We should be able to act outside the UN

November 19th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The ODT reports:

Prime Minister John Key says major companies such as Fonterra have been asked not to exploit the gap left by other countries’ trade sanctions on Russia because to do so would be a “terrible look” for New Zealand.

This raises the question why we haven’t imposed trade sanctions ourselves. It seems the answer is that we haven’t changed the law from from Labour had it, which was we can only impose sanctions if the UN agrees to them.

The problem is that Russia of course has a veto at the UN, so this means we allow our foreign policy to be subservient to their veto at the UN.

In most cases we would want to only do sanctions when the UN agrees to them. But as an independent country we should have the ability to impose them, even when there is no UN vote.

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Clark wanting the UN top job

June 16th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Helen Clark walks into the conference room at her New York headquarters clutching the Smoke Free cup that travelled with her from New Zealand.

Five years in the big apple and she still hasn’t got around to getting herself a new tea cup.

Something else hasn’t changed since Clark bid farewell to New Zealand five years ago: she struggles to see a place for herself back home, though she doesn’t rule out returning eventually when the time comes to ”relax” a bit more.

That time is clearly not on her horizon any time soon, which is why there is mounting speculation about Clark’s future at the end of her second term as the United Nation’s third-ranked official, as head of the UN Development Programme.

Clark is increasingly having to bat away questions about her ambition to succeed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in two years’ time. 

She says she will neither rule it in or out – and adds that it is not appropriate for her to talk about the job now, given that Ban Ki-Moon is only midway through his second term.

”He has been a great supporter of mine, which is why I am here today.”

But she says ”there will come a time when that debate is appropriate and member states have got to work out what it is they are looking for in this day and age”.

The UN has never been headed by a woman, for instance – and that should matter, suggests Clark.

“I think the women of the world will be screaming ‘yes’. It will be a year when a woman is making a very strong bid for the US presidency. There’s a woman at the International Monetary Fund, a woman at the Federal Reserve, there’s a lot of last bastions being stormed by women, so the time will come when women say ‘what about the UN?’.”

And of course that woman could be her, by happy coincidence for Helen!

While not impossible, a Clark successful candidacy is very unlikely.  The job tends to go by regional rotation and it is Eastern Europe’s term. The Ukraine situation would make it even more intolerable for them to miss out.

Also there is an unwritten requirement the UN Secretary-General can speak French. Unless Helen has been getting lessons, I don’t think she can.

Also few Secretary-Generals come up through the UN. Most are serving or just retired foreign ministers.

Ban Ki-Moon was the South Korean Foreign Minister when elected. Kofi Annan was a UN bureaucrat, but before him Boutros Boutros-Ghali was Egyptian Foreign Minister when elected. Javier Perez de Cuellar was a career diplomat for Peru. Kurt Walhheim was the Austrian foreign minister. U Thant was a career diplomat for Burma. Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld was Deputy Foreign Minister of Sweden and Trygve Halvdan Lie was the Foreign Minister for Norway.

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Labour goes crying to Helen

May 1st, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Labour have announced:

The Labour Party has complained to the United Nations over the continuing denial of democratic elections for Environment Canterbury (ECan) councillors.

“The National government took away the right of Canterbury people to elect councillors on ECan and in doing so denied them their democratic rights contrary to international agreements we are party to,” Labour MP for Port Hills Ruth Dyson says.

Two important UN treaties, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, confirm that it is a human right that citizens have a say on the running of their country and take part in the conduct of public affairs.

“The National government has shown it has no concern for the democratic rights of people here because they didn’t just take away the right to elect regional council members once, they’ve done it twice and there is nothing stopping them doing it again.

“When your own government trashes the democratic rights of its people, there aren’t many places to go to seek redress, but the Human Rights committee of the UN is a place we can go to get the issue investigated, hence the letter written by my colleague and Labour’s Justice spokesperson Andrew Little.

As pathetic stints go, this one is exceptionally bad.

Labour is trying to trash the reputation of New Zealand internationally.  The Parliament of New Zealand, democratically elected, sacking an incompetent local authority. This is quite common. They are now trying to say this makes NZ a violator of human rights.

And who are the countries that Labour is running off to, asking them to decry NZ’s human rights record. Here’s some of them:

  • Algeria
  • Egypt
  • South Africa
  • Tunisia

So very pathetic.

UPDATE: I wonder if Labour complained to the UN when David Cunliffe sacked the democratically elected Hawke’s Bay District Health Board?

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Rudd wants to be UN Secretary General

April 29th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The BBC’s United Nations correspondent Nick Bryant says head winds face former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd if he wants the top UN job  in 2017.

He says the UN will adhere to ”geopolitical correctness”, meaning it is an Eastern European’s turn. Speculation centres on former Slovenian president Danilo Turk and Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis. Former prime minister Helen Clark is also eyeing the job –  perhaps hoping regional ”turns” are over.

I made this point a few months ago – regional rotation is very very important in UN roles such as the Secretary-General. That’s why I think it is unlikely Helen Clark will be in the running.

