Posts tagged ‘human rights’


Give nothing to racism

18.06.2017

What an honour it was to appear as one of the first batch of people in the Human Rights’ Commission’s Give Nothing to Racism campaign. Taika Waititi, New Zealander of the Year (and a Lucire feature interviewee from way back) introduced the campaign with a hilarious video, and it was an honour to be considered alongside my old classmate Karl Urban, and other famous people such as Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Neill, Neil Finn, Lucy Lawless, and Hollie Smith. Somewhere along the line the Commission decided it would get some non-celebs like me.
   The idea is that racism propagates through each of us. Laughing along with a joke. Letting casual racism in social media comments carry on. Excusing racist behaviour. Or simply accepting it as “the way it is”. There’s no place for it in 2017, certainly not in this country, and for those who seek to indulge in it (I’m looking at certain people in politics and the media in particular), you’re simply covering up the fact you’ve very little of substance to offer. I #givenothingtoracism.

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Posted in culture, media, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Time for a rewatch: Reza Aslan interviewed on CNN about Muslim violence

14.01.2015

Found on my wall today. While it’s over three months old, the responses from Prof Reza Aslan of the University of California Riverside address a lot of the comments that have surfaced post-Charlie Hebdo head-on—which shows that we continue to go round and round the same arguments and not making an awful lot of progress.

   In October, he contrasted the coverage between Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the Canadian Muslim who murdered Cpl Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa, and the Norwegian Christian mass murderer Anders Breivik who killed 77 people, in an op–ed for CNN:

In the case of Bibeau, his violent behavior could have been influenced as much by his religious beliefs as by his documented mental problems, his extensive criminal past or his history of drug addiction. Yet, because Bibeau was a Muslim, it is simply assumed that the sole motivating factor for his abhorrent behavior was his religious beliefs …
   Nevertheless, a great deal of the media coverage surrounding [Breivik’s] actions seemed to take for granted that his crime had nothing to do with his Christian identity—that it was based instead on his right-wing ideology, or his anti-immigrant views, or his neglectful upbringing, or even, as Ayan Hirshi Ali famously argued, because his view that “Europe will be overrun by Islam” was being censored by a politically correct media, leaving him “no other choice but to use violence.”

   Aslan does accept that ‘religious beliefs can often lead to actions that violate basic human rights. It is also true that a great many of those actions are taking place right now among Muslims,’ which will require more than a blog post to analyse, but adds, ‘When we condemn an entire community of faith for sharing certain beliefs with extremists in their community, we end up alienating the very people who are best positioned to counter such extremism in the first place.’
   Aslan probably came to most people’s awareness after his interview on Fox News about his new book Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, where he was questioned why, as a Muslim, he would write a book about Jesus Christ.
   As a religion expert who has to defend his position academically—and in the mainstream media—Aslan makes a far more compelling case, backed by research, than some of the anti-Islamic rhetoric that has made a reappearance in social media lately.

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Posted in culture, general, media, USA | No Comments »


