New Zealand cautious about “national aggression”

By the time you read this a new law will have taken effect in 35 countries that will make acts of national aggression a violation of international law. New Zealand however, will not be an immediate signatory.

National aggression refers to a hostile act against another country such as military invasion, aerial or other bombardment. It is not just a simple case of making aggressive statements or threatening aggression against another nation – the threatened aggression actually has to happen.

When it became law at midnight New Zealand did not immediately join, having cited the need to amend existing legislation to accommodate it. The legislation that would need to be amended to enable the new law to work includes the International Crimes and Criminal Court Act 2000.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters has indicated that the laws will need to be changed and that New Zealand attempt to join at a later date when the necessary changes have been passed by Parliament. The new law takes effect in the 35 other countries on Thursday.

One of the concerns around national aggression is what it is used for, and the near certainty that in different jurisdictions different interpretations will be applied. What therefore might be the interpretation of the law in Samoa, might not be applicable in say, Germany even though both will have the new law from tomorrow.

TheĀ  law has some weaknesses in that key nations such as the United States and Russia are not part of the International Criminal Court. Others such as China, India, Saudi Arabia never have been members. Those same nations by their geopolitical doctrines and past international record, are not likely to support this, and see it as an attack on their right to self defence.

Another concern is how it will deal with the manufacturing, export and import of illegal arms. United States, Britain, China, Russia, France, Italy, Germany and others are all arms exporters and some of them have regimes known to have committed war crimes among their customers. Saudi Arabia for example has purchased cluster munitions, from Britain and the United States which have been found in Yemen around sites of alleged war crimes, as well as delivery systems for them.

A third one is whether the new law will affect New Zealand decisions to become involved in wars where we see a clear benefit, but which might not be sanctioned by the United Nations. Such events may include intervening in a South Pacific dispute, especially if it involves a larger power. It might also include events where the United Nations has – as it frequently is – deadlocked whilst a demonstrable case to act exists.

All in all the law is a good idea and I think New Zealand is right to join it. However the delay is just and Kennedy Graham and any one else who believes New Zealand should sign immediately are not putting the national interest first.

Trump betrays democracy – and every nation believing in it

In a single press conference in Helsinki yesterday, after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, the President of the United States dealt what might be a death blow to democracy. With the refusal to hold Russia accountable for a dozen Russians indicted for interference in the 2016 United States Presidential election, Mr Donald John Trump effectively conceded to the Russian Government world view: trust no one.

In the last 18 months since he took office, Mr Trump has shown his utter disdain anything good that the West has tried to achieve. By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement just as the only nations not in it were preparing to sign up, Mr Trump has signalled his contempt for the environment. By withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Mr Trump has done likewise with human rights as his Immigration and Customs Enforcement ratchet up their campaign against anyone whose reasons for existing in the United States look even the slightest bit dodgy – whether they are being another story altogether.

But most of all, Mr Trump has given global consensus built on democracy a truly frightful knee to the stomach.

Imagine that. An American President declaring that no one should be trusted, thereby throwing into doubt decades of anglo-saxon co-operation. Imagine that. An openly contemptuous American President declaring that a country whose Government has long sought to undermine the United States at every opportunity, whose contempt for democracy is as legendary as its ability to rally in times of crisis.

It is a signal to every western nation. You are on your own. America no longer values or cares about you. It is a signal that global co-operation is somehow a bad thing and that the last 70 years trying to build more civil world and prevent World War 3 is all for nothing. It is a signal to N.A.T.O.: go stuff yourself.

But should we suddenly now kowtow to Russia and Vladimir Putin? To China and Xi Jinping? Because apparently strong men with grandiose visions of global influence, heading countries with strong militaries, and an authoritarian rule of their own people are suddenly good according to Mr Trump?

And what does that mean for little ol’ New Zealand, in the South Pacific? Does that mean we are on our own in a sea of increasingly hostile nations trying to make the best we can for ourselves? I hope not. New Zealand is too small to influence the big nations in a military or economic way, but not so small that we cannot set an example through how we treat other peoples, nations and cultures.

