A closing argument from Phil Quin

Phil Quin’s opinion started several days of online discussion over Golriz Ghahraman’s involvement in the defence of someone alleged to have been involved in genocide in Rwanda.

Quin doesn’t step back from some of his arguments, but now concedes:

It was my fault. I should have known the arguments were way too complex to convey in two rushed opeds (in both cases, written by request of editors and not pitched by me). If I wanted to do justice to the issue, I should have breathed through my nose and penned a lengthy detailed feature piece. Or I should have shut my fat face.

He stands by his core argument, but now sees the hopelessness of launching an informed opinion on a complex topic into a brief op-ed.

But the oped form is hopelessly inadequate when it comes to dense and complex subject matter about which the readership concerned, through no fault of their own, don’t grasp an iota of  essential  context. Such opeds reliably miss their mark, creating yet more unhelpful noise.

I’m afraid I’m guilty on this front.

You will never persuade me the ICTR defence weren’t a collection of ratbags who used the Tribunal as a means to relitigate the politics and culpability of the genocide. This is an opinion I share with almost everyone I know who knows anything about the ICTR — and that is literally hundreds of people who, without exception, know heaps more about it than the randos on Kiwi Twitter who couldn’t care less about Rwanda or international justice but wanted to attack me. Even the people who really wanted to agree with me were flailing about with insufficient knowledge.

All I achieved by trying to fit a round peg of an argument — that Golriz was phenomenally unwise to partake in the ICTR, something I will believe with all my heart to my dying day — into a square peg of an oped format is to increase net ignorance around the subject, and give partisan hacks the chance to play silly games and engage in dishonest name calling.

It debases the discourse, dishonours the real life suffering of many — and, rather than uplifting our collective understanding of a terrible period of history, it turned it into just another political shitfight to give partisans the visceral pleasure of dehumanizing, misrepresenting and flagrantly lying about anyone with which we disagree.

Amongst the shitfight there were some valid arguments in support of Ghahraman being involved in attempts at international justice as a defence lawyer, as well as there being valid arguments about her and the Greens brushing over details of her legal experience in her political promotion.

Never say never and all that, but I will keep my opinions to myself from now on unless I feel my contribution is sufficiently well informed to make a useful contribution, and won’t simply trigger another unhelpful round of substance-free nastiness. I will still tweet, mind you. Any idiot can do that. If the urge to write in a longer form strikes, I’ll read a book by someone I disagree with instead.

I suspect that no matter how well informed someone is and how detailed they make an argument the reality is that when it comes to politically charged discussion the same outcome is likely to occur – most vocal politically slanted people are likely to skim read and jump to their own conclusions regardless.

But some of us would appreciate more depth and detail, and it is good to have it on record.

Ideally we would get a lengthy argument from both Quin and Ghahraman, so we can see both sides of a complex story. However I suspect that both would now prefer to move on from last week’s eruption.

From Phil Quin: On opining

Context behind Quin’s allegations against Ghahraman

A counter to Phil Quin’s allegations against Golriz Gharaman by ‘Salt-Pile at Reddit, giving some well researched context, was posted in comments yesterday by Mefrostate but I think it deserves more of an airing.


Dirty Politics: the disturbing context behind Phil Quin’s allegations against Golriz Ghahraman.

As has been widely reported, Phil Quin recently accused Green MP Golriz Ghahraman of genocide denial and of supporting those accused of human rights abuses. One of the keystones of his accusations – even after his public apology – was a paper Ghahraman co-wrote with lawyer Peter Robinson in 2008, entitled Can Rwandan President Kagame be Held Responsible at the ICTR for the Killing of President Habyarimana? which was published in the Journal of International Criminal Justice.

Reading this paper, what really stood out to me was that it didn’t support any of Quin’s claims about it. Up until this point, I’d assumed Phil Quin was a well-meaning individual with a passionate interest in human rights which had led him to Rwanda, but that simply couldn’t account for the surprisingly large gap between what he claimed the paper said, and what it actually said. 1

My interest was piqued. Who was Phil Quin, and what on earth would make him misinterpret a dry legal paper about hypothetical jurisdictions as “genocide denial”?

The situation in Rwanda between 2011 and 2014, when Quin worked as a consultant for the Rwandan Government, is key to understanding his allegations. A comprehensive report produced that same year by Freedom House details an authoritarian, repressive regime. 2 Despite official democracy and a fairly robust electoral system, President Kagame won over 90% of the vote, and political opponents were allegedly harshly suppressed. There was little freedom of the press; extrajudicial killing and torture were allegedly common. Accusations of genocide played a role in civil suppression:

A 2001 law against “divisionism” and a 2008 law against “genocide ideology” have been used to stifle free speech by equating criticism of the regime with support for ethnic hatred. Government domination of civil society remains intense, and few vestiges of the independent press remain following several years of intense suppression. Even average citizens must censor their conversations, since open discussion of ethnicity is regarded as divisionism and can lead to imprisonment. (see also HRW)

Alleged human rights abuses by the Kagame Government in Rwanda had really been stacking up. A report by the US Department of State for 2013 summarized:

the government’s targeting of journalists, political opponents, and human rights advocates for harassment, arrest, and abuse; disregard for the rule of law among security forces and the judiciary; restrictions on civil liberties […]; arbitrary or unlawful killings, both within the country and abroad; disappearances; torture; harsh conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest; prolonged pretrial detention; executive interference in the judiciary; and government infringement on citizens’ privacy rights.