I will say this though. Given a choice between Helen Clark and Kevin Rudd – I’d be supporting Helen all the way!

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When’s the report on other religions?

February 6th, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Vatican “systematically” adopted policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, a UN  human rights committee said Wednesday, urging the Holy See to open its files on pedophiles and bishops who concealed their crimes.

In a devastating report hailed by abuse victims, the UN committee severely criticized the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion and said it should change its own canon law to ensure children’s rights and their access to health care are guaranteed.

The Catholic Church’s position on child molestation in its ranks has been woeful, and the criticism is not unexpected.

But I note the UN report also criticises the Catholic church for its views on issues of homosexuality, contraception and abortion.

As it so happens I disagree with the Catholic Church on those issues, but I am of course ot Catholic.

What I am wondering is when this UN Human Rights committee will denounce other religions such as Islam for its views on the role of women in society, marital rape, blaming rape victims for rape etc?

Why target the Catholic Church only?

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Some recommendations from the UN Human Rights Council

February 2nd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

New Zealand has just had its human rights records reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council. This august body includes the governments of Algeria, China, Congo, Cuba, Ethiopia, Gabon, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Libya, Maldives, Morocco, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

So what are some of the things they recommend for New Zealand:

  • Continue its reflections and work with a view to having a written Constitution (Benin)
  • Incorporate economic and social rights in its Human Rights charter (Togo)
  • Continue to address all forms of political, economic and social discrimination against the Māori and Pacific population by meeting their various demands for constitutional and legal reforms and recognition (Somalia)
  • Increase its official development aid to reach the international norm of 0.7 per cent of GDP (Tunisia)
  • Expedite the development of a new Māori language strategy (Bangladesh)
  • Implement effective measures to achieve the aim of increasing the participation of women in governance to 45 per cent in the public sector and over ten per cent in the private sector by 2014 (Australia);
  • Consider relinquishing the use of electric taser weapons by the police (Namibia)
  • Establish appropriate national strategies with the aim to identify and address structural discrimination in the justice system (Iran (Islamic Republic of))

Wonderfully helpful. They’ve written the Green Party manifesto for them!

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Getting overly excited over a Guardian story

January 29th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Prime Minister John Key says the Government would throw its weight behind any bid by former Prime Minister Helen Clark for the top job at the United Nations in 2016, but said it would be a tough ask for her to secure the post.

Helen Clark, who heads the United Nations Development Programme, was tipped in Britain’s Guardian newspaper as a front-runner to take over from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon when his term runs out in 2016.

The Guardian ran an interview with Helen Clark, in which she was asked if she was interested in the job.

She did not confirm it outright, but clearly hinted it was in her sights, saying: “There will be interest in whether the UN will have a first woman because they’re looking like the last bastions, as it were.”

Asked again if she would run, she said: “If there’s enough support for the style of leadership that I have, it will be interesting.”

Mr Key said he had not received any advice of her intentions, and it would be a hard job for her to get.

“It would be well and truly sought after and these things are deeply political. But she’s done a very good job as the administrator of the UNDP. We would back her, but whether or not she can actually get there, I don’t know.”

Regardless of how Clark has done at UNDP, I think it is highly unlikely she would be a viable candidate for the top job. This is for several reasons.

The first is the very strong convention that there is regional rotation based on continent.  We are seen as part of Western Europe, as we are part of that region for Security Council voting. But that doesn’t help us as most third world countries don’t want a Western European to head the UN.

Eastern Europe is the only region not to have supplied a Secretary General, and regional rotation is very important.

A further factor is that every other UN SG has not already been a UN official. The career path is usually from being a current Foreign Minister or diplomat. The exception was Kofi Annan.

Also a factor is that the host region has to unite behind a candidate for them to win. Would the EU unite behind Clark or one of their own?

In Clark’s favour is she is a woman, and many will say time for a female UN Secretary General. But history shows regional rotation is more important than gender to member states.

Another factor is the unofficial requirement to speak French, which Clark doesn’t do.

My pick is a bilingual woman from Eastern Europe is likely to be the next Secretary General.

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UN official praises China’s political system

January 22nd, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Bloomberg reports:

China, the top emitter of greenhouse gases, is also the country that’s “doing it right” when it comes to addressing global warming, the United Nations’ chief climate official said.

Really?

In 2008 China emitted 7.03 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions, which was 23.5% of the global emissions.

In 2012 China emitted 9.86 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions, which was 28.6% of the global emissions.

To put it another way, global emissions increased by 5.6 billion tonnes in four years, and China contributed 61.3% of that increase. This is what the most senior UN climate change official calls “Doing it right”. She should be sacked.

China is also able to implement policies because its political system avoids some of the legislative hurdles seen in countries including the U.S., Figueres said.

By this, she means the legislature is a puppet of the ruling party. So what she is really saying is she thinks a one party state system of government is better than a democracy because it is easier to implement climate change policies, even ineffective ones.

The political divide in the U.S. Congress has slowed efforts to pass climate legislation and is “very detrimental” to the fight against global warming, she said.

So what has happened with US emissions?

