Work in Progress…. Article first published 15/7/16
” Human rights are indivisible interdependent and interrelated.”
Today, 13/7/16 I was left astounded – eyes wide open, mouth aghast – as I watched the first ever public debate by UN Secretary General nominees on Al Jazeera News.
It seems to me that as the head of the UN, the elected Secretary General should have a track record for a profound and unwavering respect for human rights. In the case of Helen Clark, the ex PM of New Zealand between 1999 – 2008, a front runner in the race to lead the UN, this becomes significant because as the political head of a country she more so than most had an opportunity to enforce the respect of international human rights norms/laws in her own backyard…. On this front, her track record is highly questionable with respect for the rights of the child (UNCRC), the rights of indigenous people (UNDRIP) and the respect for New Zealand’s obligations to the Convention Against Torture (UNCAT). Additionally, her government showed a questionable respect for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The Rights of Indigenous People – The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
1) Helen Clark came into power on promises of equity for New Zealand Maori and Pacific peoples, under her “Closing the Gaps” policy. After winning the election all references to this policy were dropped from official documentation, and during the term of Helen Clark’s government (1999-2008) the “gaps” in social outcomes actually increased.
2) Helen Clark authorised the sustained illegal surveillance and violent invasion of Māori homes around the country in 2007. This included the lockdown of the entire community of Ruatoki. Families were torn from their beds, marched from their homes, forced to the ground, searched and interrogated at gunpoint. A schoolbus was boarded with police in balaclavas brandishing automatic firearms. Children were kept in sheds for hours on end with no food, water, or access to a toilet. This particular event has been condemned by a number of UN human rights officials and rapporteurs. Many families remain traumatised by this event, and it was acknowledged to have set race relations within NZ back by 100 years.
3) In her time as Prime Minister, Helen Clark oversaw the single largest land dispossession event of modern times, through the 2005 Foreshore and Seabed Act. This act alienated 10 million hectares of Maori land, and is regarded by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples Professor Stavenhagen as a discriminatory law and a breach of the human rights of Maori. This act was so controversial that it resulted in 50,000 people marching in protest to parliament, where Helen Clark refused to come out to meet them, and also resulted in the formation of a new political party in recognition of the fact that Helen Clark’s party, under pressure from competing interests, could not care for the interests of indigenous people.
4) Helen Clark refused to sign the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People’s. New Zealand was one of only four nations that voted against the agreement, of which 144 other nations voted in favour. Clark’s government labeled UNDRIP divisive, un-implementable and incompatible with New Zealand constitutional and legislative arrangements. This document remained unsigned for the remainder of her time in parliament. New Zealand finally supported the UNDRIP in 2010 under the John Key National Government. However, New Zealand’s support for the declaration was not unconditional. The Prime Minister made it clear in a statement that the declaration is an ‘aspirational’ document, and will be implemented only ‘within the current legal and constitutional frameworks of New Zealand.’ What this really means is that New Zealand has no intention of instituting the terms of the UNDRIP into domestic law, effectively negating New Zealand’s international legal commitment to the UNDRIP.
Pretty rich stuff coming from a woman who had this to say during the UN Secretary General nominee debate:
“I also think from the background I come from in New Zealand, a highly ethnically and otherwise diverse country, and operating in a diverse region, I know quite a lot from my experience about how to bring people of diverse backgrounds together.”
“Throughout her life she had done her best to find ways to overcome inequality and injustice wherever she had encountered them. The first cause she had become actively involved in as a young person was against apartheid in South Africa. “Its end, to which the UN contributed a great deal, was a major achievement of the late 20th century.”
Yes Ms Clark, you forgot to mention that as a descendent of colonisers of an invaded country that you, in your time in government, implemented culturally divisive policies that shafted the rightful owners of the land that gave your mob so much while completely dispossessing and disenfranchising those who had been invaded and colonised.