The report goes on to discuss brutality committed against citizens at the hands of the Rwandan Police, including beatings, forced confessions, and torture. It also discusses the denial of pre-trial rights and lack of access to defense lawyers.

In 2010, the year before Quin arrived, the Rwandan Government had been rocked by a controversial UN report which alleged serious war crimes committed by Kagame’s forces in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo during the Second Congo War4 By 2012, it emerged that a delayed UN report accused the Kagame Government of supporting and even commanding the notorious “M23” rebels who were accused of multiple war crimes. This connection was hotly denied by both the rebels and by Kagame.

How many of these allegations were true, and how many were concocted by the regime’s enemies as a kind of “whataboutism” (to somehow retrospectively justify genocide against Kagame’s ethnic group, as it alleges), is unclear. What is clear, however, is that one of President Kagame’s responses to these ongoing problems was to initiate a number of highly expensive Public Relations campaigns from 2009 onward, aimed at western political and financial elites, with campaign strategies which included going on the offensive towards those who criticized them (including NGOs), and presenting Kagame himself as a “democratic, visionary leader”.

Enter Phil Quin, who describes his time in Rwanda as follows:

Between 2011-2014, based in Kigali and New York, I consulted to the Government of Rwanda: setting up a whole-of-government communications operation, as well as assisting Rwandan Government as it successfully sought a UN Security Council berth; commemorate twenty years since the Genocide against the Tutsi; and navigate a raft of sensitive and complex diplomatic and political challenges.

In other words, Public Relations work for the Kagame Government? After his time as a Labour staffer Quin had what he describes as a “lacklustre career” as a Public Relations consultant before moving to Rwanda to, as he coyly put it, “train and supervise an emerging generation of communications professionals”. Certainly, Quin is pictured on a Rwandan Government website, giving Public Relations training to the Rwandan Police – a police force which stood accused of many human rights abuses at the time.

I can discover little about the specifics of how Quin helped to implement Rwandan PR strategies in the face of these complex political challenges, though he seems to have penned the odd attack in defence of Kagame here and there.5 But one telling glimpse is afforded in this blog entry by a former BBC World Service journalistin 2012. The journalist describes how Quin uses genocide denial accusations to try to silence reportage on the use of torture and “disappearance” in Rwandan military detention facilities. The reportage itself was based on an Amnesty International briefing to the UN.

In condemning Ghahraman for her role in acting as defence counsel for people accused of genocide, it seems likely that Quin has reached for a familiar narrative which he had almost certainly been using in his former capacity as an employee of the Kagame Government. This could account for how he came to see Robinson & Ghahraman’s legal article as some kind of attack on President Kagame, and therefore a legitimate target for his accusations of “genocide denial”.

Quin’s attack on Ghahraman makes more sense in this context. For example, his Newsroom article rather oddly begins by implying that the ICTR – set up to deal with the most serious war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity – compares unfavourably with gacaca courts, Rwanda’s effort to process the sheer volume of those accused of smaller roles in genocide through a grassroots process. Quin says gacaca is “rightly seen as best practice in post-conflict reconciliation”, but in fact it was controversial, not least because of its violation of fair trial rights; as Human Rights Watch notes, it curtailed the right to have adequate time to prepare a defence and ignored the accused’s right to a lawyer. This strange apples-and-oranges comparison makes more sense when one considers that emphasizing the narrative of gacaca as a “just solution” was a key strategic point in one of the Rwandan Government’s Public Relations campaign plans.

If you have a hammer, as the saying goes, everything looks like a nail. It’s clear now what Quin’s hammer was, but why did it take until now for him to try to nail Ghahraman with it?

I don’t know the answer to this question, but the timing suggests it is part of a wider smear campaign to discredit her as an MP (other examples include the Farrar post which dog-whistled on her refugee status) through creating doubt about her values, sincerity, and legitimacy. That this is in the wake of Manus Island negotiations with the Australian Government is unlikely to be coincidence.

If this is part of a coordinated attack, it’s obvious that with his lack of formal ties to the political right (as a “former Labour staffer”), and what seems to be unquestioningly taken as “cred” on Rwanda, Phil Quin is the right person to do this job. It should give us pause, though, that what we have here is an experienced political PR consultant who appears to be using tactics honed to silence people – tactics which were deliberately calculated to have a chilling effect on discussion around human rights abuses (and consequently on international attempts to preserve human rights) – and that these tactics are now being deployed right in the midst of New Zealand’s public discussion around refugees and immigration.

.

Notes:

1. For a discussion of the substance of Quin’s misrepresentation of Robinson & Ghahraman, read Otago law professor Andrew Geddis’ take on it here, and University of London law professor Kevin Jon Heller’s take on it here. My own brief, informal summary of the paper’s actual content is here.

2. Freedom House is often criticized for favouring countries which are supported by the US. However, this means that Freedom House is probably biased in favour of the Kagame regime in Rwanda, as the US broadly supports it. For an in-depth discussion of how the US may have essentially funded Kagame’s invasion of Rwanda, see this article. For an alternative source for some of the information contained in the FH report, see HRW.

3. An actual report is available here. A brief overview of the report and of Rwanda’s denial is here.

4. Another of the Kagame Government’s PR issues was the alleged Rwandan backing, in this same war, of RCD troops who had participated in war-crimes against BaMbuti Pygmies also known as “Effacer le Tableau” – “erasing the board” – in 2003.

5. Around this time, Quin may also have met fellow Rwandan Government employee and communications expert Tom Ndahiro,whose opinion he quotes.