2008 – 5.46 billion, 18.3% of world
2012 – 5.19 billion, 15.0% of world

So this UN official praises China for increasing it emissions, criticises the US for its reduction in emissions, and praises the Chinese political system for its effectiveness in fighting climate change.

 

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A sick farce

November 14th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

China, Cuba, Russia and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday won three-year seats on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, the United Nations’ top rights body, despite concerns about abuses and restrictions on freedoms in all four nations.

Some aspects of the UN are very worthwhile, but the Human Rights Council is not one of them.

According to U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based advocacy group that monitors the United Nations, only four of the 16 candidates for the 14 open seats were qualified to be members of the council on the basis of their human rights records. They were Britain, France, Macedonia and Mexico.

I have always liked the idea of a new UN – one open to democratic and non-repressive countries only.

Iran and Syria had been planning to run for the Human Rights Council but pulled out amid criticism of their rights records.

A small mercy.

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Key calls for UN reform

September 28th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Prime Minister John Key has used a speech to the United Nations to launch a scathing attack on the Security Council, warning that inaction over events like the humanitarian crisis in Syria had damaged its credibility.

In notes for a trenchant speech lasting nearly 20 minutes, Key said the UN was in urgent need of reform – a key pitch in New Zealand’s bid for a seat on the Security Council.

“Its key organs, particularly the Security Council, have become hostage to their own traditions and to the interests of the most powerful,” Key said.

“We now seem to have a practice whereby the permanent members can not only block council actions through the veto. They also appear to have privileged access to information and can stop the council from meeting if it does not suit their collective purposes.

“Such behaviour damages the reputation and credibility of the wider organisation and must be challenged.” …

Key has been in New York drumming up support for New Zealand’s Security Council seat bid.

He said New Zealand was not advocating revolution “but we are asserting the council can and must do better in the way it conducts its business.

“That is the approach New Zealand will bring to the Security Council if we are elected next October,” he said.

“From the 1950s to the 1990s we could blame the Cold War when the Security Council did not act.

That does not wash today.”

Key called this week for permanent Security Council members to be stripped of their right of veto over acts of genocide or war crimes.

I wonder if one potential reform is that you need two permanent members to veto something, not one. That would still hold some protection from the tyranny of the majority, but would mean Russia and China would no longer have s sole veto. Of course US, UK and France would also lose a sole veto but two of them together could still veto – as could Russia and China.

Of course there is little incentive for any holders of the veto to weaken its power.

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NZ to vote for Palestinian statehood

November 30th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald reports:

New Zealand is to vote in favour of a resolution giving Palestine UN recognition as a non-member observer state, Foreign Minister Murray McCully has announced.

However Mr McCully said the UN resolution was “a poor substitute for direct negotiations” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The United Nations General Assembly is due to vote this morning on a resolution which would see the Palestinian status upgraded role from an observer entity to that of a non-member observer state.

Mr McCully said the primary reason for voting in favour of the resolution is it reflects the long-standing policy of the New Zealand Government.

“New Zealand is a long-standing supporter of the two state solution. We believe that Israel and a Palestinian state should exist side by side, each respecting the other’s right to peace. And we believe that they should arrive at that conclusion through direct talks.

“As I stated in my address to the UN General Assembly earlier this year, we have never regarded a UN resolution as an adequate substitute for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. That is the only way of achieving a durable solution to this question.

The vote will not achieve an actual Palestinian state. That will only happen when there is a full peace settlement with Israel, which must involve land for peace (but land concessions without peace is not acceptable).

Mr McCully said officials have discussed the proposed text of the resolution with Palestinian representatives, who have “delivered a resolution that is moderate, constructive, and reflects our commitment to a two-state solution”.

“In our explanation of vote to the UN our Permanent Representative Hon Jim McLay will make clear our absolute commitment to Israel’s right to safety and security, and condemn the actions of Hamas extremists in recent weeks,” Mr McCully said.

“However, we will also assert our support for the moderate leadership of President [Mahmoud] Abbas, Prime Minister [Salam] Fayyad and others who are working to make a two-state solution a viable goal.

“The New Zealand Government is under no illusions as to the utility of a UN resolution. It will solve nothing. But in the absence of the direct talks we have called for, we will deal with the UN resolution on its merits.”

Which is code for we don’t think it will achieve anything, but we don’t want to vote against it, as we do support Palestine becoming a state.

For those interested, the only other current non-member observer state in the Holy See. Switzerland used to be one, but joined fully in 2002.

The Cook Islands and Niue are treated as non-member states but this is unofficial.

Taiwan is blocked by China from gaining membership.

Of interest West Germany was an observer only from 1952 to 1973.

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Call in the UN

June 11th, 2012 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Press reports:

Aggrieved Christchurch red-zone residents are taking their plight to the United Nations.

They believe the Government’s buyout offer breaches their human rights and the United Nations should intervene on their behalf.

Oh yes. Send in the Peacekeepers and the black helicopters.

Kaiapoi resident and Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network (WeCan) spokesman Brent Cairns said the idea of zoning specific areas where repairs and rebuilding were allowed was a violation of civil liberties.