The material (above) surrounding Helen Clark’s lack of respect for the human rights of indigenous people (according to international norms) was originally written by Tina Ngata for an online petition stating:
“Petitioning United Nations and 3 others
Helen Clark Is Not a Suitable Candidate for UN Secretary General”
The petition was removed due to concerns that those “signing it could be placing themselves at risk of surveillance for what may seem to them to be innocuous comments but could be misrepresented by others.” (original statement here in comments at base of page)
Tina Ngata speaking before the UN (You Tube)
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
Helen Clark said the UN had “ground-breaking” agendas on climate change which needed to be implemented quickly…. However, during her time as New Zealand PM:
- Helen Clark responded to the dire emergency of Climate Change with a strongly criticised Emissions Trade Scheme. Since its implementation New Zealand’s emissions have increased, and New Zealand now has one of the fastest rates of emission increase in the world.
- In the time of Helen Clark’s leadership, New Zealand’s freshwater crisis intensified, characterised by cases such as the Tarawera River “Black Drain”, where legislation intended to protect the New Zealand environment was amended by Helen Clark’s Labour government to allow the continued intensive pollution of this river. Nationally, studies have confirmed that New Zealand’s overall freshwater quality declined significantly between 1998 – 2007, the period of Helen Clark’s term as Prime Minister.
- When surveyed on their willingness to commit to 25 policies that would tackle climate change, clean up New Zealand’s rivers, save New Zealand’s oceans, protect natural heritage and exercise environmental leadership, Helen Clark’s government refused to make clear commitments..
The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT)
I guess what floors me the most about Helen Clark being a hot favourite for UN Secretary General is that she had this to say about transparency in an informal statement she delivered to the General Assembly in April 2016:
The United Nations must become more effective in delivering to Member States, and be a better place to work.
It must be transparent and frank about what it can and cannot do.
It should work closely with Member States to ensure that the resources entrusted to it are prioritised around activities where the United Nations can make the most difference.
Transparency should be a guiding principle for the way in which the Secretary-General relates to the Security Council, the General Assembly and engages with Member States.
I have led UNDP to its current ranking as the world’s most transparent development organisation.
I want to bring that approach to the whole United Nations.
And in the televised debate when questioned about how the UN should deal with abuses committed by UN peacekeepers.
It’s perhaps worth highlighting at this point that these “abuses” really referred to the explosive and very damaging revelations that recently surfaced surrounding UN Peacekeepers sexually abusing children in CAR and the subsequent coverup of this situation by UN staffers. Since then several other similar controversies have followed and the UN has been left red faced (not to mention that dozens of already vulnerable children have been irreparably harmed). .
This said, Helen Clark responded with “these cases had tarnished the UN’s reputation.” (hell yes!)
All troops needed to be well-trained and aware of the consequences of committing “terrible acts”. Any “whisper of abuse” should be reported, she said, and offenders sent home and prosecuted.
“If countries aren’t prepared to do that, then I think the UN has to be prepared to say “no thanks.”
Indeed! However, Clark herself is guilty of running a government that sought to be non-transparent about NZ State institutional child abuse (including child sexual abuse) and failed to prosecute the perpetrators of “terrible acts”.
For example, where non-transparency is concerned, this media from 2006 surrounding the scalping of compensation payments made to one-time child patients who were physically and sexually abused while in Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital. In this case the judge labeled the actions of the Clark Government “Kafkaesque” (characteristic or reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities):
“A Wellington District Court judge has exposed a secret deal in which the government took a cut of millions of dollars from compensation payments to former mental hospital patients.
In a bold judgment out this week Judge Tom Broadmore has criticised what he describes as the “political” decision made at the highest levels of government to secretly take 30% of the compensation payments from victims of mistreatment at government psychiatric institution, Lake Alice, to cover non-existent “legal fees.”
The former patients were never told this was happening and the Crown’s justification was Kafkaesque, Judge Broadmore said in a judgment which orders the government to pay out the withheld amount to one victim and opens the way for other claims.
Judge Broadmore has chosen his words carefully as the case touches on the conduct of a group of Wellington’s most powerful public figures including Prime Minister Helen Clark, former High Court Judge Sir Rodney Gallen, Labour government appointee David Collins QC, now solicitor-general, and Ministry of Health chief legal adviser Grant Adam.” (Original/full story here)
And where in Helen Clark’s words offenders should be sent home and prosecuted.
