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CASI submission

November 2001

Submission of the Churches' Agency on Social Issues on the Terrorism Suppression Bill to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee.

1. Who we are

1.1 The Churches' Agency on Social Issues - Methodist, Presbyterian, Churches of Christ, Quaker (CASI), consists of members appointed by the: Methodist Church of New Zealand; Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand; Associated Churches of Christ in New Zealand; Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) Aotearoa/ New Zealand: Te Hahi Tuhauwiri.

1.2 The Agency's role is to maintain a watching brief on issues of public concern within Aotearoa New Zealand, and to take appropriate action where necessary. Such action includes making this submission, which is arrived at by consensus within the Agency and may not coincide exactly with opinions or submissions from some within the four churches.

2. Summary of our concerns

2.1 We seek, and work towards, a world of enhanced justice and equity. We are therefore concerned at any measures, drawn up in haste, which perpetuate an atmosphere of fear and suspicion. The measures contained in this Bill call into question fundamental civil liberties. They infringe the long-standing principle of presumption of innocence until guilt is proved in a court of law.

2.2 The dangers in this Bill lie in two key definitions which are far too broad 'a terrorist act' and 'classified security information'. Safeguards proposed in the Bill are inadequate to prevent arbitrary and unjust exercise of significant new powers. The Bill as drafted is therefore likely to serve only to extend the present atmosphere of fear and suspicion.

2.3 The Bill contains unacceptable potential dangers. It defines an offence in the most sweeping terms and then gives to very few individuals the power to interpret and apply it. Used unwisely or arrogantly, it could lead to an authoritarian society in which terrorism is more likely to breed than be contained. It therefore threatens the freedom and safety of all citizens.

3. Introduction

3.1 We affirm the decision to widen the consultation process and to allow a more considered approach to this legislation.

3.2 We also affirm that terrorist acts of violence, whether directed towards persons or property and whether intentionally or unintentionally resulting in harm to either, are unacceptable.

3.3 We acknowledge that our Government has the duty to provide for the safety of all citizens within a framework in which human rights can be freely exercised.

4. Our approach

4.1 CASI's task is to identify socially-applicable theological affirmations which grow from our understanding of the gospel and the nature of Christian faith. Reflection on these affirmations, and application of them to critical social issues, is a valuable tool in safeguarding a healthy, just and safe society.

4.2 The following affirmations underpin our Agency's position on the topic before the Select Committee:

  • All people and peoples should have access to life, freedom, human love and justice.
  • Human innate selfishness and lack of respect for others as God's creation manifests itself in society as violence, exploitation, deceit, oppression, racism, greed, arrogance and self-righteousness.
  • Christians share in Jesus' ministry of reconciliation and healing in the social and political sphere as much as in the private and ecclesiastical. This involves standing alongside the impoverished and oppressed in our own society and working for greater justice and equity.
  • God's spirit is already at work in the world-wide concern for human rights. We discern the Spirit's presence in the voices of individuals and groups who are struggling with injustice, and in those communities of people who are most at risk.

5. Applying this approach to international relations

5.1 We are concerned that the present focus on violent symptoms is diverting our attention as a member of the family of nations away from deep causes of inequity, including the denial by dominant powers of opportunities for vulnerable nations to grow and develop.

5.2 In 1960, the richest 20 percent of the world's population enjoyed 70.2 percent of the world's income, and the poorest just 2.3 percent. By 1989, the figures were 82.7 percent and 1.4 percent, and by 1997 they were 90 percent and 1 percent. (Elwood, Wayne, 2001: The No Nonsense Guide to Globalisation, New Internationalist, London, table p.101 based on UN figures).

5.3 Alongside necessary steps to contain terrorism and protect our people, there must be deeper analysis of the causes of terrorism, and a commitment to finding long-term solutions to the violence which is embedded in persistent and growing inequity.