Yes, it is a breach of human rights to zone land as unsafe.

The “supposedly voluntary buyout offer” was structured in such a way that it was, in effect, compulsory and bypassed existing laws that regulated the taking of land by Government.

How awful – the taxpayers are offering the full GV of properties on unsafe land. That is such a breach of human rights. Some people forget that the Government was not obliged to do anything at all – they could leave it all to EQC and the private insurers.

Cairns said the Government’s threats that services would either be removed or not repaired in red-zone areas, should property owners choose to stay on in their homes, more than 7200 families were effectively being evicted.

If only 50 out of 5,000 people stay on in a red zoned area, then the funding responsibility for maintaining infrastructure services is theirs. Just as if you build a new house out in the waps, you are likely to bear the cost of connecting up services to you.

Cairns has developed a template letter he is urging people to use to write to the United Nations Human Rights Council, asking it to investigate.

Oh yes, the good Governments of Angola, Cuba, Indonesia, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Moldova, Russia, Saudia Arabia and Uganda who all servce on the HRC will be just the ones to sort this out.

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Could be worse

May 31st, 2012 at 7:48 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe is the latest international envoy to represent the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.

Mugabe gained the recognition despite a poor international reputation in which he is accused of ethnic cleansing, rigging elections and leading Zimbabwe’s ruined economy.

University of Zimbabwe politics professor John Makumbe was surprised by the accolade.

“I think it’s ridiculous because Zimbabwe is one of the countries least used by tourists,” said Makumbe.

“Tourism is at its lowest level because of the political and economic crises it’s gone through. Tourists really wish Victoria Falls was in another country, like South Africa.

It could be worse. At least he wasn’t appointed to a UN human rights tribunal.

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Gulf War No III

March 19th, 2011 at 10:13 am by David Farrar

The UN may just have authorised the third gulf war. I think the UN made the right call to stop Gaddafi using his air force against the opposition. If he re-established control over all of Libya, hundreds or even thousands of Libyans may have been executed.

But there is no guarantee this won’t happen anyway. It’s one thing to defend unarmed protesters, but a bit different when it is an effective civil war.

If the no fly zone is not effective, then pressure will go on, for more active intervention – and at that point you have a full war.

Gaddafi would lose that fight very quickly, but the aftermath could turn out to be more akin to Iraq than Egypt.

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UN votes that executing gays is okay

November 23rd, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The enemies of freedom continue to make gains at the UN. This is the problem when so many of the members are countries with little regard for human rights.

Pink paper reports:

The United Nations has removed a plea for lesbians, gays and bisexuals not to be executed in a narrow vote.

For the last 10 years sexual orientation has been included in a list of discriminatory grounds for executions – gay rights activists say the vote to remove that listing is “dangerous and disturbing.”

The UN resolution urges countries to protect the right to life of all people, calling on them to investigate killings based on discriminatory grounds. Sexual orientation was previously listed as one of these forms of discrimination, alongside ethnicity, religious belief and linguistic minorities.

Others protected by the resolution were human rights defenders (like journalists, lawyers and demonstrators), street children and members of indigenous communities.

So pretty much everyone except gays have the right to life.

But now sexual orientation has been taken out of the list. The amendment was supported by Benin in Africa on behalf of the African Group in the UN General Assembly. It passed on a narrow vote of 79 for, 70 against , 17 abstentions and 26 absent.

Some of those voting to remove sexual orientation were countries where gays are known to be or thought to be executed or summarily killed including Iran, Nigeria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iraq.

No doubt many of them are members of the Human Rights Council.

Iran almost got elected to the Women’s Rights Commission – it took a dedicated campaign from the US to shame enough other countries to vote against Iran.

We do need a UN which all countries belong to. But its scope should be limited. We need another body to complement it – some sort of league of democratic nations. There should be quite tough criteria for admission, the ability to be expelled, and benefits for joining (such as free trade between members).

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Key is not campaigning to have Helen made Secretary-General

October 28th, 2010 at 5:54 pm by David Farrar

NZPA report:

Mr Key was today on his way to Vietnam, where he will attend the East Asia Summit in Hanoi, but his bilateral meetings with world leaders outside the summit will draw most attention, one of those with Mr Ban.

The two were likely to discuss a possible bid by former prime minister Helen Clark for the secretary-general role when Mr Ban’s term ended in 2015.

Miss Clark heads the UN Development Programme.

Climate change, New Zealand’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council and the Pacific Islands Forum, to be held in Auckland next year, would also be discussed.

I can only imagine that NZPA’s reporter interviewed themselves. I can’t imagine there is any way John Key will be chatting to Mr Ban about how to make Helen his successor for four reasons.

  1. First of all Ban is still in his first term in the job and has yet to gain re-appointment to a second term. There is no way you talk to someone not yet reappointed about their possible successor.
  2. Secondly his first term ends at the end of 2011 and his second term would end at the end of 2016 – so no idea where 2015 comes from. Clark’s term ends in 2013 incidentally. Anyway you don’t talk job succession six years before there is a vacancy.
  3. Helen does not speak French, and that is an unofficial requirement for the job.
  4. Also NZ belongs to the Western Europe and Others regional grouping. The job is rotated amongst the regions and the next region due is the Eastern European group.