Whale shit

Bigger than bull at Whale Oil.

The campaign against Golriz Ghahraman is still rambling on at WO. Yesterday was quieter, with ‘just’ a lame cartoon plus another dirty Photoshop posted by Juana Atkins.

But they are back at it with two posts already today, with some Whale sized shit from Slater.

With all of the revelations we’ve seen about Golriz Ghahraman over the last week, I had expected the story to be picked up by the mainstream media.  That’s their job right? To report on facts and raise issues of concern about the current government, particularly when it comes to lies and deception peddled by our Members of Parliament.  Yet it’s been strangely quiet.

Media were all over it when the story broke, and for a day or two afterwards, and then it subsided, as is the norm for stories. What I think Slater means is that the media are quiet now while he is trying to beat a dead horse story.

So far, the mainstream media have stayed away from this story in droves.  They seem unwilling to publish anything that might make this Government look bad.  Stories the previous Government would have been castigated about for weeks seem to slip quietly under the rug.

From the 26th November (Tuesday) all the main media outlets covered the story. Therre is even a new opinion piece on Stuff today by Damien Grant: ‘Why I admire Golriz Ghahraman’:

We like to hold our elected representatives to an impossible moral standard. The few who can achieve such purity are so devoid of drive and ambition that they are ineffective in the blood-spattered arena that is modern politics.

Fudging your CV, embellishing the past and periodic acts of bastardy while appearing angelic – even as the viscera of your opponents taint the edges of your apparel –  are prerequisites for a successful life in politics.

John Key was called the smiling assassin. Jacinda Ardern’s first act as leader was to nudge Metiria Turei under a recycling truck while empathetically embracing the nation’s  impoverished children in a Kate Sylvester dress.

Ghahraman can have no complaint that Quin has brought these issues into the light. When you stand for office such scrutiny is expected but I do not care if Ghahraman fudged her CV or had photos taken with war criminals.

We vote for people because we want them to get things done. There isn’t any point in marrying a eunuch or voting for a saint.

Slater does not seem to favour the saintly style of blogging, but seems to expect unblemished politicians (except ones he is shilling for) and media.

He closes his post wanly:

We are long overdue some real balance by the mainstream media.

Unwittingly witty. He wants ‘real balance’ from other media. That’s kinda cute given his own degrees of imbalance.

Like this:

Photoshop of the day

by SB on December 2, 2017 at 1:00pm

Slater seems to have approved of this, he has commented in the thread.

This is whale sized shit.

And he wonders why media don’t continue his political attack campaigns any more.

Lessons for Ghahraman (and others)

Golriz Ghahraman and the Greens have taken a hammering this week. Some of the criticism has been justified and fair, some has been way over the top and unfair.

Lessons should have been learned – but there is no sign of that yet as far as I’m aware.

Duncan Garner writes in Prosecuting evil but quietly defending the indefensible:

Green MP and human rights lawyer Golriz Ghahraman and her party learned a tough lesson this week about truth, honesty and spin.

Be upfront. Tell the truth. Don’t massage and carefully manipulate your image and public reputation when it ain’t entirely true.

The Greens thought they had stumbled across an angel on the side of good,  sending bad men away. Not quite.

And what did we, the public, learn?

We learned these Greens are no better than the rest of the buggers despite an at times holier than thou outlook.

Truth is Ghahraman was happy to let it spread that she was a crusading international prosecutor. Sounded great, looked even better.

There was nothing wrong with what she did as a lawyer. Her problem was how some of what she did, defending people accused of horrendous crimes against humanity, was glossed over in her and her Green party spin.

No wonder her leader James Shaw said sorry this week for getting it wrong twice. Shaw, like the rest of us, assumed she was doing god’s work. You can’t blame him.

When he got it wrong, why didn’t Ghahraman fix it? Why didn’t she put The Guardian right three weeks ago when it made the same mistake? Why would she?

Truth is Ghahraman looks embarrassed to be defending those responsible for genocide. She looks embarrassed to have been on the side of defending some of the most evil war criminals this world has seen.

She wanted her role minimised because Rwanda was ugly.

It’s normal for people to downplay ugly things from their past, but it was handled poorly this week.

With all the ferrets and weasels trying to trip you up in Wellington it pays to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

But, no, she should not resign as an MP.

No, this is not about defence lawyers.

Yes, this is about the truth. And her wrestling match with it.

Sadly she has shown a serious lack of contrition. She should have said sorry rather than been so offended by the expose.

If she learns anything from this we should see a better response from her.

One emailer told me this week I was attacking her because she’s a “woman with lovely brown Persian skin”.

What?

What indeed. Being attacked because the target of criticism is female or non-European or an immigrant or whatever has become common in New Zealand political forums, and it’s crap.

This is a simple little story. A very basic one. This is about being economical with the truth. This is about minimising the unsavoury and seemingly indefensible.

It’s a rookie mistake, not telling the full story. Let it be a lesson – and stop taking us for fools. We see bull…. a mile away.

It’s been a tough week for Ghahraman. If she learns well from it she will become a stronger politician and a better MP.

I haven’t seen much sign of lessons learnt yet from her or her supporters.

Ghahraman open at times about her defence work

Newshub details Five times Golriz Ghahraman was open about her defence work.

1. The Herald‘s “Green MP Golriz Ghahraman on a life-changing year in Rwanda

“The mission was to individualise blame so groups don’t keep going in a cycle of violence. The point was to leave a legacy of everyone being equal before the law and change the culture of impunity so you don’t get to do whatever you want just because you’re the president .

