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GWD submission


November 2001

Submission of GATT Watchdog on the Terrorism Suppression Bill to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee.

Introduction

GATT Watchdog was set up 12 years ago to research and educate people on the impacts of free trade and investment on our community.

We have had some first hand experience with the suppression of civil rights and the right to dissent that the Terrorism Suppression Bill represents. In 1996 GATT Watchdog organiser, Aziz Choudry, had his house searched by members of the SIS. The agents were caught in the act by Dr David Small. The government has refused to explain what possible motive they could have for being in Mr Choudry's home, but as GATT Watchdog was organising a counter-conference to the APEC Trade Ministers meeting being held in Christchurch at the time, one can only assume that opposition to the governments free trade agenda was reason enough to invade privacy.

The events of September 11th, 2001, while shocking, should not lead any government to encroach further on the civil liberties and freedoms of its citizens in the name of a public relations exercise, namely the "War on Terrorism". The Amendments to the Terrorism (Financing and Bombing) Bill were hurriedly put together as a response to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373. A resolution passed in 3 minutes on the evening of September 28th 2001. While we accept that the events of September 11th are emotional and have caused extreme distress, we cannot accept that such emotion should form the basis of legislation. Especially legislation with such far reaching and damaging consequences.

While we have provided the substance of our opposition to this Bill below, we believe that no amount of amending will be sufficient to deal with the underlying assault on the rights and liberties of people in Aotearoa this Bill promotes. The only basis for dealing with the events of September 11th and other acts of global terror, many perpetrated by governments, is to create a just and fair world based on self-determination, poverty eradication and justice for all people.

Our opposition to the Bill covers the following areas:

  • The definition of "Terrorism" in the Bill is too broad and allows for misuse and repression.
  • The definition of "classified security information" is far too broad and allows for an assault on any form of natural justice and the right of people to defend themselves.
  • The Terrorism Suppression Bill promotes a serious attack on civil liberties and the rights of people to dissent.
  • The Bill allows for greater powers, but significantly less accountability from state agencies. Agencies like the SIS, which in our experience have already systematically abused the powers they already have.
  • A person or group can be designated a terrorist without trial or the ability to see any evidence against them. The task of designating a person is left to the Prime Minister.
  • The Bill does not provide any reasonable safeguards,

We have set out some of the details of our concerns below.

Definition of a Terrorist Act

1: The definition of "Terrorist Act" includes acts which are legitimate and should not come under the definition of Terrorist.

2: Under the Bill many acts that we consider to be legitimate acts of dissent could be deemed terrorist. . This could include the 1981 actions against the Springbok tour, the protests during the APEC leaders Meeting in Auckland in 1999 and demonstrations in opposition to the government's position on free trade. It also could include support for liberation movements in other countries, like support for Fretilin. It is often the case that what is once considered radical and extreme becomes mainstream and acceptable in time. The fight against apartheid in South Africa is but one example.

3: As the Bill treats the threat of, or conspiracy to, commit an act in the same manner as actually carrying it out. Then a threat of mass civil disobedience (such as the Springbok tour or a threat to disrupt an international meeting) could be considered a "terrorist act".

4: Although the Bill provides for the exclusion of "peaceful" protests it offers no clarity as to what that constitutes. Would an action against the entry into our ports of nuclear powered ships be exempt from the Bill? It seems that the Bill requires an unacceptably large amount of interpretation by the government of the day.

5: Advocacy and dissent in support of progressive movements, opposition to unjust and repressive policies. Could not just be unlawful that could become "terrorist acts". Supporters and members of organisations could find themselves facing long imprisonment.

6: As it was not acceptable that economic disruption was placed in the same category as bombing and subversion in the SIS Amendment Act 1996, it is not acceptable for it to be placed in this Bill. We do not believe that the people would consider economic disruption to be the same as causing death or injury. It is the taking of life that most people would equate with terrorism.

7: The inclusion of an "infrastructure facility" should be omitted. It seems likely that opposition to a cell phone tower that lead to that tower being put out of operation would be considered a "terrorist act".

While it may be said that it is not the intention of the government to use this proposed definition in the ways mentioned above, we would be dangerously na´ve to believe that it will never happen.