When it comes to mass surveillance, forget specificity

26.06.2014

Be careful what you say on social media in Britain.
   English law permits mass surveillance of the big social media platforms, according to Charles Farr, the director-general of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, in a statement published last week responding to a case brought by Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, Bytes for All, and five other national civil liberties’ organizations.
   While communications between British residents can only be monitored pursuant to a specific warrant, those that qualify as ‘external communications’ can be monitored under a general one, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
   Since most social networks are US-based, they qualify as external.
   ‘British residents are being deprived of the essential safeguards that would otherwise be applied to their communications—simply because they are using services that are based outside the UK,’ says Privacy International.
   ‘Such an approach suggests that GCHQ believes it is entitled to indiscriminately intercept all communications in and out of the UK.’
   One Conservative MP, David Davis, accuses ‘the agencies and the Home Office’ of hoodwinking the Commons, although Farr says the matter was expressly raised in the House of Lords, according to The Guardian.
   It was evident in 2000 that there was an international element to electronic communications. After all, telexes had been with us for decades, and emails were mainstream in the 1990s.
   None of this would have been brought to light without the revelations from Edward Snowden and the subsequent legal challenge at the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, on the grounds that ‘The absence of [a legal framework under which surveillance of citizens takes place] appears to be in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights, Article 8, which provides the right to privacy and personal communications, and Article 10, which provides the right to freedom of expression.’
   If the decision of the Tribunal falls on the side of the civil liberties’ groups, then that could be useful to similar groups here. We’ve already seen the Court of Appeal find the arguments of the Attorney-General more compelling than those of Kim Dotcom and others when it comes to balancing search warrants and the right against unreasonable search and seizure in the Bill of Rights Act 1990. While not directly related, pragmatism outweighed specificity, and it’s not a step, I imagine, that proponents of the Act would feel at ease with.
   When it comes to foreign powers exerting influence on our agencies here, especially with indictments that were so grand for what is, at its core, a civil copyright case, one would have expected specificity would be a requirement. I also would have expected such agencies to have the legal experts who would have used very tight language in an international case against a foreign national.
   The worrying trend with both scenarios is that things are taking place against citizens as though they were a matter of course, not subject to state agencies taking great care and being aware of individual human rights.
   As communications are global today, then the frameworks need to start from the point of the view of the individual and protections afforded to one.
   Here, s. 21 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990 should protect citizens when it comes to reasonable expectations of privacy, and cases tend to start from the interest of the person, who must be informed of the search or surveillance.
   The distinction between domestic and ‘external’ has not existed for years: all our websites, for instance, have been hosted abroad since we went online in the 1990s. Anyone who has used Gmail, Hotmail, Zoho and its rivals would be using external communications. Yet I do not know of anyone who would have consented to surveillance without grounds for suspicion, and laws need to balance the external requirement—where threats are perceived to come from—with the expectation of privacy individuals have on everyday communications.
   The Search and Surveillance Act 2012 is tempered perhaps by the tort of privacy and some precedent, but it’s the new Government Communications Security Bureau Amendment Act 2013 that generates similar worries to those in Britain, because specificity has gone out the window.
   We already have had an Attorney-General claim wrongly during the bill’s second reading, ‘As I say, this bill does not represent an extension of powers but a clarification,’ when even a casual comparison between the 2003 act and the new one suggests a marked increase of powers. The Prime Minister has suggested similarly in saying that it was incorrect that the ‘GCSB will be able to wholesale spy on New Zealanders.’
   The requirement for the GCSB’s monitoring of foreign intelligence has been removed in s. 8B, and any intelligence it gathers in the performance of the section is not subject to the protections afforded to New Zealanders under s. 14. Under s. 15A (1), the ‘interception warrants’ can apply to a class of people, covering all communications sent to or from abroad. These warrants can be very general, no threat to national security is required, thus eroding the expectation of privacy that New Zealanders have.
   The process through which the bill went through Parliament was disgraceful. Dame Anne Salmond noted:

During the public debate on the GCSB bill, Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Dr. Rodney Harrison QC spoke out about its constitutional implications, while I addressed its implications for democratic rights and freedoms in New Zealand.
   In reply, the Attorney-General made ad hominem attacks on Harrison, me, Sir Geoffrey and other critics of the legislation during the debate on the GCSB bill, under Parliamentary privilege, and without answering the concerns that had been raised.
   These attacks on independent agencies and offices, and on individuals suggest a campaign of intimidation, aimed at deterring all those who oppose the erosion of human rights in New Zealand from speaking out, and making them afraid to ‘put their heads above the parapet’.

   If we think our laws could protect us against the sort of mass surveillance that is legal in Britain, then we are kidding ourselves. By my reading, interception warrants can take place under the flimsiest of reasons, almost in a desperate attempt to catch up with these other jurisdictions, rather than considering New Zealand values and what our country stands for.
   If Britain is successful at amending the scope of RIPA 2000, then that would be a useful first step in redressing the balance, acknowledging that communication is global, and that citizens should have their privacy respected.
   One hopes such action inspires New Zealanders to follow the path of Privacy International and others in questioning our government’s expanded surveillance powers over us. Those who are already leading the charge, I take my hat off to you.

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Posted in globalization, internet, New Zealand, politics, technology, UK, USA | 1 Comment »


Frack away, IGas Energy: the Metropolitan Police has your back

06.02.2014

The spirit of Gene Hunt is alive and well in the Greater Manchester Police, in the form of Sgt David Kehoe.

