Terrorism bill could undermine human rights, warns Amnesty International

Anna Whyte
Source: 1News

Amnesty International NZ are warning that the counter-terrorism legislation in preparation for a possible return of Kiwi jihadist Mark Taylor could undermine human rights.

The Government announced this week a bill to " prevent terrorism and de-radicalise New Zealanders coming back from overseas" as tensions have risen overseas with US troops being pulled from northern Syria and Turkish forces moving, increasing the possibility of foreign ISIS fighters returning back to their countries. 

If passed, the law could give police special powers to put forward evidence to the High Court to constrain potential terrorists for two years. 

The legislation has not been welcomed by some. 

Annaliese Johnston of   Amnesty International Aotearoa   said the legislation could have "ramifications for people seeking refuge or asylum here".

Ms Johnston said they often see the word "terrorism" applied "broadly by oppressive regimes to detain innocent people who're simply rallying for a better life". 

"Whilst the local definition of terrorism is much narrower here in New Zealand, we have concerns that the new law could still harm people falsely characterised by oppressive regimes overseas, if that information is influencing a New Zealand judge's decision."

She said using information from overseas regimes could be "highly unreliable and lead to injustice for people actually seeking protection from persecution".

Amnesty International urged the Government to not rush the law, saying one that "places significant restrictions on New Zealanders’ freedoms outside of the fair trial process is extremely concerning".

"If New Zealand wants to actually live up to its human rights obligations then the Government should tread very carefully."

An ultimatum was also put to Justice Minister Andrew Little by National Party leader Simon Bridges, saying he needed to "seriously consider" changes put forward by the party, or be at risk of losing its support. 

Mr Bridges wanted changes to the proposed law to include lowering the age limit to include those aged 14 years and older, and to increase the maximum duration of control orders. 

Green Party's Golriz Ghahraman wrote the party would not support the law "because outdated American style War On Terror policies, that breach human rights, risk criminalising political activists, and undermine our criminal justice processes - have no place in Aotearoa today".

Mr Bridges said that as the Greens would not support it, Mr Little "now needs to rewrite it so that it represents the wider Parliament".

On TVNZ1's Breakfast yesterday, Mr Little said the Government began a review into the Terrorism Suppression Act last year, but ISIS' collapse earlier this year led to considerations over the risk of New Zealanders returning to the country after going over to Syria to fight.

"Control orders are an effective way of managing risk if criminal prosecution is not possible, for example due to insufficient evidence being available from current overseas conflict zones.

"Conditions will be imposed to reduce the immediate risks to public safety, and to support the person’s de-radicalisation and reintegration into New Zealand society."

Mr Little said critics may argue that the bill could feasibly apply to anyone, but there was "a very high threshold to meet" before a person is put under consideration. 

Law professor Alexander Gillespie told 1 NEWS that "broadly, this a good law, in terms of surveillance and potential restrictions (and will probably overlap with existing security laws) - and relatively common sense (restrictions on travel, places they can go, and even the internet)".

However, he said it was "very weak" in areas of what he called the long-term solutions of rehabilitation and deradicalisation.

"Risks of repeat behaviour will be much lesser than simple surveillance and restrictions," Professor Gillespie said. 

"This is a delicate area as the Government needs to be balancing the civil liberties of those being focused on (and not being excessive in its restraints, while layering a sequence of checks and balances) against those of the public, and their right to be safe."