Reaction to compensation row challenges perceptions about released prisoners

Yesterday there was an article about a man who in 2000 was detained inappropriately in an isolation cell. John Vogel was made to spend 23 hours alone in an isolation cell without any contact – telephone, visitors or radio – and was only permitted an hour a day for showering and exercising.

Mr Vogel was found to have chronic depression which was exacerbated by a drug addiction. He asked for the isolation in an attempt to kick the drug habit. The law permits not more than 15 consecutive days in isolation. Mr Vogel was in solitary confinement for 21 days.

I do not condone Mr Vogel’s offending. Murder is a very serious offence to commit under any circumstances, and drug offending is heavily frowned upon as well. Understandably there is a very negative reaction when someone commits one or both of these things.

But when the corrections system goes too far and he is punished beyond what New Zealand law and New Zealand’s international obligations permit, the reaction of people on social media suggests that this is quite okay. The argument is that as a criminal he has lost all of his rights and some go so far as to suggest that the system is not going far enough.

One day in the future Mr Vogel will be released from prison. When prisoners are released from prison they need to have somewhere to live. They need an income and have some means of obtaining a source of income. Society likes to jail serious offenders for obvious reasons, but it does not like to acknowledge the fact that once a prisoner has done their jail time and the Parole Board deems him/her fit for release back into the community, there is no legal ground for continuing to detain a prisoner.

How does society want the prisoner to be released? I sometimes ask people this to see if they have considered what happens once a prisoner has done their time. Some people try to turn the question back on me by pointing out his offences, which is beside the point as the hypothetical prisoner I am talking about has done it and has to be released.

So how should a prisoner be released? If society don’t want him/her to be back in jail at their expense and the prisoner is fully reformed, then they deserve to be given a chance to rebuild their lives and start being useful members of society again. There will be employers who are prepared to give them a chance and community networks who are prepared to give them a go, but will society at large accept that hypothetical prisoner has done his/her time?

No one wants an angry prisoner, infuriated with society and a burning hatred of humans and the law to be released and hopefully the Parole Board will see the warning signs. In the event such people are released, it is perhaps a failure of the corrections system to not provide proper oversight to the Parole Board. Such prisoners are dangerous and can potentially commit much worse crimes than the ones that sent them to jail in the first place.

If an ex-prisoner is released and no support is in place, this presents a situation potentially as dangerous as releasing an already disgruntled one into society. Would people prefer that, or a released prisoner who is rebuilding his or her life, has renounced crime and is wanting to be a role model for other soon to be released prisoners?

I think I know the answer to that one.

New Zealand impotent in North Korean crisis; U.S. needs to be careful

As the world watches nervously the situation on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea’s incandescent rhetoric, and the United States and South Korea showing a united front against the regime, a two island nation in the South Pacific is wondering what use it could be in the situation. And at the same time, hoping that the United States does not forget or deliberate exclude the one nation that can settle the issue decisively – and possibly without war:


So let us look at why China is central to the whole situation There are four reasons. Each is a good reason not even the U.S. can ignore.

China (1): China invaded North Korea in October 1950 to prop up the regime when it looked like falling. I would be willing to guess that if the United States too unilateral action against North Korea, the Chinese would in the first instance mass a huge number of troops on the North Korean border – possibly upwards of 500,000 with supporting armour and support from the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force and People’s Liberation Army Navy.

China (2): President Xi Jinping is a Chinese Trump. China is an adversary in many respects because Xi wants to make China a world power again too. Mr Xi has a vision, though, which is reinforced by domestic and foreign policy. He wants it to have naval reach it did 500 years ago. How Mr Xi would react to an attack on North Korea is unclear, but the implications of his vision are clear: China will not sit by and have its influence eroded by anyone including America.

China (3): China’s Communist regime will do absolutely anything to ensure that there is not any more democratic nations on its land border, especially on the Korean Peninsula. China’s human rights record is shocking because in order for the Chinese Government in its current form to survive, they must have control of citizens across an ethnically, culturally and – if it were permitted to be expressed politically diverse geographical region. Why do you think they spend almost as much on cracking down on dissent, crushing protests, jailing people, maintaining a Great Firewall of China and executing people?

