March 08, 2013

NZ parliament to vote on condemnation of Fiji police brutality

Updated 7 March 2013, 21:43 AEST

The New Zealand Parliament will next week vote on a cross-party motion condemning the brutality shown in a video of the treatment suffered by a pair of escaped prisoners in Fiji.

Sponsored by the opposition Labour Party spokesman on foreign affairs Phil Goff, who is a former New Zealand foreign minister, it will call on the interim Fiji government to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Phil Goff tells Bruce Hill the torture depicted in the video is unacceptable, and its release could be a turning point in Fiji's diplomatic relations.

We contacted the Fiji government for comment on this story, but have not received a reply.

Interviewer: Bruce Hill

Speaker: New Zealand opposition Labour Party spokesman on foreign affairs Phil Goff

GOFF: Well next Tuesday when Parliament resumes in New Zealand I'll be moving a notice of motion that I hope has the unanimous support of the House. That notice of motion essentially condemns the beating and the torture of prisoners. It calls on the interim government to hold to account those who are responsible for those actions, and more widely than that it calls for the interim government of Fiji to uphold international standards as set out in the United Nations Convention Against Torture and the international covenant on civil and political rights. I can't see any New Zealand parliamentarian actually being ready to consider voting against such a resolution. It's very basic, everybody's seen the video, and I think that that has almost created a turning point in both international and perhaps in local feeling in Fiji. This was graphic, it was deliberate torture, it was carried out clearly by security forces and it was carried out by a regime that is prepared to let this happen.

HILL: The New Zealand and Australian governments are trying to maintain a dialogue with the interim government in Fiji. Might the New Zealand government see this statement in parliament as perhaps something which might not be very helpful to that dialogue?

GOFF: Well I think our desire as is Australia's desire is to keep the dialogue going with Fiji is important. We want to see Fiji restored as a working democracy that respects people's rights. But you can't simply remain silent when confronted with evidence of human rights abuses of this nature. All of us have heard stories that this has been happening and happening for a long time. This video evidence though clearly puts it in front of people, both in Fiji and in the wider world, and that sort of behaviour, that sort of deliberate torture and brutality simply isn't acceptable.

HILL: You said earlier that this seems to be some sort of turning point in the way people view Fiji. What did you mean by that?

GOFF: It's one thing hearing the allegations that have been made by reputable organisations like Amnesty International, and hearing it from other people saying this is what happened to me when I was detained. But actually seeing it screened as it happened on that video recording, I think it's really brought it home to people that this is a country where security forces are able to act in that way, and they're able to act in that way because there is no longer a free media in Fiji, there isn't an independent judiciary, and there are no opposition political parties to actually stand up against the abuse of human rights in that country. So people are confronted with this and my message to the Fijian government is that not only does this put under pressure the ability to normalise the relationship and the way that we would probably want to with Fiji all other things being equal, but for every Australian and New Zealander that is considering holidaying in that country, when they look at that they must wonder do they really want to go to a country where this is happening. And if it can happen in some instances, what if something goes wrong in their life and they're detained by the security forces, could it happen to them? I think this is incredibly damaging to Fiji and the interim government needs to act, not just to investigate, but to act against those who are perpetrating that sort of abuse and to put in place safeguards for human rights.

HILL: This declaration you want the New Zealand parliament to make next week, would it have any practical effect or would it just be words?

GOFF: Well I think it has the practical effect of representing the unanimous viewpoint and the strongly unanimous viewpoint of all New Zealand parliamentarians. So it's not a case of the interim government being able to play one party off against the other as they've sometimes tried to do in the past. This would be a strong statement made from across the House, and that in terms of declaratory statements is as strong as you can get. But what we need to be demanding as well is that this investigation not just sweep the matter under the carpet. One has to wonder about the strength of the assurances given by the police commander. This investigation needs to be real, there needs to be tough action taken against the people who perpetrated the violence, and there needs to be a change in culture that says that this sort of violence is simply not tolerable in a civilised country.

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