Thursday, 6 February 2014

waitangi day reflections

another waitangi day almost over.  in terms of public discourse, it has gone the way of most waitangi days.  people complaining about the negativity, about how the day has no meaning for them, how we should have another day where we can talk about unity, isn't anzac day so much better as a celebration of nz.  etc etc etc

well, i went along to the event put on by the hamilton city council, at 7am in civic square.  we started with a powhiri, then had a few speeches, some songs & refreshment.  a few years back, we used to have a full day of events at innes common, by the lake, but funding was pulled and that doesn't happen anymore.  it used to be a celebration of many cultures, but the faces in the audience were almost universally brown, as they were today.

so now we get this hour and a half in the early morning.  and a very sanitised affair it is.  no protest here, just like the herald has been boasting today.  because we want to commemorate a sanitised version of history, where we all get to feel good about ourselves and never have to question the way our society is structured or the injustices that have happened before and are happening today.

tim macindoe was actually specific in echoing the herald's line that there should be no protests on this day (can't remember the exact words).  he, as so many other people around the country have no doubt done, called for unity.  but what does this call for unity mean?  the unity they're talking about sounds like one where marginalised people stay silent, never say anything uncomfortable.  it's a unity based on a dominant group continuing to dominate and marginalised groups not challenging that domination.  it's a unity based on unfairness and inequity.

we could also have unity if the dominant group accepted the injustices, talked about them in an honest and respectful way, were prepared to listen & understand, and maybe even stay silent themselves for a while.  but i very much doubt that this is the kind of unity we are talking about.

waitangi day is a time when the media is present, when they are reporting, when the nation is paying attention.  if this is not the time to raise issues then when is?  the fact is that there will never be a good time.  the fact is that the people calling for unity or disparaging waitangi day never want to hear what protesters have to say and never want to hear a full and fair telling of our history.

this is in fact a freedom of speech issue. to call for waitangi day to no longer be our national day, to call for an oppressors version of unity, is in fact an attempt to silence certain voices.  the kind of voices that very rarely get a chance to be heard in the first place.

this morning, the mayor talked hamilton's 150th anniversary being this year, and she did have the grace to say it was the anniversary of european settlement of this city.  i hope that isn't just because of the tainui kaumatua in the audience, i hope that she continues to say this in front of all audiences.  but it's too much to hope that the commemorations will talk about what that settlement has meant for local iwi.  no-one used the words confiscation or land theft in their speeches today, but that is an inescapable part of the history of this city - so much of it is built on confiscated land.  how can we have any kind of commemorations or celebrations that fail to mention that fact.

this is our history.  warts and all.  it needs to be told.  warts and all.  anything less is wrong, yet another injustice to add to the history of injustice.  why on earth do we need to hide from our own history, or retell it in a way that leaves the important bits out?  if it makes some people uncomfortable, then maybe those people need to do a little self-reflection.  it's not like anyone is blaming them for what happened in the past - at the most, they will be shown how past events have led to them having a more privileged place in society today.  again, i'm failing to see how that's a bad thing.

waitangi day is the best day for our national day.  it's a day when we should be political as well as historically focussed, a day when we should feel both proud and sad, a day when we should reflect on both the good and the bad because that's who we are.  it should be a tumultuous and challenging day, not a day of false unity based on suppression of voices.

happy waitangi day to all of you.  and read this, it's lovely.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

kirikiriroa human rights network and the UPR

looks like 2014 is not going to be a good year for blogging - i'm just not finding the time to write, which is a pity because i miss it.  this is the first night for a while where i haven't had a meeting or an event, along with a ton of emails or a proposal or something else.

but at least i'm seeing some progress with the work i'm doing.  the campaign for consent has been keeping me busy, and we've had some wins in the last couple of weeks.  we managed to secure funding for a project to put some messaging into student orientation packs, & tomorrow we're having a stick-a-thon to put the messaging on to 3B1 notebooks.  the local YWCA is helping out with that.  here is the thing we are sticking on:

don't know how well that will come out on the blog, but we went for positive messaging around consent.  hopefully it will make a difference.  we've also managed to do quite a bit of networking & we're hoping for some positive results around that.

one of the things i did want to write about is the universal periodic review of human rights, and i may do more on that when i have a little more time to get into the details of the recommendations.  it's a process carried out by the united nations that happens every four years.  i had the privilege of being part of a group that sent someone to present to a pre-session thing at the end of last year.  hamilton has a human rights network, a group of people who have had some training from the human rights commission to be human rights facilitators, a programme they call taku manawa.  our presentation went under the name of "kirikiriroa human rights network" and was presented by rachel o'connor.

rachel found out about the UPR while doing some further human rights training, and so, because of her enthusiasm, we were able to be part of the process.  the bulk of the work was done by her, and the whole experience has been really useful for all of us.  our presentation focused on 3 areas: racially motivated crime (the police are still not recording ethnicity data for victims of crime, so we have no idea of how much hate crime happens in nz); the impact of the mass arrival bill on racial discrimination (the political use of fear of masses of people arriving in boats to nz to change this law has been harmful, tracey barnett has written a lot about this); and the refugee resettlement quota (with a recommendation to increase numbers to allow family reunification, which is known to improve settlement outcomes for refugees).

a fourth point noted in our presentation was the need for better consultation with the public regarding the whole UPR process.  it was something that didn't receive much publicity in the lead-up & there wasn't much funding provided by the government for consultation (hardly a surprise, because that would mean people would be raising human rights issues which would make the government look bad).  hopefully, there will be more ability for people to have input when the next review comes around.

so after organisations had presented to the pre-session, a couple of weeks ago we had the minister fronting up to answer questions & we had other countries giving us their recommendations (pdf), based on largely on what was presented at the pre-session.

one of the issues that comes up with this kind of thing is that various countries with poor human rights records are giving recommendations to improve human rights in our countries.  and i bet, when i talk of these various countries, most people's minds will automatically go towards countries in asia, africa & the middle east.  there is a narrative that first world countries are superior in human rights to third world countries, and that therefore, third world countries really should have nothing to say about human rights in first world countries.

i find that really problematic for a a variety of reasons.  first, the most violent and vicious human rights abuses tend to be as a result of scarce resources, and people fighting over them.  in that process, human rights get ignored.  scarcity of resources and third world poverty can be linked to unfair global trade practices, historical loss of wealth through colonisation and current loss of wealth through invasion and occupation.  a lot of these things are as a result of actions by first world countries.  while they may have stronger human rights records within their own countries (and that is debatable), their foreign policy is rife with abuses in other countries.

more than that, human rights abuses in first world countries are often downplayed or ignored altogether.  so ireland has had a history of sexual abuse & exploitation of the labour of young women (considered "fallen"); the united states has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and a huge imbalance in the number of black men being incarcerated; australia has major issues re the aborigines and the stolen generation, land grabs and the like.  there are plenty of other examples from many other countries, including poverty & access to health care, workplace deaths etc.

the thing is that there are rarely calls for boycotts of first world countries, rarely any challenge to their rights to speak about human rights.  that is hugely problematic.

in terms of this process, the individuals who were giving their recommendations on behalf of their countries will have a good background in human rights & their recommendations will be based on the submissions.  their recommendations have value, regardless of what is happening in their home countries, and i would hope that all recommendations from all countries are given equal weight.