranium Prohibition Bill go down last night. With a 60-60 vote it doesn’t proceed.

And it was a shame that although support from Labour, the Greens, NZ First, Maori Party, Mana, and United Future should have delivered a one vote majority, the Maori Party cast only two votes instead of their full three.  The party has explained that Pita Sharples was away at the tangi of Hoani Waititi but casting only two votes meant they can only have had one of their three MPs in the House. Rules allow three votes if they have two or three of their MPs in the House, and two votes if only one is present.

Pita Sharples’ office has since apologised to me, saying they didnt realise the vote would be so tight. I appreciate that, but I did email their Whip and his assistant yesterday to say that we were relying on them voting their full quota to deliver the bill majority support.

First rule of democracy: you have to turn up.

Uranium weapons bill a chance for NZ to lead

Posted by on June 27th, 2012

My Depleted Uranium Prohibition Bill is likely to get a first reading tonight. It is a chance for New Zealand to take a lead on banning the Agent Orange of the 21st century.

Depleted uranium is the by-product of processing uranium ore for use in nuclear reactors or bombs. It is incredibly hard and is used in armour piercing munitions. It ignites on impact and disperses a radioactive smoke which is also chemically toxic causing heavy-metal poisoning.

The US and UK used depleted uranium munitions in the 1991 Gulf War, in the Balkans in 1999, and in Iraq in 2003. They may have also been used in Afghanistan since 2001 although this is denied by the US. You might have seen a story by Michael Field in the Sunday Star Times reporting that NZ soldiers are urine-tested on return from Iraq and Afghanistan to check their exposure.

There is growing international concern about depleted uranium weapons. About one-third of the 800,000 US veterans of the 1991 Gulf War now claim disablity benefits for mystery illnesses, and depleted uranium has been suggested as one of the risk factors for the syndrome. There has been a sharp upsurge in cancers and birth deformities in Iraq after 1991 and 2003, most recently in Fallujah which was the scene of heavy US bombardment in 2004.

Medical studies conclusively linking depleted uranium weapons to health effects on civilians and combatants have not been done. The military powers using these weapons are secretive and obstructive. But there is growing concern and enough medical evidence that depleted uranium is a potential hazard to warrant a precautionary approach.

My bill bans depleted uranium weapons just like New Zealand has banned nuclear weapons, landmines and cluster munitions. Until the military users of these weapons are prepared to open up their records and allow conclusive scientific studies on the health risks I believe we should outlaw their use.

Belgium and Cost Rica have already legislated bans. If New Zealand adds its voice to this growing international movement we can make a real difference.

I am expecting the Opposition parties will support the bill to select committee. National MPs have indicated they won’t support it, and the International Campaign to Ban Uranium Weapons has replied to their concerns in an open letter published here.

You can bet that if depleted uranium weapons were being used on New Zealand soil we would take the precautionary approach. We owe the same duty of care to civilians exposed to depleted uranium in war.

Samoa Language Week 2012

Posted by on May 27th, 2012

Samoa Language Week 2012 offers the perfect opportunity to discuss the future of Samoa-New Zealand relationship given that this year we also celebrate Samoa’s 50th Anniversary of Independence on 1stof June, and the 50th anniversary of the Samoa-New Zealand Treaty of Friendship on 1st of August.

Many New Zealanders probably aren’t aware that New Zealand administered Samoa for 48 years and that period gave rise to a unique Treaty of Friendship which was signed between the two countries in recognition of a ‘special relationship’ once Samoa had become the first Pacific island nation to become independent in 1962.

On the eve of the 50th anniversary there is growing discussion within the Samoan community in New Zealand to revisit the meaning of the ‘special relationship’ between New Zealand and Samoa, and what that ‘special relationship’ means for Samoans both in New Zealand and Samoa.

The younger generation are asking questions as to which country benefits the most from the Treaty of Friendship and what, if, any are the financial implications given New Zealand’s formal apology to Samoa in 2002 that included an admission to the errors of past New Zealand Administrators which caused the deaths of thousands of Samoa.

In 1918 the New Zealand authorities administering Samoa allowed the ship Talune carrying passengers with influenza New Zealand to dock in Apia. As the flu spread, some twenty two percent of the Samoan population died. The New Zealand authorities refused the offer of assistance from the American Samoa health officials.  This tragedy is recorded as one of the worst epidemics in the world, and was preventable.

New Zealand authorities were also responsible for the deaths of at least nine Samoans, including Tupua Tamasese Lealofioaana III with fifty others injured, when armed New Zealand police fired upon a peaceful march of non-violent protesters in Apia in December 1929.

I am encouraging and supporting Lemi Ponifasio to roll out a series of MAU Forums under the theme of Samoa mo Taeao or Samoa for Tomorrow to lead these discussions about these future issues.

Refugee plight not something we really understand

Posted by on May 26th, 2012
Visiting Ramtha, Jordan.

Visiting Ramtha, Jordan.

I was one of four New Zealand parliamentarians who visited Ramtha last week, a small Jordanian town on the border with Syria.

The town houses a United Nations transit camp for refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria and we arrived to meet some of the 149 who had crossed the border under cover of darkness a few hours earlier.

The televised pictures we view from thousands of kilometres away in the comfort of our lounges do little to convey the raw human emotion of the plight of those seeking to escape the killings which continue daily in Syria.

One man who spoke English tugged on my sleeve and asked how we could help.  He pointed to his five young children all aged under eleven, and his wife.  She was petite and looked too young to be a mother.  He explained that her mother had just been killed by tank fire and as he translated my condolences her eyes welled with tears.

The family had walked and hitched rides for 380 kilometres from their home in Homs.  They were glad to be safe but uncertain as to what the future would hold for them.  They had left Syria without money or possessions.