   Arresting someone over drink driving when he has neither drunk nor driven reminds me of The Professionals episode, ‘In the Public Interest’, about a corrupt police force in an unnamed English city outside London.
   The only thing is: that was fiction. This was fact.
   So, IGas Energy plc, you may frack away. The British Government and the Met have your back.
   Dr Steven Peers was the cameraman and citizen journalist who was arrested. CPS did not have sufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution. I wonder why.
   He is now planning to bring a civil claim against the GMP for ‘wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and assault,’ according to the Manchester Evening News, which appears to be the only mainstream media outlet I could find that covered this incident.
   Another report claimed that the GMP never received a complaint from Dr Peers, though how are we supposed to believe any statement from this force? The video has gone viral, and global—and if Operation Weeting and the inquiry into police standards were insufficient to give the Met a bad name, then this surely will.
   What next? Legislation to make protests against oil companies illegal?
   No, that would be daft. It would totally be against the ideas of free speech, human rights and international law. No democracy would be that stupid.

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Posted in business, globalization, media, New Zealand, politics, UK | No Comments »


Why do the major parties insist on holding us back?

04.07.2011

In 2002, I did something really stupid. I bought a brand-new, 750 Mbyte Zip drive.
   After all, I had had three years of use out of my 100 Mbyte one, and since 750s looked like the way of the future, I had one installed.
   I can still count the number of times I used it on one hand, because CD-ROMs became common currency and replaced the Zips.
   So when I see we’re building more roads, it reminds me of the Zip drive. Investing in a 20th-century technology in the 21st century.
   When, in fact, we can grow a city and a country more effectively by ensuring its technology is up to speed with the rest of the world.
   If we’re going to attract the best and brightest minds to our shores—and many of them are in the IT world, and software is a frictionless export that overcomes the tyranny of distance—we need to have an infrastructure that isn’t stuck in the previous century, either.
   A forward-looking technological investment for better internet speeds or a real wifi network is better value—and potentially generates more jobs for this nation.
   Which makes me wonder just how clued up the major parties are in this year’s General Election.
   The disappointment I’ve seen in business-damaging legislation, from the Copyright Act to what potentially exists in the TPPA, suggests that neither major party understands what it takes to grow business sustainably in this nation.
   And now to see a sudden change of heart from certain members of the government and the Opposition when the UN has published a report calling internet disconnection a violation of human rights shows they never understood the law in the first place.
   From Ars Technica (emphasis added):

Michael Geist notes that on Friday, Sweden made remarks at the UN Human Rights Council that endorsed many of the report’s findings, including the criticism of “three strikes” rules. The statement was signed by 40 other nations, including the United States and Canada. The United Kingdom and France, two nations that have enacted “three strikes” regimes, did not sign the statement.
   “All users should have greatest possible access to Internet-based content, applications and services,” the statement said, adding that “cutting off users from access to the Internet is generally not a proportionate sanction.” It also called network neutrality and Internet openness “important objectives.”
   Interestingly, the report is signed by New Zealand, which enacted legislation in April that sets up a special Copyright Tribunal for expediting file-sharing cases. The penalties available to the New Zealand government include Internet disconnections of up to six months.

   That’s pretty worrying, when lawmakers don’t understand law. Would you have a mechanic who didn’t understand the mechanics of your car? A dentist who didn’t understand teeth? Or, for that matter, political party leaders whose opinion of their nation is so low that they might consider locking their nation in to backward industries?
   That doesn’t sound like understanding New Zealand, and its ingenuity and pride, to me.
   At least I learned from my Zip drive moment. You do when you spend your own money, outside the political world.

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Posted in business, internet, leadership, New Zealand, politics, Sweden, technology, Wellington | 4 Comments »


A bad choice of word, but what does the gay community actually think?