6. Applying this approach to national security

When addressing issues of national security, these affirmations lead us to proclaim that a healthy harmonious society has characteristics which should not be compromised. Some of these characteristics are:

6.1 Power is always exercised as responsibly and openly as possible and is never abused.

6.2 Decisions and policies acknowledge and properly take into account the fact that "we are all connected". This applies to all humankind, and to international relations as well as to internal structures.

6.3 Freedom of opinion and its expression is respected.

6.4 Decisions are made in a way designed to protect the weak and the vulnerable.

6.5 Policies and laws are informed by accepting that we can never be completely certain of all the effects our actions, policies or laws might have on others and on the character of our society. We need to ensure that there are robust provisions for identifying and addressing issues of equity.

7. Comment on the principles of the Bill.

These characteristics have implications for the Terrorism Bill:

7.1 Use no more power than necessary to deal with terrorism. Where existing laws provide adequate security, use them.

7.2 Define terrorism in as precise a way as is consistent with maintaining public safety. A broad definition, designed to include every possible nuance of terrorism, might also stifle dissent and freedom of opinion, or create a fortress mentality.

7.3 Provide stringent rules of evidence to prove terrorist acts or a terrorist intent.

7.4 Give this legislation, as well as the designations it provides for, a limited life, but include provisions for review and possible renewal.

7.5 Accompany the legislation with a commitment to addressing the root causes of terrorism. We are all connected. Since 11 September responding to poverty and injustice is an unavoidable responsibility and no longer an option for any nation. Our future together as a planet depends on it.

8. Comment on clauses in the Bill

8.1 Clauses 4 and 5: Interpretation and definition. The proposed amendments to the original Bill deeply concern us. They widen the definition to capture not only property in its broadest sense but also the economy. The expression 'serious damage to a national economy' (Cl. 5.3(e)) leaves far too much undefined. It would be better to remove this term and develop other laws or clauses to deal with specified acts of economic sabotage. Some lawful governments overseas (eg apartheid South Africa) have in the past been considered by the bulk of our population to be inherently tyrannical or evil despite our diplomatic recognition of them. To seek to harm the economies of these countries through imposing sanctions, in order to advance the cause of democracy, might be considered a terrorist act under the Bill's definition of terrorism. Previous New Zealand legislation (including the parent Bill) has been far more specific about what constitutes terrorist acts. We think this Bill should set boundaries on definitions. At present, through its links with international conventions, the Bill leaves New Zealand open to having the application of our laws defined beyond our shores. We believe it is best to keep the definition of terrorism as precise as possible and to use existing laws to deal with acts such as serious damage to an infrastructural facility.

8.2 Clause 5.2.(2) The defining of 'terrorist acts' as being intended to advance a religious cause (among others) also fills us with unease. Linking terrorism with a religious group has happened in a number of nations, ranging from Britain to China in recent history, and is easily abused. The word 'religious' should be removed, leaving the word 'ideological' which can cover this aspect adequately.

8.3 Clauses 9 & 10: As worded, these clauses could be used to penalise citizens who give support (including financial help) in a very general way to liberation movements, or to movements aimed at obtaining justice and equity for marginalised people suffering under repressive regimes.

8.4 Clause 17 A-C: It is good that there are limits to an interim designation (30 days) and a final designation (5 years). It is also good that the High Court needs to confirm any designation beyond this period. However the term "cause to suspect" concerns us. Where people are clearly known or claim to have committed a terrorist act there is no problem. However, where the designation relies on classified information, especially if supplied by an overseas government's intelligence or security organisation, then we need a really effective way of testing its validity.

8.5 Clause 17N provides for the Inspector-General to review all interim and final designations but does not seem to indicate what the outcome of such reviews can be. The presumption is that the designation could continue in force even though the Inspector-General found insufficient evidence for it. The Inspector-General's report on a review should be made public, with sufficient provision for the protection of classified security information. During the review process, the impact of such a designation on a suspected entity's finances should be limited.

Link to Submissions on Terrorism Bill index page


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