“As told to Paul Little” – it doesn’t say when.

2. The Herald, again – but it didn’t make it past draft stage

“The story was supposed to be part of a pre-election series. But we used it when she was elected. Call me naive but I assumed getting defence experience was normal, not a big deal, and there were other more relevant things to include.”

Via Twitter, referring to an article on 7 October 2017 – Meet Golriz Ghahraman, the Green Party’s newest Member of Parliament.

3. Vice “We Can’t Rely on Majority Rule”: Meet NZ’s First Refugee MP

As a lawyer, Ghahraman has worked in International Criminal Tribunals in Yugoslavia, Cambodia and Rwanda. She’s worked on both sides of the fence—while in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal she was working as a prosecutor, but in Rwanda and Yugoslavia Ghahraman worked on the defence teams of people accused of appalling human rights abuses.

Despite coming from a strong advocacy background, she says she didn’t find it difficult defending perpetrators.

“No, I believe so strongly in the process,” Ghahraman says. “If you’re going to convict someone, you have to know what those individuals were actually responsible for. We have to have a fair process, because how we treat the worst people in our society actually does define us. Having that fair process after a war has happened really will define the kind of society that comes out of it.”

Her human rights background is key to why she decided to run for parliament at all—to pursue a human rights-based framework for policy and lawmaking. “Rights are universal, we achieve them by virtue of being human. We don’t have to achieve the moral high ground or some other measure of success, it’s a framework which protects the most vulnerable.

– 10 October 2017.

4. LinkedIn https://nz.linkedin.com/in/golriz-ghahraman-28aa9a17

Defence team on for the United Nations Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

 

5. NZ Law Society’s LawTalk magazine

“She has worked as a prosecutor and defence lawyer at United Nations tribunals for Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, and the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia, on trials of former heads of state accused of committing international crimes and human rights violations.”

– 3 November 2017

It’s obvious she didn’t try to hide her defence work, it just wasn’t presented openly and accurately on ger Green Party profile.

There may be more.

 

Criticism of defence lawyers unacceptable

There’s been some fair questions asked of Golriz Ghahraman over what was involved in her international work as a lawyer, and how that was described by her and by the Green Party.

And there has been a lot of over the top and at times ridiculous claims and accusations.

The Law Society has come out in defence of defence lawyers – criticism of what Ghahraman

 


Implied criticism of defence lawyers unacceptable

Implied criticism of defence lawyers unacceptable

The right to a lawyer is a fundamental part of our justice system and any criticism of lawyers for defending people charged with heinous crimes is not acceptable, the New Zealand Law Society says.

“The current comments on Green MP Golriz Ghahraman appear to be over her alleged failure to state that she had both defended and prosecuted people charged with war crimes,” Law Society President Kathryn Beck says.

“Some coverage has, however, also seemed to imply that there is something wrong in a lawyer acting for a person who is being tried for serious crimes.

“It is natural that people might be angry and distressed by such cases and the perpetrators, but it is totally wrong to identify the lawyer with the client’s actions.”

Defence lawyer and convenor of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee, Steve Bonnar QC, says there is often misunderstanding of the role of a lawyer.

“Our law requires lawyers to uphold the rule of law and to facilitate the administration of justice in New Zealand. The general rule is that lawyers must be available to act for the public and must not, without good cause, refuse to accept instructions from any client or prospective client for services within that lawyer’s fields of practice.

“Therefore, often a lawyer does not have a choice as to what cases to accept. The personal attributes of the prospective client and the merits of the matter upon which the lawyer is consulted are not considered good cause for refusing to accept instructions.”

Mr Bonnar says the rules of Conduct and Client Care which bind all lawyers say that as far as possible, the defence lawyer must protect the client from being convicted.

“The defence lawyer is required to put the prosecution to proof in obtaining a conviction, regardless of any personal belief or opinion of the lawyer as to the client’s guilt or innocence. It is not the role of the lawyer to determine a client’s guilt or innocence – that is the role of the Tribunal, Judge or jury hearing the case,” he says.

“New Zealand is fortunate to have a strong and dedicated community of lawyers who are available to defend anyone, no matter what they are accused of. It would be of great concern if the essential job they do came under attack.”

Golriz Ghahraman scrutiny and support continues

The Golriz Ghahraman  attacks and defences continued yesterday.

Andrew Geddis: Did Golriz Ghahraman do anything wrong?

The job of an international human rights lawyer isn’t always battling for the angels. Sometimes it involves having to look out for the interests of devils, as Golriz Ghahraman did.

Defending nasty individuals is just a part of what international human rights lawyers do. Consider the example of probably the world’s most famous such lawyer, Amal Alamuddin (now Clooney).

For me, this serving a greater project also distinguishes Ghahraman from MPs whose previous jobs involved taking on more morally questionable duties. Ghahraman played a necessary (if hard) role in an internationally established institution designed to resolve in an open and legitimate fashion individual guilt for horrible actions (thus showing that we collectively are better that those we condemn through it).

…we need to keep this in context. I’m sure that the various other lawyers sitting in Parliament may have done work for past clients that they probably would rather wasn’t waved in front of the public. That which is legal, and indeed completely ethical, can still be politically troublesome. And political parties aren’t exactly in the business of highlighting the politically troublesome aspects of their candidate’s past.

Perhaps, then, Ghahraman’s complete story can best help to remind us that stories with the good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other generally belong in books or on movie screens. In real life, and certainly in the practice of international human rights law, the narrative is (as they say) a bit more problematic. It shouldn’t really be a shock to us that this is so.