So Helen will not be the next UN Secretary-General, and media who say she might be do not understand the UN system. She is from the wrong region (not fixable) and does not speak French (she could learn if she thought she had a chance).Also there will probably not be a vacancy until 2017.

Further, it is my personal view she does not have the skills and experience necessary to do the job. I think she was qualified to be UNDP Administrator, but Secretary-General is a very different ball game.

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UN to appoint outer space ambassador

October 1st, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

No this is not a a joke. The Telegraph reports:

A space ambassador could be appointed by the United Nations to act as the first point of contact for aliens trying to communicate with Earth.

Good to see they are focused on the vital issues.

Mazlan Othman, a Malaysian astrophysicist, is set to be tasked with co-ordinating humanity’s response if and when extraterrestrials make contact.

Mrs Othman is currently head of the UN’s little known Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa).

The 58-year-old is expected to tell delegates that the proposal has been prompted by the recent discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other starts, which is thought to make the discovery of extraterrestrial life more probable than ever before.

Aliens who landed on earth and asked: “Take me to your leader” would be directed to Mrs Othman. …

She will set out the details of her proposed new role at a Royal Society conference in Buckinghamshire next week.

Well, there’s one cost saving I can identify. I wonder how many staff it has grown to over the years.

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Price on DRIP

April 28th, 2010 at 10:26 am by David Farrar

Steven Price has a useful piece on the UN DRIP, and what impact it could have in NZ law.

Starting to get the idea that this has been overblown a bit? Right. It doesn’t provide “rights of veto” over legislation. It doesn’t put Maori on a path to self-determination or separatism. It will not influence all future law and policy practice.

Here’s what it might do. Lawyers may occasionally use it to suggest that a particular statute or statutory power should be interpreted consistently with it, but only where:

1. the statute is genuinely ambiguous, AND

2. the declaration is highly relevant to the issue, AND

3. the lawyer is able to slide around the problem that the declaration is not based on any government promises , and so does not technically raise the presumption of consistency with international obligations; AND

4. the lawyer also overlooks the government’s cautious statement to the UN about the boundaries of its support for the declaration; AND

5. there is a favourable wind.

I think that describes it fairly nicely between those who say there will be absolutely no effect at all, and those saying it is going to have a massive effect.

It’s likely to form but one strand of an argument made up of many others, or it’s likely to lose. Hardly “an invitation to existing courts to expand an existing breach into a chasm”, as Laws would have it.

If it is there, people will try to argue it from time to time. Winning is another issue.

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Editorials 22 April 2010

April 22nd, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dominion Post praises Nick Smith:

Machiavellian, arrogant, hot-headed. ACC Minister Nick Smith has been called all those things and more. And by his friends. He has a reputation for throwing tantrums and flying off the handle when things don’t go his way.

Don’t worry – the praise is coming.

But Dr Smith is also a passionate advocate of his constituents’ interests and a minister who takes his responsibilities seriously. For that, taxpayers have reason to be grateful. It is because he keeps his ear to the ground and takes an active interest in his portfolios that a potential fraud has been uncovered within ACC. The corporation said this week that it had sacked a staff member – known to be its property manager Malcolm Mason – and referred “matters of concern” to the Serious Fraud Office.

Those matters relate to property transactions involving ACC in several different parts of the country and that appear to go back some time. However, it was not until Dr Smith queried the rent ACC was paying for its new offices in Nelson that anyone within the corporation thought to compare the prices it was paying for office space with the going rates. Dr Smith did so because local retailers were worried that the $346,320 a year ACC was paying to rent its Nelson premises set too high a benchmark and because other locals feared ACC was not getting value for money.

The advantage of a Minister also being a well connected local MP.

Dr Smith signalled his unhappiness by refusing to open the building. Contrast his attitude with that of Labour’s former internal affairs minister, George Hawkins, who ignored newspaper reports and industry concerns about the leaky building crisis for more than 12 months about 10 years ago because officials had not formally advised him there was a problem.

“One would expect that, if there was a problem, the people set up to deal with that would inform their minister,” he said at the time. “They did not.”

If Dr Smith had taken the same approach, ACC would still be unaware it was paying twice the going rate for office accommodation in Nelson and would not have uncovered irregularities in other parts of the country.

Irascible? Yes. Economical with the truth? Sometimes. But also an example to other ministers of what the public expects. The job of ministers is not simply to sign pieces of paper put in front of them by officials, open new buildings, bandy unpleasantries across the floor of the House and enjoy their generous salaries and perks. It is to actively represent the interests of voters.

Dr Smith has done so. He deserves to be congratulated.

On this issue, few would disagree.

The ODT focuses on the UN declaration:

The latest manifestation is the sudden – it has been described as “secret” – accession on Tuesday to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with a statement delivered by Maori Party co-leader and Maori Affairs Minister Dr Pita Sharples to the United Nations in New York.

