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COMMENTARY: By John Minto in Christchurch

On December 30, New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade published a tweet condemning the forced closure of two Russian human rights groups, International Memorial and the Memorial Human Rights Centre.

The groups were shut down by the Russian Supreme Court which was enforcing strict laws relating to dealings with “foreign agents”.

In releasing the tweet, the government urged Russia to “live up to its civil and political rights commitments”.

Our government has also been speaking out against human rights abuses in China against the Uighur people, to the extent of facilitating a parliamentary motion condemning the cruel policies of the Chinese government.

Compare the criticism of Russia and China with MFAT’s reaction to Israel’s outrageous attacks on Palestinian human rights groups last October when it declared six of them to be “terrorist” organisations.

The targeted groups (Bisan, Al-Haq, Addameer, Defence for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees) typically challenge human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority as well as Israel, both of which routinely detain Palestinian activists.

Israel’s “terrorist” claim against these groups was a blatant attempt to undermine some of the most effective Palestinian civil society organisations, stifle their collective voices, and cut their sources of funding.

Not a peep from MFAT
But not a peep from MFAT. No tweets, no public statements, nothing.

When our Foreign Minister is asked about these things her officials say the government is “very concerned” about developments in the Middle East and “keeping a close watch” on the situation. They say they regularly raise human rights concerns with the Israeli ambassador in meetings with officials.

Heaven only knows what goes on in those meetings but if all human rights abuses by Israel against the Palestinian people were discussed, the Israeli ambassador would be in permanent residence at MFAT.

MFAT gives similar responses when massive human rights abuses are perpetrated against the people of West Papua by the Indonesian Army, which has occupied the territory since 1962. These are discussed behind closed doors, if they are raised at all, with Indonesian officials.

So what’s the difference that results in the Russian and Chinese governments being castigated for human rights abuses but for countries like Indonesia and Israel, there is minimal, if any, public comment?

The awful truth is that our current government has moved New Zealand closer to the US than at any time since the 1980s and MFAT calls out human rights abuses to a US agenda.

If the abuses are perpetrated by enemies of the US, such as in Russia or China, they get a full public blast but if US allies are killing unarmed people protesting the occupation of their country then it’s all hushed up.

Kept ‘in the family’
It’s kept “in the family”, behind closed doors. Martin Luther King’s comment about “the injustice of silence” applies.

Human rights abuses against Palestinians and the people of West Papua continue because countries like New Zealand have self-important ministry officials who think it’s clever to operate a public/private hierarchy of human rights abuses according to US criteria.

Aotearoa New Zealand is complicit in many ongoing human rights abuses through our silence.

Cowardice is another word that comes to mind. It’s not acceptable.

The hypocrisy of the US, and Aotearoa New Zealand’s, position on human rights was laid bare last week when Amnesty International released a 280-page report which concluded that Israel was an apartheid state. US Government officials attacked the report outright without reading it and without challenging any of the report’s substance.

MFAT hasn’t uttered a word
At a Washington press conference, a State Department official was left to try to explain why US Human Rights Reports have quoted extensively from Amnesty International regarding Ethiopia, China, Iran, Burma, Syria and Cuba but reject outright Amnesty’s report on Israel.

Needless to say, MFAT hasn’t uttered a word on the Amnesty report but is busy helping support a webinar intending to “build strategic partnerships in agriculture” with Israel through AgriTech New Zealand. This is deeply embarrassing to this country and MFAT should cancel Aotearoa New Zealand’s involvement in this webinar.

It goes without saying this country should stand against all abuses of human rights in a principled and forthright manner. This won’t happen until the current leadership of MFAT is stood down.

John Minto is a political activist and commentator, and spokesperson for Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa. This article was first published by the New Zealand Herald and is republished with the author’s permission.

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