 

Phil Quin: Green MP Golriz Ghahraman pictured smiling in photograph alongside Rwandan convicted for inciting genocide

It rightly horrifies Rwandans that a New Zealand politician didn’t simply work for war criminals, but went out of her way to do so as a volunteer.

Not, mind you, volunteering to build homes for widows and orphans. Not working with Rwandan law firms to help build capacity in human rights law. Not spending one moment in the presence of the families whose loved ones were slaughtered at the behest of her clients.

Instead, she chose to use her time as a volunteer in Africa defending some of the worst criminals of the latter part of last century.

A free agent, Golriz Ghahraman is entitled to make that choice, just as we are entitled to assess her suitability for public office as a result.

The UN spent $2 billion during the life of the tribunal. They had 200 accredited lawyers. By the end, there were only 61 convictions – or $32 million a pop.

The notion that the ICTR was under-resourced, as Ghahraman claimed in the NZ Herald yesterday, is laughable.

Weka at The Standard: Thank-you Golriz

ffs NZ, get a grip. Then have a think about fairness and what kind of society we want.

I generally like being a New Zealander, but fuck we’re an embarrassment sometimes. In the last 24 hours a national debate has broken out about whether war criminals on trial should have legal representation. Micky has covered the basics of the beat up story here.  Yes, NZ is still wondering about how fairness and legality works.

Except that’s not what’s really going on. Oh look, Whale Oil, Kiwiblog and parts of the MSM all doing hatchet jobs on a Green MP’s career. Wonder how that happened. I guess it’s time for the Greens to be on the receiving end of Dirty Politics, although what’s really strange is that none of this is news.

To get all this out in the open so soon may help Ghahraman’s political career, if she manages to weather the storm. She should learn a lot from it. Some of it is fair questioning, some of it is dirty and low, but far better now than in the middle of an election campaign.


Added:

Another post from Andrew Geddis: Contra Quin: Ghahraman still did nothing wrong

Phil Quin says Golriz Ghahraman’s time working for defendants in Rwandan war crimes trials deserves our condemnation. I don’t think he’s established the basis for such a claim.

The issue of Green MP Golriz Ghahraman’s past actions on international criminal tribunals is a pretty weird one. There doesn’t appear to be any dispute about what she did. The argument is all about what those actions mean and how we should judge them.

To then thoroughly damn a 25-year-old Ghahraman for helping to write an academic paper, largely because of the findings of a report that came out four years later, seems remarkably churlish. The paper may be bad or ill-founded (although having looked at its subsequent citations, no-one else seems to have had a problem with it before now). But some sort of apology for genocide or giver of comfort to those who committed it? I think not.

So with all due respect to Quin’s experience in Rwanda and knowledge of the ground there, I just don’t think he’s accurately represented what Ghahraman’s place at the ICTR involved, nor do I think his criticism of a paper she helped co-write is really fair.

Geddis in a comment on that post:

However, in fairness to Quin, Rwanda clearly is a subject he cares deeply and passionately about, and has walked the hard road on. So I’m prepared to accept that he’s driven by a genuine sense of outrage at what occured there. I just think he’s misdirected that outrage in Ghahraman’s case and it’s caused him to misunderstand just what she did, as well as coloured his views of what she has written. Sometimes being too close to a subject causes you to lose perspective.

Golriz Ghahraman scrutiny over Rwanda defence

New Green MP  Golriz Ghahraman is under scrutiny again, this time her record as a human rights lawyer is being examined.

David Farrar seems to have kicked this off at Kiwiblog: Ghahraman defended not prosecuted the genociders in Rwanda

There is nothing wrong with being a defence lawyer – even for war criminals.

But the issue here is the way the Greens have selectively published material that makes it looks like she was prosecuting, not defending.

She did later go on to prosecute in Cambodia, and again there is nothing wrong with having started as a defence lawyer so you could gain experience to become a prosecutor.  But this is not the story that we were told.

Her own maiden speech glosses over her work in Rwanda:

It was living in Africa working on genocide trials where I then learned how prejudice turns to atrocity. Politicians scapegoating groups, as a group, for any social ills, dehumanising language in the media, used for political gain-
Every time I see that I think: That’s how is how it starts.

I saw that at the Rwanda Tribunal, at The Hague and when I prosecuted the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

Very clever. It doesn’t state she prosecuted in Rwanda but you clearly gain that impression as she lumps it in with prosecuting in Cambodia.

This story has spread. Barry Soper: Greens blurring the lines once again

Politics is most certainly about perception and if you look at the publicity blurb surrounding the first refugee elected to our Parliament you’d come away thinking Golriz Ghahraman who was born in Iran was a human rights battler, pure and simple.

In her maiden speech, she talked about living in Africa, working on genocide trials and learning how prejudice turns into atrocity. She waxed about politicians scapegoating groups for any social ills, using dehumanising language in the media for their own gain.

Ghahraman went on to say she saw that at the Rwanda Tribunal, at The Hague and when she prosecuted the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

Now listening to that you’d think she was the battler she’s been painted as.

And that was reinforced by The Greens who are very good at presenting the narrative that suits their purpose, although the narrative surrounding their former co-leader Metiria Turei obviously got out of control and almost led to their undoing.

In their blurb about their new MP, The Greens said her work has focused on enforcing human rights and holding governments to account. Golriz, they tell us, has lived and worked in Africa, The Hague and Cambodia, putting on trial world leaders for abusing their power and restoring communities after war and human rights atrocities.