It has been met with tension, and what might be described as a tantrum, by the third party in the coalition Government’s bed: Act New Zealand.

Leader Rodney Hide has responded to the news with a display seldom seen even within the somewhat elastic emotional parameters of coalition politics. …

Mr Key and senior National Party figures will be gambling that this gesture towards the Maori Party will further enhance the mana of the latter, cement more tightly the political allegiance between the two parties, and deflate the more demanding ambitions of radical Maori – personified in Parliament in the character and rhetoric of Hone Harawira – while, in practice, giving nothing at all away.

They appear to have decided that the subtlety of principle should be subjugated to the symbolic glue of pragmatism.

It may make political sense, but while National retreats to the safety of descriptors such as “aspirational” and “non-binding”, it is hard to escape the conclusion that, on this matter, it speaks with a forked tongue.

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Editorials 21 April 2010

April 21st, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Three editorials on the UN Declaration. First the Herald:

When the previous Labour Government was confronted with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, it quailed.

The potential political backlash, rather than the practical outcome of signing a non-binding document, was uppermost in its mind.

At its behest, New Zealand joined a group of only four UN members opposed to the declaration. It was a nonsensical state of affairs for a country whose record on indigenous rights is far superior to the vast majority of those who had signed up. …

If New Zealand does certain things differently to the ideal scenario alluded to by the declaration, that is of no great practical consequence. The focus should be on its record on indigenous relations, which places it in the international vanguard.

The work of the Waitangi Tribunal, which since 1975 has served as an effective sounding board for iwi to relate their stories of land loss, has been an integral part of that.

New Zealand has always spoken from a position of strength on matters of indigenous rights because it comes closer than most to meeting the aspirations espoused in the UN declaration.

Signing that document was, as Dr Sharples suggests, a small step but one that has symbolic value domestically and internationally.

There may, indeed, be no practical impact. That does not mean, however, that grasping this nettle was not worthwhile.

So Herald very supportive.

The Press:

The Maori Party chalked up another victory this week with the announcement that the Government will support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although this decision is largely symbolic, support for the declaration had been a long-standing goal of the party and a source of friction between it and the previous Labour-led administration.

From a political perspective, support for the declaration makes sense for both the Maori Party and National. The Maori Party can add this to a growing list of policy concessions by National, including retaining the Maori seats and flying the Maori flag on Waitangi Day. In addition, the hated foreshore and seabed law will be repealed and the Maori Party’s flagship Whanau Ora policy will be introduced.

For National, these concessions have the effect of tying the Maori Party closer to it and creating the prospect that a support relationship between the two could endure past this term. In particular, it creates a point of difference with Labour, which justified its position as one of just four nations to oppose the declaration in 2007 by saying that it was at odds with New Zealand’s constitutional and legal framework. …

There is a risk that the declaration could be the basis of future attacks on this nation’s human rights record. But New Zealand governments have shown themselves capable of shrugging off previous criticism from bodies such as the UN Commission on Human Rights.

It might be argued, as Labour has done, that there was little point in endorsing the declaration if it would have no practical effect. It is, however, a symbol of New Zealand’s support for indigenous peoples across the globe.

And it was always incongruous that the vast majority of nations, many of which have appalling human rights records compared with New Zealand, voted for the bill, and that this nation did not.

Two in favour.

The Dom Post:

Recognising blah blah blah, affirming waffle waffle waffle. As a contribution to the human rights canon, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples leaves something to be desired.

It reads like a 48-page wish list assembled by a committee, which is exactly what it is – a committee which debated the merits of additional clauses, full stops and commas for 22 years. Drafting began in 1985, but the final wording was not approved by the United Nations General Assembly until 2007.

Heh sounds typical.

However, its drawn-out conception is not a reason to oppose it. Nor is its verbosity. The declaration is a flawed document – an assemblage of truisms and platitudes that imposes no obligations on signatories but contains fishhooks for nations that try to honour it.

It is actually to the last government’s credit that it declined to endorse a document it knew it could not implement. Amid the verbiage are a handful of articles that confer rights on indigenous peoples that are denied to other citizens. They include the right to veto government decisions and reclaim ownership of traditional lands – a right that, in New Zealand’s case, could be interpreted as covering the entire country.

New Zealand does not need to pay lip service to unworkable statements to demonstrate its good intent. …

However, there is value in restating the special status of Maori as New Zealand’s indigenous people, acknowledging the importance of Maori culture, affirming the Treaty of Waitangi’s place as New Zealand’s founding document and acknowledging the historic injustices suffered by Maori.

The negotiations between the Maori Party and National have enabled the Government to do so in a way which does not expose it to accusations of bad faith.

New Zealand’s declaration of support explicitly reaffirms the legal and constitutional frameworks that underpin the legal system and notes that those frameworks define the bounds of New Zealand’s engagement with the UN declaration. In other words, New Zealand law takes precedence over the declaration.