In the face of witness testimony from numerous victims of Lake Alice, the Clark Government failed to prosecute key perpetrators. Instead, those who perpetrated the crimes at Lake Alice were allowed to walk free and even continue to practice in mental health, including the former head psychiatrist, Selwyn Leeks, who was still practicing in Melbourne, Australia.
Because of mounting pressures against Leeks, in 2003 the Victorian Medical Board in Australia launched its own inquiry.
The board then laid serious charges against Leeks over the abuses he perpetrated against the children in Lake Alice in the 1970s—with electric shocks administered as punishment, painful drugs injected into the buttocks and thighs and, on a couple of occasions, coercing children to shock a boy as “payback” for bullying others.
Leeks denied any guilt, but the day before his trial was to begin, resigned from his position, pledging that he would never again practice anywhere in the world.
However, to this day Leeks goes uncharged by New Zealand authorities, an issue of contention even now with the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) who called on the New Zealand Government to reopen the criminal investigation of Selwyn Leeks in 2012.
Following this, at New Zealand’s 6th Periodic review before the UNCAT in May 2015 the New Zealand State were called upon to please explain why key perpetrators of abuse from Lake Alice had not been prosecuted.
New Zealand’s official response to this questioning can be found in their follow up report to the UNCAT. It reads:
Investigations of historic claims of abuse
- The nearly 200 claims about ill-treatment at Lake Alice hospital relate to the civil resolution process. These were confidential to the individuals concerned. However, individuals were able to complain to the Police if they wished to do so. Following complaints, the Police made inquiries in 2009-10 about whether there was sufficient evidence to lay charges against the alleged perpetrators. The Police decided not to lay charges. (View document here)
This response is of course laughable. An insult to the intellect of all those who were sexually and physically abused and tortured as children in Lake Alice.
Let’s face it, based on the evidence at hand, the Victorian Medical Board chose to lay serious charges against Leek’s. Rather than answer to these charges he instead chose to resign and pledge never to practice psychiatry again.
Are these the actions of an innocent man?
What the New Zealand State would have the UNCAT believe is that in the face of numerous witness testimony – approximately 40 onetime Lake Alice inmates who could/would testify against Leeks in criminal proceedings – the New Zealand police themselves decided not to lay charges. That would have to make the New Zealand Police either politically got to or the most incompetent police force in the world. It would also make them ideologically corrupt. Either way, it is the job of the courts to establish guilt or innocence. The role of the police is simply to charge alleged criminals where enough evidence (witness testimony etc) exists. In no country that respects human rights and rule of law do the police act as judge and jury and find an individual not guilty where guilt clearly exists.
Thus, for Helen Clark to come out with any “whisper of abuse” should be reported and offenders sent home and prosecuted in a publicized UN Secretary General nominee debate lacks integrity at the highest level, given her own failure to prosecute Selwyn Leeks and other perpetrators of abuse (including child sexual abuse) re Lake Alice.
On this basis alone the UN, to maintain what little credibility it has left, has to say “no thanks” to Helen Clark.
Author’s note: “non-transparent” is arguably polite/diplomatic terminology for what has been a massive coverup of institutional child abuse in New Zealand State-run institutions. While by no means can Helen Clark be singled out for the entirety of this situation, her government is in part responsible for the coverup of ”terrible acts”, and for failing to pursue a prosecute perpetrators of these “terrible acts”. In the case of Lake Alice, the NZ Government has paid out a total of NZ$10.7 million in compensation to 183 former child patients of Lake Alice. Approximately 40 ex Lake Alice patients have made formal complaints with the New Zealand Police. Complainants say they have been denied a public inquiry of alleged mistreatment and abuse at the hospital.
A Familiar Pattern in Her Role at the UNDP. Ruthless Politics before Human Rights: Helen Clark and the Sri Lanka Scandal
According to a Foreign Policy story, Helen Clark and her senior staff allegedly forced out American-Swedish UN official Lena Sinha after she took part in an investigation critical of the UNDP’s response to the mass atrocities in Sri Lanka. The investigation, called the Petrie Report, criticized senior members of Clark’s agency, saying they downplayed the Sri Lankan government’s role in killing thousands of Tamils.