Another man displayed a freshly bandaged stump, the remains of an arm which had been blown off by shell fire.

We visited two other longer stay refugee camps.  One was for single men at a sports stadium.  Crowded into an area not designed for human rehabilitation, and without sponsorship to leave the camp, they were effectively imprisoned.  The passion and anger at what the Syrian government had done was palpable. As the weeks pass and frustration grows, it would be easy to see that frustration boil over.

The other camp was for families.  Many were Palestinians who had been living in Syria and who had been made refugees for a second time.  They faced greater difficulties than Syrians in gaining the sponsorship needed to leave the camp.  Families were squeezed into small concrete block rooms with very basic shared facilities.  What would the world do to help them, we were asked by the women.

Spare a thought for the Jordanian government in all of this.  A small and poor country of just six million, it has already absorbed 1.8 million Palestinian refugees from the wars of 1948 and 1967.  Following the US invasion of Iraq, it took another more than 500,000 Iraqi refugees.  Now it is having to accept tens of thousands of Syrian refugees.  This movement will turn from a flow to a flood if the civil war in Syria deteriorates further.  New Zealand’s assistance to refugees by comparison numbers only up to 750 a year.

What should the international community be doing to tackle the cause of the problem?  President Bashar al Assad is a member of a minority group in Syria, the Alawites, who are Shiite Muslims.  His hold on power rests on his control over the instruments of force in Syria, the Army and the Police.  His father killed tens of thousands of his own people to preserve his power and privilege, and the current President is doing the same.

In an uneven battle against rebels, an estimated 13,000, mainly civilians, have already died.  Efforts by the Arab League and UN representative, Kofi Annan, to broker a ceasefire and a peaceful solution have so far failed.

Russia has to this point supported the Syrian regime along with Syrian Shiite allies, Iran and Iraq.  Lack of international consensus has diminished the UN’s ability to pressure al Assad to stop human rights abuses and the killing of civilians.

Under the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect, the UN to be effective needs to be able to act – with sanctions, with overwhelming diplomatic pressure, with no fly zones and ultimately the removal of a despotic ruler if everything else fails.  How many more thousand will die before there is the agreement and the will internationally for this to happen?

Progress in international justice

Posted by on April 27th, 2012

The former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been convicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

This is the first time since the Nuremberg trials of former Nazi leaders in 1946 that a country’s leader has been held to account for crimes of this nature. It’s an historic and landmark decision.  It sends a message that the international community can track down and bring to justice tyrants who commit war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It tells those who act in this way that they cannot do so with impunity. While this verdict is welcome, it was a long time coming and there is still a long way to go.

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is currently on trial and former Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo is in ICC custody.

However there are dozens of other current and former leaders whose actions justify trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity who continue to be beyond the reach of the International Criminal Court and war crimes tribunals.

Taylor’s conviction is good sign, but there is still much to be done.

Let’s rid the world of landmines!

Posted by on April 4th, 2012

Landmines are a dangerous legacy of too many conflicts and must be banned world-wide. It is 13 years since the treaty banning antipersonnel landmines became international binding law, yet there are countries including Cambodia and Colombia where people continue to be killed and maimed by landmines.

Today, 4 April, is a day of international action to promote the Mine Ban Treaty and to apply more pressure to cleaning up those parts of the world where landmines continue to wreak havoc. 80 per cent of the world’s countries have banned landmines and millions of mines have been removed from the ground and destroyed, but there is still more to do. The Lend Your Leg video currently on YouTube is a good illustration of this (link above). New Zealand has started the international action today with a Lend Your Leg activity on the steps of Parliament. MPs have rolled up their trousers to ‘Lend Your Leg’ to the campaign. Even I, who will go to almost any lengths usually NOT to reveal my legs, was moved to participate and roll up my trousers for the occasion!

We may no longer have a Minister for Disarmament in New Zealand, but we still have people who care about these issues and care about New Zealand’s performance on them internationally.

Children must not watch. The Finns on Brownlee

Posted by on March 27th, 2012

H/t TV3. Warning – this is not for kids to watch.

What the Finns think of Brownlee.

McCully’s actions a disgrace

Posted by on March 25th, 2012

I’ve spent a bit of the weekend talking and thinking about Murray McCully. Its not something I choose to do that often! But bar for the Nick Smith saga last week, I think the actions of Murray McCully would have had a great deal more attention- and I am sure they will get that attention in the coming weeks.

Last week Murray McCully wrote a letter to the Chief Executive of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade telling him that he opposed some of the changes he was proposing to the Ministry and describing various things he wanted to happen. The language was as media said “strongly worded”, and at times barbed.

This letter was then released to the media. Talking to former senior public servants no one could recall an action like this. It is a direct attack on a person who can not really respond.

Beyond that it is a farcical abdication of responsbility from McCully. He is the Minister. It is his government that gave the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade the target on finding $40 million (or $25 million as he claims) in cuts. It is not credible that the change programme in Foreign Affairs would have progressed to the point it did without McCully’s direct and continuing involvement. A Spokesperson for MFAT as good as confirmed that in the Dominion Post article linked above on Thursday.

the ministry has been “in discussions with Government throughout the process and they have provided clear direction on their priorities and expectations.

But McCully has tried to run for cover in the House and in the media, and dump all over John Allen. Now, it has to be said the way change process has been run has been disastrous. Many of the changes seem ill-thought out or just plain bizarre. Staff morale has collapsed. As I have said before I agree change was needed at MFAT, but this process has done far, far more harm than good.

John Allen and the senior leadership team at MFAT have to take their share of the blame for this. But so does Murray McCully. As the Sunday Star Times editorial (can’t find on-line) put it today his actions are a “disgrace”.