Classifield Security Information

Section 17L of the Bill defines "classified security information".

1: The SIS, GCSB, Police or other security and intelligence organisation can collect information that is about threats to "security, public order, or public interest posed by terrorist acts that an identifiable entity will or may carry out, or participate in the carrying out of or facilitate the carrying out of". The words public order and public interests are so broad as to cover any reason the agencies may wish to collect information on a group or individual.

2: The agencies can withhold any of the information they collect under the designation "classified security information" if it meets one of seven very broad criteria. In reality these criteria give the agencies the right to withhold any information they chose. The person or groups being investigated, if they are charged or find out about the investigation will have no right to see the case against them. While some may think that agencies will apply a high standard of integrity to the information they withhold it has been our experience that this will not be the case. When GATT Watchdog organiser Aziz Choudry sued the Attorney General over the break-in at his home, the state agency involved (the SIS) refused to disclose a large amount of information. It took a ruling by the Court of Appeal to release some of this information, one piece of which was a street map of Christchurch!

All people accused of any crime should be entitled to full disclosure of the case against them and the right to a fair hearing. This will not be possible when people can be deemed a terrorist and never get to see the information held against them.

Responsibility and Accountability

1: For the reasons stated above agencies such as the SIS should not be charged with greater powers to invade the civil liberties of citizens.

2: It is a major departure from our sense of Justice to have people accused of a crime unable to see the evidence against them.

3: We have grave concerns at the role of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security in this Bill. Once designated a terrorist a person can ask for a review by the Inspector-General. The designated "terrorist" will not be able to see the evidence against her/him but will have to place their faith in the I-G to ask the appropriate questions and review all the information. It is impossible to imagine a scenario where the designated "terrorist" may actually win in this appeal process and they will not be able to defend themselves, or explain "evidence" against them. Again the experience of GATT Watchdog organiser, Aziz Choudry is telling. The Inspector-General failed to find any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the SIS in raiding his house only to have to express embarrassment and surprise when the Court of Appeal found that the law did not allow for the SIS to be in Mr Choudry's house at all. One suspects that the role of the Inspector-General is simply to ask the agencies involved if they are satisfied with the case against the accused and whether they are any issues the Inspector-General should make himself aware of. If that answer is no, then that is that.

4: Those unsatisfied with the Inspector-General can take their case to the Court of Appeal. But only if they accept that they cannot argue the case against them, because they will not have seen any evidence and that the Court can only look at narrow points of law. If it were not so serious and dangerous it would be laughable.

Designation

1: This Bill allows for a person, in the interim, to be designated a terrorist on the say so of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister does not need to provide solid and undisputable evidence to designate a person as a terrorist, but only needs to have "good cause to suspect". It is an extremely repressive move to have a person or organisation criminalized on the say so of one person who does not have to produce any evidence to back up the claim. "Trust me, would I lie to you" is not a view that should be enshrined in legislation.

2: Under the provisions of this Bill the Prime Minister is required to accept as "conclusive evidence" information given to her/him by the UN Security Council or a committee established by it. The opens the door for dominant and powerful countries to define the rules for New Zealand and we lose our independence because of it. This could also allow for the oppression and victimisation of refugees coming to Aotearoa to escape repressive regimes. It allow for Aotearoa to be used by unscrupulous nations to undermine the lives and wellbeing of those forced to flee.

3: It is not too inconceivable to imagine that those opposed to the political views of the leader of the day could find themselves designated "terrorist" for their opposition.

Conclusion

GATT Watchdog objects to the Terrorism Suppression Bill:

The definition of terrorism is too broad, the definition of classified security information open to abuse.

There are no reasonable safeguard provisions within the Bill.

The Bill does not make any distinction between acts of "terrorism" and legitimate struggles against oppression. It assigns to politicians a role which should belong with the Court. No elected leader should have such powers to designate a person a terrorist and keep all evidence against them secret.

We suggest that the Select Committee put its energy and resources into creating legislation that recognises the legitimate concerns of people everywhere living in repressive conditions and helps create a society in Aotearoa which promotes self-determination and justice for all.

Leigh Cookson
GATT Watchdog



Link to Submissions on Terrorism Bill index page

 

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