Philippe Bolopion, UN director for Human Rights Watch, said the report highlighted a “dereliction of duty” and was “a call to action and reform for the entire UN system.” After the report was completed, Sinha, who held a position at the UNDP for 15 years, was told that she would “never work for the UNDP again,”
Briefly, the claim is that under Clark’s leadership, the UNDP had soft-pedalled on human rights issues in general to maintain access for UNDP personnel in countries ruled by human rights violators. The UN’s failings on this score were singled out for criticism within a major report (called the “Petrie Report”) that harshly criticised the UN’s reluctance to publicise and condemn the indiscriminate killing of some 70,000 Tamils that occurred in the closing months of the civil war in Sri Lanka.
The Petrie report — named after the lead author, Charles Petrie, a former U.N. official and occasional advisor to the U.N. chief — provided a damning account of the U.N.’s “systemic failure” to advocate for the protection of hundreds of thousands of Tamils caught in the line of fire in the final months of the country’s brutal civil war in 2009. It criticized senior officials in New York, as well as UNDP’s leadership team in Colombo, charging they routinely downplayed the extent of the Sri Lankan government’s complicity in killing the vast majority of the more than 70,000 civilians who died in indiscriminate shelling. The U.N. team in Sri Lanka “did not perceive the prevention of killing of civilians as their responsibility — and agency and department heads at UNHQ were not instructing them otherwise,” according to the Petrie report.
In addition, Lynch’s article details the apparent scapegoating of senior UNDP official Lena Sinha – who had been instructed to co-operate with the authors of the Petrie Report, but was then allegedly blamed and blacklisted by Clark and her top managers for doing so :
Charles Petrie — a veteran U.N. player who once worked for UNDP — characterized UNDP’s treatment of Sinha in an email to FP as “an extraordinary demonstration of vindictiveness and abuse of authority. “At the time I thought the whole approach was extraordinarily stupid,” he added. UNDP, he noted, was in the midst of launching a management reform that would result in scores of job cuts. “They could have discreetly terminated her contract a few months later as part of the reform. But I wasn’t surprised by the way Lena was treated. It fits a very familiar pattern.”
Petrie said it was his “understanding that the message conveyed to Lena, of never being able to find work with UNDP, followed a senior management meeting with Helen Clark.”
According to Clark, the allegations leveled at her have been ‘totally fabricated’.
Such assertions however are highly suspect. Foreign Policy is a heavyweight journal. More to the point, Lynch has been the most widely respected journalist covering the United Nations for over a decade.
Thus, while Clark may be guilty of distorting the facts, it is highly unlikely that Lynch and Foreign Policy are guilty of the same thing.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
“A 2003 UNICEF report said New Zealand had the third-worst rate of abuse and neglect of children in the OECD group of developed countries and Helen Clark, the prime minister at the time the law was passed, called the country’s child abuse record “a stain on our international reputation”. (Original story here)
What successive New Zealand Governments, including that of Helen Clark, would claim is that New Zealand has a solid track record of respecting the rights of the child … However, let’s look at New Zealand today re child rights.
- New Zealand has the highest rate of domestic violence in the developed world
- Between the years of 2007 – 2010 data showed that 1 in 6 Pakeha children (white European), 1 in 4 Pacific Island children and 1in 3 Māori children were living in poverty (figures show that children in homes below the poverty line increased from 22 per cent in 2007 to 28 per cent in 2010, and had dropped back only slightly to 27 per cent by 2012). By 2015 child poverty rates were back to 2007 – 2010 highs.
- A 2003 UNICEF report demonstrated that New Zealand has one of the highest rates of child death from maltreatment (physical abuse and neglect) among rich OECD countries. NZ ranked 25th on a league table of 27 countries with 1.2 deaths per 100,000 children
- Over one in four NZ adults has experienced childhood trauma or abuse, family violence and/or sexual assault.
- NZ Police respond to one ‘family violence’ call every seven minutes. Police say that in 60% of domestic violence cases children are also being abused.
- An international survey found that one in four New Zealand girls is sexually abused before the age of 15, the highest rate of any country examined.
- Research shows the police only hear about 20% of all family violence incidents and 10% of sexual violence offences.