A momentous occasion as the Maori Party has suggested? Perhaps not, but a welcome opportunity to remove a source of friction between Maori and the Government and to put New Zealand back in the international mainstream. Of the four countries that initially opposed the declaration – New Zealand, the United States, Australia and Canada – only the US now stands outside the declaration. Australia changed its position last year and Canada has said it will do so.

Luke warm, but broadly supportive.

The ODT focuses on volcanic fallout:

If there is a lesson to be learned – again – from the billowing clouds of volcanic ash in the skies over Europe, it is the latent power of nature.

In 1783, the eruption of the volcano Laki in Iceland lasted for about eight months.

The effects of the layers of dust it threw into the atmosphere have been linked, among other things, to the failure of crops in France, and subsequent famine.

The fallout, Dr Stephen Edwards of the Department of Earth Sciences at University College London told the London Observer at the weekend, may have been one of a number of factors that led to the French Revolution. …

The interruption to normal service is costing the airline industry alone almost $NZ500 million a day, according to a conservative estimate by the International Air Transport Association.

The knock-on effects to a world economy just beginning to witness the signs of a fragile recovery from the recent recession, could be considerably amplified beyond the immediate consequences of cancelled flights.

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Arguments over the UN declaration

April 21st, 2010 at 8:15 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Maori Party MP Hone Harawira says the Government’s support of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People is more than just symbolism and it will be used to further claims of self-determination by iwi.

And Act Party leader Rodney Hide launched a stinging attack in Parliament not just on the decision to back the declaration but on Prime Minister John Key, calling him “naive in the extreme” to suggest it would have no practical effect.

It is very clear that he declaration has not status in law, and it has no legal effect.

However I would not go quite so far as to say it will have no practical effect. I am sure Iwi and others will use in advocacy on various issues, and it may have some “moral” effect – just as other non binding UN declarations can have some moral effect on decision making.

The UN recently reviewed NZ’s human rights records and recommended we do not introduce tasers. Now that excited the Greens and they used that to argue that we should not fully introduce them, but the Government has happily ignored the UN on this issue.

Labour leader Phil Goff said the National-led Government was trying to marry together forces that were totally opposed to each other.

“What we are seeing is the impossibility of balancing out the interests between the Act Party, the Maori Party and the National Party.”

He denounced the secrecy surrounding the announcement and said the Maori Party had been “duped”.

It is no secret the ACT Party and Maori Party disagree on many issues. But one doesn’t need them to agree, just as Winston and Jim Anderton didn’t agree on much (apart from the fact they both should have been Prime Minister).

The travel plans were kept secret – and the announcement made yesterday at 4.45am in New York.

Mr Key defended the secrecy yesterday, saying he hadn’t wanted to steal Dr Sharples’ thunder.

The intention was to make this a big thing for Dr Sharples, and it is a significant win for him. However Ministers should not be doing secret overseas trips, unless to dangerous war zones.

I also regard it as bad political management that ACT found out through the media. Under “no surprises” they should have been told in confidence.

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A big win for the Maori Party

April 20th, 2010 at 6:13 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

National has bowed to Maori Party wishes and agreed to support the highly contentious United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples despite the previous Labour Government issuing dire warnings that the document is fundamentally incompatible with New Zealand’s constitutional and legal systems. …

The declaration recognises the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination, being able to maintain their own languages, being able to protect their natural and cultural heritage and manage their own affairs.

Dr Sharples, one of the Maori Party’s co-leaders, said this morning’s announcement restored the mana and moral authority of Maori to speak in international forums on justice, rights and peace matters.

But National appears to have given its backing to the declaration on condition a proviso is attached saying that progressing Maori rights occurs within New Zealand’s “current legal and constitutional frameworks”.

Which appears to me to be a sensible proviso.

National’s concerns appear to have been dealt with by the attachment of the rider to New Zealand’s statement of support. This proviso reaffirms “the legal and constitutional frameworks that underpin New Zealand’s legal system” and notes that those existing frameworks define “the bounds of New Zealand’s engagement with the declaration”.

Dr Sharples said the Labour Government’s position had called into question Labour’s commitment to Crown-Maori relations and undermined New Zealand’s credibility on human rights issues.

There will be some anguish amongst Labour’s Maori MPs that National and the Maori Party found a workable solution to this issue, which their party did not.

Personally I’m not someone wildly concerned about non binding UN declarations, and whether or not we say we support them or not. But if it is important to a “coalition” partner, then I’d much rather have something like this given to them as a “win”, than something which I have serious objections to.

So far, there have been five major “wins” for the Maori Party. None of them have caused me great disquiet. They are:

  1. Repeal of Foreshore & Seabed Act – have long supported this on the basis of not taking away the right to go to court of any person or group
  2. Dropping of opposition to Maori Seats in Parliament. I support the Royal Commission’s recommendation to abolish them (and in exchange have a lower party vote threshold for Maori parties) but National was never going to get the numbers to repeal the seats unilaterally anyway, and in exchange the Maori Party dropped their efforts to entrench them.  It’s a freezing of the status quo.
  3. Whanua Ora – the principle of it is something I have long supported, and is linked to the Family Start programme started in the 1990s. I have concerns over how well it will be implemented, but all in favour of devolving resources to the private sector, to help get better outcomes for disadvantaged families.
  4. UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Does not change legal rights under NZ law, but symbolically important to Maori.
  5. A Maori Flag flies on Waitangi Day alongside NZ Flag. As the day celebrates a treaty between the Government and Maori, think flying both flags is a fine idea.