To maintain control.

China (4): China could crush North Korea tomorrow. It has the economic, political and military means to do so. But it won’t – at least not without Beijing’s authority and influence being assured by the U.S.

So, where does this leave an island nation in the South Pacific with regards to North Korea?

The long and the short answers are both: largely impotent. The most we can do, is what we are already doing, except that perhaps having talks with South Korea about what we could do in terms of offering more non-military support other than backing them in anything that happens with regards to North Korea in the United Nations.

Challenges for new United Nations boss

Questions about the direction that the United Nations is headed in are surfacing after the United Nations elected Antonio Guterres to lead the organization for the next five years. Despite a rare show of unity among the Permanent 5 members of the Security Council in electing Mr Guterres, the absence of a female winner has raised suggestions that more of the same could be on the way for the world body.

The United Nations is as divided as it has ever been on global affairs. Wars raging in Syria and Iraq, and ongoing lower intensity conflicts simmering in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in South Sudan are causing a humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen since World War 2.

The outright distrust between the United States and Russia, competing as they are once again for global influence, has ensured that the bloody carnage of Syria continues into the foreseeable future. The refugees that are now flooding into other nations trying to get away  from Daesh, from the onslaught of bombs, rockets and bullets shows no signs of letting up. Yet the free nations that are participating in the conflict or arming participants do nothing to help the situation by giving them a reason to leave in the first place.

I had hoped the United Nations would elect Ms Clark, or if not her, at least one of the other female candidates who put their hand up for the job. All of them had had impressive curriculum vitae’s, and would have gathered an array of diplomatic skills in their prior jobs. To elect another male, however good he might be smacks a bit of an old boys club and vested interests getting in the way of the long term well being of the United Nations. The transparency of the United Nations, and its ability to stand up to aggressors in breach of international law is in dire need of a significant overhaul, and Ms Clark was one of the few and the only female candidate pushing for a transparent organization.

So, whilst I wish Mr Guterres all the best for the job, he has some significant ground to make up. The list of problems that he will find on his table are as formidable as they are complex. It will take some considerable spine to tackle them. His predecessor, the out going Ban Ki Moon has done remarkably well given the problems that he inherited and the ones that popped up whilst in office.


United Nations on the verge of a Secretary General cop out

When I heard that Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand was going to stand for the Secretary General’s role, I was delighted. I was more so when the Government, despite it being the same one that defeated Ms Clark’s Labour-led Government in 2008, enthusiastically came on board to back her bid. The unity across the political spectrum of New Zealand politics that Helen Clark would be a long overdue force for the better in the United Nations said much. But with two United Nations votes now having been cast, and Ms Clark a long way back in the field, is the United Nations about to blow a historic chance?

Sadly it would appear so. Unfortunately the United Nations Security Council, which is the most out of date of all of the organs of the United Nations, does not – Britain aside – seem to want a female Secretary General. Given the poor state of womens rights around the world and the strength of the “Old Boys Club” of Permanent Five members who do not want change because it will upset their agenda, are on the verge of causing lasting damage to the entire United Nations.

The damage will be lasting because the credibility of the Security Council, which is probably 25 years out of date and increasing unable to deal with crises around the world, is already painfully stretched. The last time the Security Council co-operated to an extent that was respected by the world would probably have been when it authorized the United States-led liberation of Kuwait in 1991. Since then a rash of crises have happened, or – in the case of Iraq and Syria – are continuing to happen and the Permanent Five have been unable to agree on a solution. The full list is too long to remember, but would include all of the following:

  1. Srebrenica persecution of Muslims in Bosnian civil war
  2. Rwandan genocide of 1994 when nearly a million Tutsi were killed in just a couple of months
  3. The Darfur Crisis where 250,000 lost their lives to ethnic cleansing
  4. Syrian Civil War where the death toll now stands at over 300,000 and

It is not just the inability of the United Nations to deal with crises any more, but also the endemic corruption that has tainted its credibility as a global organization. Whether it has had to do with peace keepers, especially those from African countries being found to have raped civilians that they were supposed to be protecting, or alleged corruption around Secretary General Kofi Annan’s office, the problems plaguing the United Nations have grown substantially.