19.03.2011

While I was out, I had noticed on Twitter a news item about an octogenarian, working for American Airlines, who was sacked for his use of the word faggot.
   I despise words like that, just as much as chink or nigger, but the question arises: should he have been sacked, losing some of his benefits after 54 years’ service?
   He wasn’t a homophobe. The story, which may have surfaced in the Murdoch Press (where else?), was that Freddy Schmitt backed the right of gay soldiers to serve openly. He said, ‘Back then, a faggot coulda saved my life.’
   Bad choice of word? Absolutely.
   But the man is 82, and probably grew up at a time when such words were not deemed unacceptable. Maybe we can say he should have kept up with the times, but sometimes, new learning slips your mind and you fall back on the old.
   I have a father who grew up at a time when Negro and Negress were acceptable words, and, while he rarely uses them (the last time I heard him use Negress was 2004), the guy is 75.
   I’m not sure if this is playing the age card: it’s simply understanding that we’re not that good at retaining knowledge we gain later in life. In Dad’s case, even more so, when you’re talking about a language he only started learning at 14.
   After a while, you just don’t feel like keeping up with the vernacular, foreign or not.
   I asked my American friends of African ethnicity what they thought was acceptable, and they didn’t have a problem with people of Dad’s generation using these two words, as long as he kept away from the n word itself. (Which he does, as it was probably derogatory for a long time.)
   The gay community is more than capable of speaking out for themselves without my second-guessing their reaction to Mr Schmitt. With that in mind, I popped into the Pink News site (‘Europe’s largest gay news service’) to see readers’ reactions, and mostly, they felt Mr Schmitt should be taught proper usage and not be given an apology, but that he should not have lost his job over it.
   A minority backed American Airlines’ move.
   So, judging by the readers of one publication, it seems that Mr Schmitt should be told off, especially if he’s still working as a trainer and contacting the public, but many of those whom he supposedly offended are far more tolerant than the airline might think.
   Not unlike the 1970s’ British TV series, Mind Your Language, where it seemed the majority deemed it politically incorrect as it was supposedly offensive to minorities.
   I don’t find the show offensive, the actors (most of whom were of the ethnic groups they portrayed) didn’t, and I have yet to meet any member of a minority who does.
   The fact that the majority thought us so weak and so unable to speak for ourselves that they made that judgement for us is more offensive.
   ‘Oh, those poor [insert minority race here]. They will be so offended by that. Let’s cancel the show.’
   I’m sorry, we have a voice, thank you. Engaging in dialogue with us is not that hard.
   Just as the gay community has a voice in this instance. They don’t need me, or American Airlines, or anyone else, to speak for them about the utterance of an 82-year-old man.
   ‘Oh, those poor gays. They will be so offended by that. Let’s fire the man.’
   Of course we should speak out in defence of our fellow human beings, but we should also engage in dialogue, too (that’s an invitation: everyone’s comments are welcome). We shouldn’t presume that, somehow, one group is superior, and that the other’s voice should not be heard.
   I just hope the motive for the article isn’t to separate people, because, as one reader on Pink News pointed out:

Political correctness run amuck! Aside from being unfair this is EXACTLY the sort of PC BS that causes moderate Str8s to think ‘gosh, the queers ARE getting out of hand’.

   It’s not the ‘queers’ doing it, it’s a corporation which likely had heterosexuals making the judgement to fire Mr Schmitt.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, USA | 2 Comments »