New Zealand needs to tread carefully, but that does not mean we should give up our values and principles. New Zealand needs to look after its own needs. We need to forge a path that suits us, whilst keeping in contact with as many friendly nations as we can – Canada, France, Germany, Britain. Just because America is determined not to be a part of the free world any more does not mean the rest should just give up all that lie in those many war graves in Europe, north Africa, the Pacific, where brave New Zealanders gave their lives for our freedom so bravely fought and died for.


A tribute to “the beautiful game”

When it was first announced that Russia was going to host the F.I.F.A. World Cup in 2018 I was less than impressed. At the time Russian nationalism, its participation in football hooliganism and an intolerance of homosexuals and foreigners was on display. Then F.I.F.A.’s boss Sepp Blatter was made to step down because of damning allegations against him which further tarnished the games international image.

But in the last few months one could see growing excitement as a new World Cup approached. People stopped talking about the political ruckus going on around the football pitch. People started talking about who would win, which stars would be there and how their favourite teams would go. It began to become interesting and not another political football.

Yesterday that excitement around the world reached fever point. After amazing pool play that saw all manner of surprises, and some shock finals, Russia hosted France and Croatia as they played for the crowning glory of the 2018 F.I.F.A. World Cup.

Congratulations France. Commisserations Croatia.

Whether one likes football or not – I didn’t watch a single match from end to end, though I saw the highlights for all of the finals – one has to admire the extent to which 22 players booting a round leather ball for 90 minutes can captivate millions of people across the globe, putting aside poverty and war; refugee camps and Brexit politics. Just for 90 minutes something other than the daily struggles of live become more important, more exciting. Something worth riding the thrills and spills of. In that context F.I.F.A. 2018 has provided plenty.

Whether you are from a nation that did not get there to or being French or Croatian, whether you liked football or not, you have probably had a conversation that involved the word football in a F.I.F.A. 2018 context. Whether you simply watched the highlights myself, or went to the bar to watch it, or were one of the lucky thousands to have secured tickets to a match football has probably crossed your mind in the last six weeks.

Football is a beautifully simple game if one can see past the theatrics of players like Neymar. It is a game that unites the world in a way no other sport can – rugby, cricket and others make an honest go of it, but none of them have the truly international breadth of football. We are talking about a sport that is played with gusto on every continent except Antarctica, though I am sure it has been talked about down there. We are talking about a sport that has – if I read correctly – 4 billion people watching the World Cup Final around the world.

Football gives hope in the most unusual ways – from Palestinian militants stopping briefly to celebrate a David Beckham goal, to kids in refugee camps around the world kicking footballs across muddy ground; from girls trying to Bend it like Beckham to relative minnow nations like New Zealand (ranked 89th in the world) when we toppled the then no. 15, Serbia in 2010 just a few weeks before the F.I.F.A. World Cup that year.

Now as we start to look forward to it being in Qatar in 2022, an event currently being marred by human rights abuses building the stadiums, I am trying to keep an open mind following the success of a tournament that was far better than I thought it would be. Hopefully Qatar will rise to the occasion and put on something to match or better F.I.F.A. 2022.

Thanks very much for proving me and many many others wrong Russia.

Backtracking on fishing boat camera’s is a cop out

Minister of Fisheries, Stuart Nash is having second thoughts about installing cameras on fishing boats following criticism from the industry. His change of heart comes after a letter accusing him of reacting to hysteria is made known to the public.

This is a cop out. The fisheries industry is simply scared that the many claims of bad practices, maltreatment of staff and non-compliance with regulations around reporting catches will be found out and that they will be made to clean their act up.

It is also disappointing that a party that traditionally supports human rights is back tracking on a measure that will help stamp out the illegal practices that are known to be going on. It will help put some credibility back into an industry whose reputation is going to be tarnished by this if the minister drops the surveillance camera programme.

New Zealand cannot afford to let its reputation as the “Wild West” of the high seas continue. It erodes the confidence that international and domestic customers can have that our fish are caught properly and in compliance with best environment, labour and regulatory practices.