- Rates of child abuse in New Zealand have risen by 32% in the last five years, with instances happening to children who are already in the care of the state.
- New Zealand’s suicide rate for 15-19 year olds is one of the highest in the OECD and double that of neighbouring Australia.
- New Zealand was called to task by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in June, 2015 for failing to adequately protect children.The UN report heavily criticised aspects of law and government programmes which failed to address high child mortality rates, unequal access to services for Maori children and a lack of data around child abuse.
- In 2013-14 there were 117 children in the custody of Child, Youth and Family (CYF) reported to be abused; 88 were in the care of a CYF caregiver, 25 were formally placed with their parents but still officially in CYF custody, and five were abused while living with an unapproved caregiver or in an unapproved placement.A 2015 report by the Children’s Commissioner slammed the government’s handling of children in State care. Principal Judge Andrew Becroft said the report was a vital piece of work. He said the Youth Court dealt with the most damaged, dysfunctional and disordered young people in New Zealand, and the overwhelming majority of them had a care and protection background. Judge Becroft said it sounded simplistic, but what the report highlighted was the need to do the care and protection work better. “So that we’re not left, for instance, with, as I understand it, 83 percent of prison inmates under 20 have a care and protection record with Child, Youth and Family.”
Again Helen Clark can’t be held accountable for the entirety of this situation. And to be fair, her government’s track-record re the respect of child rights is somewhat better than that of John Key’s National Party which toppled the Clark led Labour Government in 2008 and leads the country today. However, this is like saying that Helen Clark was the top of the remedial class while John Key is at the bottom. I.e. comparing Clark’s track record for the respect of the rights of the child against that of John Key sets a very low benchmark indeed!
New Zealand ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1993, the 131st country to do so.
However, New Zealand has entered a reservation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which reads: “Nothing in this Convention shall affect the right of the Government of New Zealand to continue to distinguish as it considers appropriate in its law and practice between persons according to the nature of their authority to be in New Zealand including but not limited to their entitlement to benefits and other protections described in the Convention, and the Government of New Zealand reserves the right to interpret and apply the Convention accordingly.”
Reservations to human rights treaties create technical difficulties that do not arise for treaties on other topics because the intended beneficiaries of obligations in human rights treaties are the people in each state, rather than the other state parties to a treaty. It is therefore more problematic to allow states to enter reservations to a human rights treaty, which allows states to modify the extent of their obligations then it would be for an ordinary treaty that has been entered into between states on a reciprocal basis. In short, when a state enters a reservation to a human rights treaty the reservation acts to diminish the rights of the people/citizens of that state.
Of particular concern are widely formulated reservations, such as that which NZ has entered to the Rights of the Child, which essentially render ineffective all Covenant rights which would require any change in national law to ensure compliance with Covenant obligations. No real international rights or obligations have thus been accepted. And when there is an absence of provisions to ensure the Covenant rights may be sued on in domestic courts, and, further, a failure to allow individual complaints to be brought to the Committee under the first Optional Protocol all the essential elements of the Covenant guarantees have been removed.
In simple terms, while New Zealand is a signatory party to the UNCRC its ratification of the Convention is little more than window dressing because New Zealand has effectively entered a clause/reservation which negates its responsibility to respect the rights of the child according to international human rights norms.
Helen Clark’s government can’t be blamed for penning in this reservation; however, neither can it take credit for removing it when called upon to do so by the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child in 2000 with:
“The Committee is concerned about the broad nature of the reservations made to the Convention by the State party, which raise questions as to their compatibility with the object and purpose of the Convention. Moreover, the Committee regrets that the State party has not extended the Convention with respect to the territory of Tokelau, which is not at present a sovereign State and remains a non-self-governing territory in important respects.”
“In the spirit of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights in June 1993 which urged States to withdraw reservations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Committee wishes to encourage the State party to take steps to withdraw its reservations to the Convention. Furthermore, the Committee encourages New Zealand to extend the application of the Convention with respect to the territory of Tokelau.”
Download original document here. NZ Second periodic report of State parties due in 2000 UNCRC (albeit submitted in 2003 by the NZ State/Clark Government)
More to be added shortly….