Now that leaves the clear impression she was the champion of bringing these people to justice.

But in fact, at the Rwandan Tribunal she was representing the war criminals in the genocide of around eight hundred thousand Tutsies. She complained about how poorly resourced the defence was. It was as though the United Nations didn’t really believe in the process, she opined.

She’s now saying she wasn’t responsible for the Greens’ blurb, which may be the case, but it seems she did little to correct it.

She should be responsible for how her bio is presented by her party, but as a new MP she should have been assisted more accurately than this.

The Green Party is unaccustomed to the greater levels of scrutiny imposed on parties in Government. They should be learning fast.

Ghahraman could get worn down by all this scrutiny, as some do in Parliament, or she could learn to weather these storms. She seems to be attracting more attention than any other new MPs – for example has anyone heard anything about scrutiny of new NZ First MPs?

Perhaps because she has a different background Ghahraman stands out as a target.

She is standing up to this latest scrutiny. Some criticisms have seemed fairly extreme.

NZ Herald: Golriz Ghahraman says genocide-denier comments ‘absolutely offensive’

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman says it is “absolutely offensive” to be called a genocide-denier, and insists she has not misled the public over defending people accused of genocide in Rwanda.

But she admits that her profile page on the Green Party website, which states that she has put African leaders on trial for abusing their power, “could be clearer”.

Her profile page on the Green party website says: “Golriz has lived and worked in Africa, The Hague and Cambodia, putting on trial world leaders for abusing their power.”

Ghahraman admitted that her profile page, which she didn’t write, “could be clearer, but it’s certainly not false”.

But she said she has never hid her defence work, that it’s “certainly not something I’m ashamed of”, and that international criminal justice needs both the defence and the prosecution to work well to ensure a robust system.

“It’s absolutely offensive to say that I deny genocide, because there’s nothing that’s been more important to me than to highlight genocide as an international crime.

She said that she worked as an unpaid intern as part of a team that defended Joseph Nzirorera, who died before he could be convicted of genocide, and in a paid position as part of a team representing pop singer Simon Bikindi, who was convicted for incitement to genocide.

She worked on the prosecution at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

“No one is saying there is no such thing as genocide. It’s like saying a defence lawyer [defending someone charged with murder] in our justice system here is a murder-denier.

“My CV is on LinkedIn. It’s certainly not something I’m ashamed of. It’s the human rights model. We have to work on both sides.”

It’s been a tough start as an MP for Ghahraman.

Green horse trading bombed

A leaked Green email suggests an attempt at negotiating with Labour over some minor policies – and Martyn Bradbury is having a fit over it.

Stuff:  Horse trading between Labour and Greens to get NZ First’s ‘Waka Jumping’ bill across the line

Labour, NZ First and National have all decried a Green Party MP’s suggestion that horse trading could be used as a negotiating tactic to get a national “Parihaka Day”.

The Green Party is considering opposing NZ First’s “Waka Jumping” bill – a deal struck in coalition talks – unless Labour gives it a national “Parihaka Day”.

Green Party justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman, in an internal email obtained by Stuff, suggested some horse trading with Labour to acknowledge the fact the party has long opposed waka jumping legislation.

Ghahraman’s suggested her colleague Marama Davidson’s bill, which recognises the anniversary of the invasion of Parihaka by making it a National Day, be put on the table for Government support.

That’s an odd sort of policy trade.

Justice Minister Andrew Little, deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and National deputy leader Paula Bennett have all rallied against the idea of horse trading, saying its use is inappropriate when it comes to getting legislation through.

Little said he supported the idea of a day to commemorate the Māori land wars, but didn’t want to see a national “Parihaka Day” the subject of some “cheap horse trading exercise”.

The “Waka Jumping” bill has been drafted by Justice Minister Andrew Little and the email suggests he’s already agreed to some amendments.

Peters said he wasn’t aware of the conversations between Little and Ghahraman but NZ First didn’t horse trade.

“We don’t sell our principles, we don’t either half-way in or half-way out. If something is sound we’ll back it … but I think horse trading on matters of principle are thoroughly bad.”

Peters wouldn’t say if he supported the idea of a national “Parihaka Day” other than to say “if an idea’s got merit, it’s got merit on its own”.

Bennett said it was “disgraceful” for any political party to think they could horse trade on any matter.

“It should be seen on its merits, for what it is, for what value it adds to democracy and for the people of New Zealand, and not just something you can trade away for something else you see as important.”

Isn’t that what the post-election negotiations were all about? I thought deals and trade offs were a major part of politics.

In the email Ghahraman said Little had “unlawfully” shown her a “ministerial advice paper” about proposed waka jumping legislation but not the full text of the bill.

In response Little said Ghahraman had likely misunderstood his “dry sense of humour” and he was making a joke that he was possibly breaking “Cabinet protocol”.

“I made a flippant remark … it was the advice paper as a precursor to the paper that goes to the Cabinet, which is ultimately the basis of the legislation. No unlawful activity was entered into.”

A spokesperson for the Green Party said this was an “internal document that was sent in error”.

Seems like some inexperience from Ghahraman , and possibly also from Little.  It’s embarrassing that this has been made public.

Martyn Bradbury is seriously unimpressed:  How ill prepared are the Greens for Government? This ill prepared…

They want  to blackmail the Government into supporting an idea that stands on its own two feet? Wouldn’t that in fact dishonour the very values Parihaka Day is supposed to espouse?

Are they listening to what they are saying for Gods sake?