We are a first world country, not a third world country. We have obligations under international and domestic law that need to be upheld and which other nations can subject New Zealand to scrutiny on. Each time the United Nations send a special rapporteur over or the periodic report show casing progress and answering criticisms is delivered to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, this is something that we can be potentially challenged on.

New Zealand needs to understand that people are starting to become aware of issues with supply chains and their role at the end of those chains as consumers. This is why for example there were concerns a few years ago about live sheep exports to Saudi Arabia, a country not known for having a strong animal rights record. The concerns that the sheep would die en route and that the carcasses would be a health hazard by the time they reached a Saudi port were credible.

The same awareness is becoming true of fisheries both inside and outside of New Zealand. It is exacerbated by the fact that our fisheries have boats operating in them crewed by non-New Zealanders. They have reported on numerous occasions mistreatment, non-compliance with records and other problems. The ships captains and executive officers have been known to be hostile towards third party observers being on board.


Science has no time for politics

In 2011 on B.B.C. programme called HardTalk hosted by Stephen Sackur, Prime Minister John Key was asked about fresh water quality issues. Mr Sackur asked Mr Key if New Zealand’s environmental standards had slipped after a string of controversies including the sacking of an elected local council over water management issues (among others). Mr Key came out firing, insisting our standards were fine and that New Zealand is “100% pure”.

When Mr Sackur challenged Mr Key on that point with data from well respected researcher Dr Mike Joy, Dr Joy’s data was dismissed as not being totally true.

And over the years a wealth of research and policy based on that research has accrued in New Zealand pointing to unsustainable dairy farming harming our fresh water resources. And as a way of hiding from the truth, the call for “further research” has gone out.

But globally there is an even bigger problem. The sheer scale of human consumption has altered the planet to a point where scientists have concluded that an entire epoch in the geological record has ended and that the new one will have a strong human input.

It is a truth that cannot be changed:

Science has no time for politics, something politicians are often loathe to admit.

We undermine our quest as human beings to better understand the world around us when we allow politicians to silence scientists trying to communicate their findings to the world.

When the National Institute of Water and Atmospherics fired Jim Salinger, one of the most eminent scientists in New Zealand it was roasted alive. People were disgusted with his silencing for electing to tell people about the findings of his latest research without consulting his bosses. But N.I.W.A. to its considerable credit learned its lesson and is now one of the better communicators of science in New Zealand.

When scientists working on earthquake research were silenced, people again were infuriated. With a live firing aftershock sequence firing off every magnitude number up to 6.4, with sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars in damage being done, of course people wanted to know what was going on. With people fearing for their lives, not knowing how or when the aftershock sequence – which threw convention out the window on 13 June 2011 with a magnitude 5.7 followed 80 minutes later by a magnitude 6.4 – of course scientists wanted to communicate as best as they could their interpretation of what was happening. Their professional reputations and credibility as researchers depended on it.

Which is why the Department of Conservation making decisions on apparently ill founded information is all the more disturbing. As the Government agency tasked with looking after our conservation estate, D.O.C. is expected by the public to promote and advocate for the national and forest parks, areas of significant scenic and natural value. Not surprisingly therefore people are upset and angry about some of its recent decisions that fly in the face of what it is meant to be advocating for.

One example is the Mackenzie Basin irrigation project that is trying to convert a naturally semi-arid part of New Zealand into a false green mass of paddocks that look completely out of place. A reporter for The Press was sent photograph by a D.O.C. researcher showing a large pipe carrying water for irrigation that crosses conservation land with significant values. He was then suspended and has since left It also ignores the effects of dairying in the tributaries of the upper Waitaki, which are seeing spikes of nitrogen inputs that reduce the water quality in an area that is big on water based pursuits – boating, fishing, and so forth.

Was the Department of Conservation scared of a political backlash? Perhaps so, but it should not be. New Zealanders are waking up to the realization that we need to do more to protect the environment and the ecosystems that sustain our flora and fauna. Or those species will join many more that already gone in the mass extinction currently in progress.