When was an official crucifixion or beheading last conducted in this country and – if readers can recall the occasion – what offence had been committed by the person being put to death?
Point of Order asks because:
- The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia executed a man by crucifixion in the holy city of Mecca a few months ago, according to a report in Business Insider Australia. Crimes in Saudi Arabia such as homosexuality and attending anti-government rallies have previously led to crucifixion sentences. Unlike the biblical crucifixions carried out by the Romans against Christians in antiquity, Saudi crucifixions usually involve displaying a beheaded corpse in public on a cross.
- NZ’s Justice Minister Andrew Little last week stood before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to confronted criticism made about New Zealand’s human rights record. Saudi Arabia was represented on the panel which considered this country’s performance.
In a fair and decent world, Little should have been demanding the Saudis lift their game in the human rights department. Instead he became alarmingly craven.
According to this Newshub account:
“It’s fair to say that our justice system is broken,” Mr Little said, going on to suggest that New Zealand is also failing its women and indigenous population.
“We have some of the highest incarceration rates per capita in the world and it has risen in recent years. Maori are disproportionately represented at every stage of our criminal justice system both as offenders and victims.”
Mr Little said New Zealand is “struggling with prison capacity and prisoner violence”, and said the “damaging effects of colonisation are still being felt today with Maori facing considerable disadvantages”.
According to Newshub, Iran, Russia, Indonesia and Egypt were among nations represented at the forum to criticise New Zealand’s human rights record. Iran said New Zealand needs a better strategy to thwart “religious hatred” and racism.
And yes, we could say a great deal in condemnation of Iran’s human rights record, along with the records of Russia, Indonesia and Egypt.
New Zealand’s latest UN human rights review was being overseen by Brazil, Slovakia, and Saudi Arabia.
The final report on New Zealand’s human rights record in 2019 will be prepared by those three nations, known as the ‘troika’, with assistance from the UNHCR.
So what – exactly – did Little think he was doing?
He announced on January 17 he would lead a delegation to New Zealand’s third Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on January 21.
The Universal Periodic Review considers New Zealand’s human rights records over the last five years. New Zealand was last reviewed in 2014.
“I’m looking forward to celebrating the Kiwi approach to human rights. It’s an opportunity to educate and share New Zealand’s efforts, and also to learn from the collective experiences of the international community,” Andrew Little said.
Reports of what Little said show no hint of being celebratory. Perhaps he was misreported.
An email to press secretary Jodi Ihaka on January 23 said:
Good afternoon Jodi
I have seen media reports of what Andrew Little said during New Zealand’s third Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
But is there an official record of he what he said?
And if so, where can I find it?
A week later the email has not been acknowledged and no answer has been given to two simple questions.
Meanwhile Human Rights Watch says it has been forced to close half its offices in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) due to the security or political risks associated with its work in the region, while the human rights abuses in those countries have only worsened.
At the MENA section launch of the group’s 2019 World Report, HRW’s regional experts lamented the fact that their organisation could not hold its annual event in any of the cities where it once had regional offices, such as Cairo, Tripoli and Sanaa.
“The Middle East has become closed to civil society,” said HRW Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson in her opening remarks at the event in London.
Many countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Morocco, have imposed strict visa restrictions on HRW officials to bar them from entering, she said.
“This means people’s stories and experiences aren’t getting told,” she said.
According to Radio NZ, when addressing UN member state recommendations, Little announced that the government was planning to include gender identity as a ground for discrimination under the Human Rights Act.
“To ensure that the law is clear that it includes prohibition of discrimination on grounds of gender identity and to ensure that [it] is very clear to all New Zealanders,” he said.
Taine Polkinghorne – the Human Rights Commission’s advisor on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Sex Characteristics – said this was a big deal.
“While the Commission interprets the Human Rights Act to include protection from discrimination for transgender people, trans communities have been clear that they do not feel protected by this.”
Amending the Act would bring New Zealand’s legislation into compliance with evolving international human rights standards, he said.
Talk of evolving international human rights standards and the role of Saudi Arabia in judging how well NZ is keeping pace is the stuff of farce.
A report in The Independent last year – quoting human rights activists – told of two transgender people being packed in sacks, thrashed with sticks and tortured to death, according to human rights activists.
Police allegedly killed 35-year-old Amna, and Meeno, 26, both Pakistanis, after raiding a house in Saudi Arabia and arresting 35 transgender people.
Banging on to some self-important Saudi Arabian bigwig at the UN about NZ’s “broken” justice system and deficiencies in our human rights record surely has to be a joke.
But take any hint of a smile off your face, dear reader.
When Little said the findings of the review are not legally binding, he further said they are sometimes cited as persuasive in the courts and the Waitangi Tribunal.