This leak means the idea is utterly dead. There’s no way Labour or NZ First could look like they have been blackmailed into supporting Parihaka Day when they would have likely supported it anyway.

I’ve had my concerns about the Greens for some time, this leak has been a cringeworthy exercise in seeing how right those concerns were.

It gets funny when Bradbury gets into Peters’ fiscal doom territory.

Why does Winston want this waka jumping legislation in place?

He wants it in place because he knows there is one hell of a global economic correction coming and he knows the first thing the right wing do when a crisis of that magnitude threatens their wealth is they buy who they need to protect that wealth.

Winston is inoculating his own Party from having MPs who can be bought by National when the economy hits the skids, that’s why he included it in the negotiations with Labour. With that law in place he knows he can hold his Party together when the worst hits. This is a stability measure that holds the new Government together, what the internal memo shows is that the Greens seems to have no fucking clue as to why Winston wants this law, and they don’t understand that passing it strengthens the stability of the Government they themselves are part of!

Some people have a bit to learn about being in and supporting a Government.

Bradbury seems to have forgotten how National handled an actual global economic correction – everything they do has to be bombed apparently.

Maiden speech – Golriz Ghahraman

A big maiden speech from Green MP Golriz Ghahraman, with strong references to immigration and patriotism and refugees.

She talks of hardships involving war that most of us who have always lived in New Zealand have very fortunately not had to experience or suffer.

My parents.

Both strong, Iranian feminists. You lost everything. You lost your friends, your family, your professions and your language, because you weren’t willing to raise a little girl in oppression.

Thank you.

Closing comments:

Mr Speaker.

I stand here as a child of revolutionaries, as a child asylum seeker, as a international human rights lawyer, as an activist, and as a Green, and my standing here proves New Zealand is a place where a nine-year-old asylum seeker, a refugee, a girl from the Middle East can grow up to one day enter Parliament.

It proves the strength and the goodness of New Zealand’s values.

We all should be grateful and proud that Golriz can become an MP in New Zealand, and speak openly and passionately about her past and about her passion to bring about positive change.

Full draft transcript:


Mr Speaker, I congratulate you, and I look forward to your guidance in this House. I acknowledge also that we stand on land that was neve ceded, so I have acknowledged tangata whenua.

I begin by acknowledging what a breathtaking honour it is to sit among this Green caucus. It’s a dream. I also acknowledge those who’ve sat among you before now, in particular Catherine Delahunty and Keith Locke—you spoke to injustice wherever it happened, and, to someone like me, that meant a lot. Mojo Mathers, you taught me and us all that we are far more than our labels. And Metiria Turei, for baring your scars to highlight the pain of others, I thank you.

But today I also want to acknowledge those who tell me every day that I don’t belong here, that I should go home where I came from, that I should have been left to die, or that I have no right to criticise any politician in the country or take part in public life, because this isn’t my home. Some of them call for rifles to be loaded—it gets frightening.

I’m numb to it because that actually is the reality for those of us in this country from minority backgrounds if we do stand up and become visible. I want it noted that it’s also the consequence every time someone in this House scapegoats migrants, every time a TV presenter is allowed to ask the Prime Minister when our Governor General is going to look like a Kiwi and sound like a Kiwi and that Prime Minister just laughs, every time we call refugees “the leftovers from terrorist nations” for our political gain. We feel it on the streets; we can’t shed our skin.

Patriotism that seeks to quash dissent and divide us is archaic. It’s dangerous for our democracy. We can’t tolerate that. It’s antithetical to our culture. I love this country, but a love of this country—patriotism—means expecting the very best for her. It means fighting for the country we know is possible. So I criticise leaders who fall short, I protest, and I fight for equality and justice, because that is what loves looks like in public—that’s Dr Cornel West; that’s not me. So today I stand here proud and determined because today is about democracy and equality—values that New Zealand embodies, stands up for so boldly.

I am a child of revolutionaries. My parents faced tanks for democracy, at gunpoint fought for human rights. They faced torture to take back their country’s resource from imperialists, from dictators, and from corrupt corporate interests and put it back in the hands of the people. The Iranian revolution was one of the biggest popular revolutions in modern history. Everyone was out on the street—students, communists, socialists, and Islamists—fighting against inequality.

But their revolution was hijacked, and ultimately my life was shaped by one of the most repressive regimes in modern history. Everyone knew someone that disappeared into a torture chamber for speaking out; everyone knew a woman flogged for disregarding Islamic dress—and that wasn’t our culture, even for those of us who were Muslim. Everyone feared their phones being tapped; that was my childhood.

But it was also just the backdrop to a bloody eight year war we fought against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. I remember the bombs and the sirens, running to a basement and just waiting, but mostly I remember kids my age who stopped talking from the shell shock. I still don’t know what happened to them. Then scarcity set in, because America was on Saddam’s side and we were sanctioned. We had to use coupons to buy food. Years later, we realised that the West had backed both sides of that war—sold weapons to both sides.

That is what refugees are made of.

I feel a kinship with first nations people, with tangata whenua, because we too have been alienated from our land and our resources by imperialism—by wars that we did not profit from. We share the same degradation and prejudice; I want us to work closer together. Migrants, refugees, Pasifika people, tangata whenua—we have far more that unites us than that which divides us. I want Te Tiriti o Waitangi to be a living constitutional document in this country, leading policy, even on immigration.