Now if the Government had agreed to legislate special Maori seats on the Auckland Council, that would have gone down badly with me.  I think it would have entrenched the notion of race based seats as being a good form of Government, that should be spread to all levels of Government.

The deal with the Maori Party over the ETS was a fairly shabby one, which I don’t think one can defend on particularly principled grounds. However I note that was a horse trade over getting a law passed, not directly liked to the confidence and supply agreement. In other words would probably have occurred even if there was no National/Maori Party agreement.

The very nature of MMP and minority Government requires larger parties to agree to some things they would probably not have otherwise done. My test is how “bad” one considers those concessions to be.

While I have a fundamentally different world view to the Maori Party on many issues, I don’t regard any of the above five concessions as particularly “bad” – some in fact I would support National having done regardless of the Maori Party’s wishes.

And I compare that to the demands of NZ First under both National and Labour. Winston demanded weakening of monetary policy, making superannuation more unsustainable, huge increases in funding for his pet portfolios, appointments for his mates, protectionism etc etc – a lot of stuff that I regarded as fundamentally bad for NZ’s future.

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UN calls for no tasers

March 29th, 2010 at 11:06 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

The Government is rejecting a call from the United Nations human rights committee to strip police of Tasers.

Justice Minister Simon Power has also hit back at suggestions by the international body that our criminal justice system discriminates against Maori.

The committee, which is made up of academics and judges, monitors countries that have signed up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

It issued its final observations on New Zealand after a process that included years of reporting, as well as testimony from Mr Power.

The committee said New Zealand should “consider relinquishing” the use of Tasers because the weapons could cause life-threatening injuries and severe pain.

As does a gun.

Green Party human rights spokesman Keith Locke supported getting rid of Tasers. “The Government should take heed of this esteemed international body.”

Yes Keith. Far better that criminals armed with baseball bats be shot to death like Stephen Wallace was, rather than tasered.

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Media criticises Clark for lack of openess

October 20th, 2009 at 4:35 pm by David Farrar

There was a fascinating radio interview at 7.40 am on National Radio today. It was from a specialist newspaper that reports on the UN, and complaining about the refusal of Helen Clark to do press conferences, how Clark and Heather Simpson try to handpick journalists for interviews and a general lack of accountability.

You can listen to the interview here.

It sounds like the UN media is less compliant than some of the NZ media has been. Some extracts from the interview with Matthew Lee the founder and editor of the Inner City Press that focuses on the UN:

In the six months she has been in office there have been a number of UNDP issues that have arisen and repeatedly, I would say half a dozen times, myself and other journalist have asked that she comes and do a press conference, an actual Q&A and take questions and it is yet to happen.

He points out she is the third most senior official at the UN, and not a single press conference in six months.

It has become somewhat striking, a total failure to answer questions about the agency as they arise. … Once requests were made for Helen Clark to do a press conference there were a flurry of calls from her two spokespeople at the UNDP to specific media outlets saying do you want a one on one. One of them responded and said Okay here’s the journalist who will do it. But UNDP responded No No we prefer this other journalist who works for you. That’s a degree of micro-management of press coverage that is almost unheard of in the UN.

But very familiar to people back in New Zealand. And many in the media went along with it, or they risked losing access.

If she is the third highest official in the UN, she needs to come and take questions because everyone else does. The Secretary-General does it on a monthly basis, the head of peacekeeping every two weeks.

Almost funny that Helen’s managed to actually lower the standards at the UN!

He also goes on to say how the only briefing anyone in the UNDP has given for some months has been about relief efforts in Samoa and Tonga.

Geoff Robinson: Are you the only journalist, is yours the only organisation raising this as an issue?

Lee: No, No … In July an issue arose about a hiring, a kind of nepotism hiring took place in UNDP. Inner City Press had the exclusive but after that it was covered by the Times of London, Reuters and even newspapers in Italy. All four of these publications wanted answers from UNDP and none of them got them. I sent e-mails to her long time staffer, Heather Simpson, to make sure we got her answer as to why this nepotism scandal was not a problem. There was never any response at all.

Heather’s job is to block media, not facilitate them!

But here is what is really interesting. All the media listen to Morning Report. Yet this quite stunning and significant interview has not been reported anywhere else at all!

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NZ and the UN Security Council

September 27th, 2009 at 7:26 am by David Farrar

Some parts of the UN are an embarrassing disgrace, such as the UN Human Rights Council. NZ was campaigning for a seat on that, and fortunately we abandoned that for Obama to allow the US to rejoin.

The UN Security Council is one of the few parts that really is worthwhile, and I think New Zealand will have a fair chance of gaining a place. We were successful the last time we stood.

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