Maori Solidarity Committee condemns arrests, protests outside UN building in Montreal
By Ezra Black Over 100 New Zealand police raided the homes of several well-known Maori sovereignty activists last week to allegedly search for evidence related to “terrorism” offences.
Supporters of the activists are condemning the government’s actions as an act of repression under the guise of fighting terror, and say that the activists are in fact peaceful.
The 17 mainly-Maori activists arrested face mostly weapons charges, although terrorism charges may follow. New Zealand’s Counter-Terrorism legislation, passed in 2002, gave police unprecedented powers, including imprisoning anyone “who intends to cause significant disruption to commercial interests or government interests,” according to the Privacy Commissioner’s report to the Minister of Justice.
“New Zealand is now waging a militarized campaign against Maori sovereignty,” said Shannon Walsh, a member of the Maori Solidarity Committee, a Montreal-area group.
“Our goal was to show solidarity with those in New Zealand who continue to be persecuted by legislation that criminalizes dissent.”
The group organized a protest in front of the UN Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal, coinciding with protests held around the world this week in support of the sovereignty campaigners and in opposition to New Zealand for labelling its indigenous political dissent movement as “terrorist.”
This follows demonstrations Friday in Whakatane, a town in northern New Zealand, where 1,500 protestors rallied in solidarity with those arrested and carried banners proclaiming, “We are not terrorists – we’ve been terrorized.”
“We hope [the government of New Zealand] feels embarrassed, especially since they announced their candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council last week,” said Walsh.
New Zealand’s treatment of indigenous activists has been compared to similar treatment in Canada. Mohawk activist Shawn Brant faces nine charges for two blockades earlier this year outside the Tyendinaga community near Kingston, Ontario.
Brant has also been branded a criminal and, like Iti, he was denied bail and will soon face trial.
“We think Canada is such a progressive society, but we see a history of repression of [indigenous] peoples in Canada, from the Ipperwash Crisis where [native protestor] Dudley George was killed, to the recent imprisoning of Shawn Brant, and we need to pay attention,” Walsh said.
Last month, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United States were the only four countries to vote against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The UN General Assembly adopted the declaration by a vote of 143-4, with 11 abstentions.
In response to the outcry in New Zealand over the raids last week, Global Peace & Justice Auckland, a network that works on peace and justice issues, demanded the country’s parliament wait until tensions cool before passing the Terrorism Suppression Amendment Bill, a proposed amendment to current terrorism laws that was reported back from the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee yesterday.
If the bill is passed, courts could not review designations of terrorists or terrorist organizations, and they would be decided by the UN list, which has been largely drawn up by the U.S. Critics have claimed that the new bill would harm legitimate political protest and remove civil rights safeguards at the same time.
“We blatantly refused to sign the declaration when clearly the struggles are present here,” said Walsh.
Tomorrow has been designated an international day of solidarity for the so-called “Urewera Seventeen,” named after the region where they were arrested.