My mum was a child psychologist, but she never worked because she didn’t believe in taking religious exams, especially in a mental health field. My dad was an agricultural engineer who worked on research trying to extract energy from plant sources—Green to the core. So let’s remember that our values exist in all cultures. The Middle East, just like the West, has fierce feminism, environmentalism, Government selling us off to multinationals, and—yes—religious fundamentalism. I want us to amplify the voices in all cultures who speak of democracy and equality above those who would silence them.

When that repression got too scary, my family and I fled. We landed in Auckland Airport and the fear was palpable. I can still feel it now. I was nine years old. We didn’t know what would happen if we were sent back, but we weren’t; we were welcomed here. That warm welcome is my first memory of my homeland. New Zealand recognised our rights and our humanity; that’s what that was, though I didn’t know it then. My second memory is that this country was so green. Those two vivid first impressions are going to lead my work in this House.

I became a lawyer—I never intended to do that, but I wanted to make human rights enforceable. The criminal justice system leads on human rights in our system. The most frightening thing that I’ve seen in about 15 years of being a lawyer all over the world is the sight of a 13-year-old child sitting behind a very large table awaiting his trial for murder at the Auckland High Court. I was part of his defence team. He’d thrown a rock over an overbridge, tragically taking another young life. He was tried as an adult because our system requires it. He suffered from mental illness, as do most people that come through our justice system. He was brown. He was from South Auckland. His family was so poor that they shifted houses every so often just so that they could have electricity for a while. He didn’t have a lot of schooling, because of that, and his Child Youth and Family file was the stuff of nightmares. Our most vulnerable.

The front lines of our justice system is where I learnt about unchecked prejudice. That’s what turned me into a human rights lawyer, and I focused on children’s rights. But it was living in Africa, working on genocide trials for the UN, where I learnt how prejudice turns to atrocity. It starts with dehumanising language in the media. It starts by politicians scapegoating groups, as groups, for social ills—I think that every time I see it happen here. I saw it in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, and when I prosecuted the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia—holding politicians and armies to account for abusing their power, and giving voice to women and minorities, because we are always most viciously attacked by abusers. These experiences have instilled in me a commitment to human rights that I first got as someone who has seen the world without them.

Human rights are universal. We don’t have fewer rights because of our religion, because of where we were born, or because of who we love. We don’t have fewer rights because we had our children out of wedlock, or because we’ve been charged with a crime. We don’t have human rights because we are good, but because we are human—there is no such thing as the deserving poor or the good refugee.

Human rights are indivisible. We have a bundle of rights. We can’t realise one without the others—you can’t say we have a democracy or free speech unless we also have the right to education, and we don’t have the right to education unless the kids we are teaching have food and homes. For too long, for about 10 years now in New Zealand, our very democracy has been undermined because too many of our rights—our economic, our social, and our cultural rights—have been breached. I want to entrench those.

Finally—and of most interest to this House—human rights are enforceable against Governments. These are our obligations. This our mandate to govern. We can’t privatise them away. They are not charity—people don’t have to beg.

I want New Zealand to get back to a culture of expecting this from us, and none of that is inseparable from the environment. Protection of people’s rights and nature’s rights are intrinsically linked. Just ask the people of the Pacific—our neighbours—whose homelands are being drowned out because of waste pollution consumption that they have not participated in or benefited from.

One of the greatest threats to both human and nature’s rights right now is subjugation of our democracy to corporate interests. A rampant market on a finite planet cannot exist. New Zealand must lead by example on this, as we have done before. We’ve stood up against status quo interests on the world stage, and I want us to be that righteous little nation again.

I never intended to run as the first ever refugee MP, but I quickly realised that my face and my story meant so much to so many, so my fear of tokenism dissipated. I had such an outpouring of support from all over New Zealand and the world—even Trump’s America—and I remembered getting notes and emails from my female interns, mostly of minority background, back in the UN, telling me what it meant to them to have someone like them forging that path. Some of them are carrying that mantle right now. I realised then that it was important for that process to have a former victim of governance by repression and mass murder stand up in those courtrooms, which are normally dominated by Western men.

So this is a victory for a nine-year-old asylum seeker. But it’s also a victory for everyone who has ever felt out of place, who has been excluded, or who has been told that she has limits to her dreams.

For getting me here, I thank the voters. You’ve humbled me for ever. You voted for diversity and fairness and nature this election when you voted Green.

I thank our Green activists and our staff, especially our Auckland staff. You worked harder and harder as things got harder this election. You will inspire me for ever. To my campaign team—especially Ron and Daniel, who are up there—and my second, political family, the Chalmers clan, I’m so happy you are here. Your support is life affirming to me.

My parents, both strong Iranian feminists—you lost everything. You lost your friends, your family, your professions, and your language because you weren’t willing to raise a little girl in oppression—thank you.

And to maybe the most political person I know, although a very large, loud white boy—my partner. Thank you for stopping me mid-rant—it seems like a lifetime ago now—when I was lamenting the loss of activism in politics and some of my favourite MPs. I was saying, “Who’s going to be the candidate that will stand up to the GCSB? Who’s going to be the candidate who will be the new Keith Locke?”, and you said, “You will be that candidate.”—and I was. We’re both political, we are both adventurers, but you are also patient. I thank you for that, and for love, but mostly courage, on that day and every day.

I stand here as a child of revolutionaries, as a child asylum seeker, as a international human rights lawyer, as an activist, and as a Green, and my standing here proves New Zealand is a place where a nine-year-old asylum seeker, a refugee, a girl from the Middle East can grow up to one day enter Parliament. It proves the strength and the goodness of New Zealand’s values.

[Authorised Te Reo text to be inserted by the Hansard Office.]