Even as Liu Xiaobo gets a Nobel prize, Beijing can be smug

12.12.2010

As I watched actress Liv Ullmann read Liu Xiaobo’s address, ‘I Have No Enemies’, on BBC World, I was quite moved.
   The address is what the Nobel Prize-winning author and intellectual delivered prior to his sentencing by a Red Chinese court for subversion.
   What is fascinating is the dignity with which the words are written, showing respect even to his prosecutors.
   Liu even discusses how the human rights in the prison at which he is held have greatly improved since the first time he was locked up there, saying that the ‘enemy mentality’ that Red China once held is disappearing in favour of a more humanist approach.
   Given that he knew he would be found guilty just before Christmas 2009, the address is remarkable for the hints of optimism he holds for his country.
   Liu Xiaobo will not, by himself, see through a wholesale change in the way the Communist Party is running mainland China, but he is representative of many forces which will, some day, make the country freer and more open.
   He is also representative of the area with occident and orient disagree: human rights. While those campaigning for Liu’s release should not stop, his address puts a lot of things into context.
   Mainland China, as it opens up, has tried to find a balance between governmental intervention and the market-place. Even Confucius has been partially recognized by the Politburo as a way to reinforce the state’s position, somehow reinterpreted along the lines of: we bring you prosperity, you give us your loyalty.
   As much as the internet is patrolled, there is a tendency for people to wish to be more free, and blacking out TV screens behind the Bamboo Curtain or resorting to censorship simply makes people wonder what they are missing.
   Where the country might yet succeed, however, is keeping a firm hand on change. Instead of the rush that saw to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Beijing is being pragmatic. As unbridled globalization and a corrupt, conspiratorial financial system has seen to two economic downturns in the last decade, and as the US’s politics move to extremes, the occident is giving fuel to Beijing’s methods. That’s not something that we should feel happy about, nor should we tolerate our commerce being run to further class structures in our societies.
   Liu has been likened to Nelson Mandela by Nobel committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland. Mandela made a similar speech on the eve of being sentenced to treason in 1964. While Liu has his supporters, and I do not proclaim to be any expert on South African history, my feeling is that the former president was known to far more of his own people. There are also other differences to the other Nobel winners who have not been able to attend, be they Carl von Ossietzky, Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa and Aung San Suu Kyi.
   The chief difference is that fewer of us living in the occident in 2010 can be as smug or as preachy. While I support calls for Liu Xiaobo to be released—the jailing of a man exercising the same rights you and I do in criticizing our governments shows, in my mind, the weakness and insecurity of the critiqued régime—there is a real lesson for the rest of us.
   We cannot be in a position to insist on change if we keep supporting governments that weaken our own approaches to human rights. If we vote in a government that widens the distance between rich and poor—and history has more than often shown us which do—then we are letting down our most downtrodden citizens. If we fail to tidy up the mess our business sectors have left in their wake, then we are simply allowing their mistakes to recur.
   For every failure we chalk up because we let things remain the way they are, the more Beijing’s politicians can sit back and accuse us of hypocrisy.

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Posted in China, culture, internet, media, politics | 17 Comments »


Google’s rethink on Red China: you can’t stop the Chinese people

13.01.2010

If I were Google, would I have entered Red China with the censored version of Google.cn, hiding things from the Chinese people for the sake of money? In February 2006, I blogged about this very issue and concluded, ‘No.’
   Obeying the law is one thing. Providing the people with slanted views to prop up governmental propaganda is another.
   It seems Google has gained a conscience, to the point where it is talking about shutting its office inside the Middle Kingdom, after lifting the self-imposed censorship it instituted in the mid-2000s when it entered. It also cites various international hacking attempts in an effort to gain the contents of Gmail accounts of people who have been talking about Chinese human rights. These have, the company claims, originated from Red China.
   Global Voices Online has a great piece summarizing the reactions inside the People’s Republic, which are supportive of Google and critical of the Politburo.
   I’ve always believed that the Chinese people cannot be silenced. Nor are we stupid. With such strong economic growth (albeit with fudged figures) and a natural entrepreneurial spirit, what does Beijing have to be afraid of?
   It’s not as though the occidental technocratic experiment has worked particularly well for productivity and personal wealth over the last 30 years, and the Chinese people aren’t going to see western culture in as bright a light as it once had.
   The days of walking out of an impoverished Red China on to the streets of the west are long gone, given how quickly the nation has caught up (and in some cases overtaken) the rest of the world. There’s not as huge a gap between the two. Economically, Beijing has nothing to lose face over any more.
   The only question left these days is human rights, one which Beijing gets squirmy about.
   There is an easy way to fix this: become idealistic, then live it. Red China is big and powerful enough to see this through, and the backbone of deontological, Confucian ideals surely have shown how such a large country can be governed without dissent getting out of hand.
   The expense of monitoring and censorship might be better used on raising the more difficult areas of the country out of poverty.
   It’s with these principles that a united Chinese Commonwealth might be a reality, one where freedoms are enjoyed by all. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
   Take even the minutest step toward permitting freedoms, and I guarantee the opposition to Red Chinese trade and diplomatic relations will begin to fall. The fact this blog remains accessible inside the Bamboo Curtain is actually a positive sign: it means that some free thinking is allowed. Deals like Geely–Volvo might well become easier for the west to contemplate, once Beijing looks more like it wishes to be part of the international community.
   Such a community is not biased toward the west—and westerners themselves will argue that it is not. China’s influence—and I mean all of China and in countries where the Chinese diaspora is strong—is greater than Beijing will ever acknowledge.
   Until that attitude changes, Red Chinese industrial deals won’t have as easy a ride (relatively) as Ratan Tata and his acquisition of Jaguar and Land Rover.

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Posted in business, cars, China, culture, India, internet, politics | 10 Comments »