The out going Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon of South Korea has done his best. He has been transparent in ways Mr Annan never was. He has had to cope  with a bitterly divided Security Council whose divisions have only worsened since the failure of the Arab Spring in 2011. At every opportunity, lest their client states be overtaken by popular revolutions, Russia and China have persistently blocked United Nations resolutions calling for action on Syria. For its part the United States have consistently vetoed any resolution calling on Israel to stop establishing new settler towns.

But Ms Clark would have struck a monumental blow for women in the same way Kate Sheppard all those years ago in 1893 struck a blow by enabling New Zealand women the right to vote. It would have been a blow that forced womens rights onto the international agenda of the United Nations. It would have been a huge boost for transparent practices and the accountability of a global body whose forums provide opportunities for small nations like New Zealand to be seen on the world stage.

Could the United Nations survive too many lost chances like this and still be a credible global body? Maybe, but a failure to elect someone like Helen Clark for Secretary General just makes an recovery that much more difficult. And the probability of rueing it? Very good.

Why Helen Clark will be good for the United Nations

This morning an announcement that myself and many others had hoped for became reality: Former Prime Minister Helen Clark, current head of the United Nations Development Agency wants to be the next Secretary General.

Here is an incredible opportunity for New Zealand to reinforce its credentials on the world stage, and possibly no one better equipped in Oceania. There is no one better equipped to do this job in New Zealand than the former Prime Minister. Her Curriculum Vitae is truly outstanding.

Prior to entering Parliament Ms Clark was a lecturer at University of Auckland. In 1981 she lead some protesters against the Springbok Tour.

Ms Clark entered Parliament as Member of Parliament for the electorate of Mount Albert in 1981. During the Labour Government of David Lange (1984-1990), she was Minister of Conservation and then Health and Labour. During the later part of the Lange/Palmer Government she was Deputy Prime Minister. In 1993 she deposed the then Leader of the Labour Party, and then Leader of the Opposition Mike Moore. Although she was seen by some as a betrayer, her steady stewardship of Labour lead them to win the 1999 General Election. As Prime Minister Ms Clark was also Minister of Arts, and responsible for the intelligence agencies. Three terms later, despite being accused by many including myself of being an unspectacular leader, her place in New Zealand history was assured as the first Labour leader to govern for three consecutive terms and presiding over a period of impressive stability.

Since her defeat to the current Prime Minister John Key, she has headed up the United Nations Development Programme. This is an agency which has often courted the limelight in United Nations and international politics for largely the wrong reasons. With a budget of several billion dollars under the watch of its director, this is the third largest and most powerful position in the United Nations, with only the Deputy Secretary General and Secretary General being higher.

I hope New Zealand fully supports Ms Clark for this position. The current Prime Minister John Key has indicated his full support and was a strong proponent for her initial election in 2009.

She has some tough foes to dispatch. Across the Tasman Sea, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is said to be keen on the job. In Europe there are several candidates from the east saying that Eastern Europe’s time has come – perhaps it has, but perhaps so has that of Oceania (at least I cannot think of anyone from this part of the world having hold that office before). It would be an amazing opportunity to put Oceania on the world map and address some of the issues facing the Pacific Island nations, Papua New Guinea and the central Pacific.


Ms Clark has a tough job ahead if she does get the role. The Development Programme has struggled with numerous controversies, which she has worked steadily to contain, such as financial irregularities in North Korea and the suspension of disarmament programmes in Uganda caused by internal violence. Heading up the United Nations at large will be a whole different ballgame, as current Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon can attest. Ending the conflict in Syria, making the peace keepers a more effective force, improving perceptions that the United Nations at large is more than a tiger on paper whilst encouraging overdue reform of how the Security Council and the General Assembly work are just a few of the challenges – getting even half of this done would be a colossal achievement.

But before then we need to get Helen Clark into the Secretary General’s role as she is the best person in Oceania for the job and as capable as any of her challengers.