More questions asked of Golriz Ghahraman claims

An Australian “accredited specialist in immigration law” who claims to have been working in refugee law since 1990 has raised some serious questions about Green MP Golriz Ghahraman.

Ms Ghahraman is not a refugee or a “child asylum seeker.

Her claims of war and persecution do not stand up to scrutiny.  Her claim to be a “refugee” is disrespectful to the victims of the regime and the millions of Iranians forced to leave the country under threat of torture and death.

MPs have many challenges, often from anonymous people with questionable (or obviously ulterior) motives, but this looks to be a more credible challenge of Ghahraman’s back story and claims.

I think it’s fair to say that, after being touted as a new Green MP with a lot of promise, Ghahraman has had a fairly chequered political career so far. Her activities on social media keep raising questions about her capabilities – and her truthfulness, or possible lack of. I have seen her challenged a number of times for incorrect claims including for repeated incorrect claims.

Some attacks on Ghahraman, particularly in social media, are nasty, reprehensible.

But have been and continue to be valid questions about some of her claims. Her party profile was changed last November after it was questioned: Profile on party website of MP who defended Butcher of Bosnia now changed to be more accurate

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman worked as part of the legal defence team for Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadžić, who was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity.

…her profile page on the Green Party website has now been changed to more accurately reflect the legal defence work she did at the Rwanda Tribunal and The Hague, and the prosecution work she did at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

Her profile page on the Green Party website has now been changed, following her admission that it “could be clearer”.

It previously said: “Golriz has lived and worked in Africa, The Hague and Cambodia, putting on trial world leaders for abusing their power.”

Now it says: “Golriz worked for United Nations Tribunals as part of both defence (Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia) and prosecution (Cambodia) teams.”

Her Green Party current profile begins:

Golriz is an Iranian-Kiwi refugee, lucky to escape war and persecution as a child.

After becoming a list candidate (Newshub May 2017): Ten things you need to know about Golriz Ghahraman

2 She’s a former refugee, and fled Iran with her family without telling anyone

She arrived in New Zealand when she was nine years old, and left Iran with her family not telling anyone that they were leaving forever. “We essentially escaped one of the most oppressive regimes in probably modern history, which is the Islamic Republic of Iran and the repression was just a backdrop to a very bloody war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq,” she says.

Some of this has now been questioned by Australian lawyer Simon Jean in GOLRIZ GHAHRAMAN, GREEN PARTY NEW ZEALAND MP

The Green Party MP, Golriz Ghahraman, came to my attention on 3 August 2018 after she posted a video on Twitter saying, “No human right is absolute.  They are all subject to lawful limits.”  I responded that in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there are many human rights which are absolute, such as the right not to be tortured or suffer cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  She blocked me on Twitter.

In a NZ Herald article, Meet Golriz Ghahraman, the Green Party’s newest Member of Parliament, 7 October 2017, Kirsty Johnston writes, “Most of Golriz Ghahraman’s childhood memories are of war.  She remembers howling sirens, sending families scurrying into basements.  She remembers people being trapped.”  In her Maiden Speech to Parliament, she said, “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, and I still don’t know what happened to them.”

Ms Ghahraman stated in June 2017 that “I’m from Mashhad in the north of Iran”

The significance of Ms Ghahraman’s statement is that she has an affinity with Mashhad, which indicates she was living there and not in Tehran.

Mashhad is the largest city in eastern Iran, near the border with Afghanistan.  It was unaffected by the war, except as a safe haven for many people displaced by the Iran-Iraq war in the west and south.  There were no missiles attacks.  It is 900 km east of Tehran and 1500km from Iraq, well out of Iraqi rocket range.  If she was always living in Mashhad until 1990, the claim of war memories is fictional.

Jean gives more details which suggest at least a lack of completeness in Ghahraman’s Iranian past, and also on her claims to be a war refuge.

Ms Ghahraman makes much of the claim that she is a refugee.  In her Maiden Speech to the Parliament she said:

“I never intended to run as the first ever refugee MP but I quickly realised that my face and my story mean so much to so many, so my fear of tokenism dissipated.”

The claim that she is a “refugee” does not stand up to scrutiny[6].

The claim to be a refugee from Iran is a significant claim, historically and morally.

Ms Ghahraman has described in the NZ Herald and Stuff online how her parents supported the Islamic Revolution, like many people at that time from all sides of politics who came together to oppose the Shah.

She described how she left Iran, with an orderly departure at an airport.  The family was issued with passports, given permission to leave the country and allowed to take a holiday in Malaysia.  The regime had a watch list to stop opponents obtaining passports and departing from an airport.

This indicates that Ms Ghahraman’s family were viewed by the regime as their supporters…

The issuing of passports, permission to leave for a holiday and an orderly departure, is not consistent with people who were persecuted by the regime.

Ms Ghahraman is not a refugee or a “child asylum seeker[7]”.  Her claims of war and persecution do not stand up to scrutiny.  Her claim to be a “refugee” is disrespectful to the victims of the regime and the millions of Iranians forced to leave the country under threat of torture and death.

I think this warrants a response from Ghahraman. Perhaps she can refute Jean’s claims, or clarify.

 

Greens ‘unique kaupapa’ trashed by Peters ‘bill or bust’ threat?

The Green party voted twice in Parliament yesterday in support of Winston’s waka jumping bill. Golriz Ghahraman was chosen to speak out of both sides her mouth, claiming to oppose the bill but also committing to supporting it ‘for the good of the coalition’.

There must be a compelling reason for such a clash between past Green principles and coalition ‘pragmatism’.

While the real reasons are being kept secret by the Greens – despite past promises of transparency – the extreme nature of their sharply divided position suggests an extreme cause.

Ghahraman said that the future of the Government depended on Green support of the bill. This raises the possibility that Winston Peters has threatened bill or bust (the Government). Why else would the Greens contort so much over this?

The Green Party caucus has been under a lot of fire for saying they will vote for legislation they have always strongly opposed. Despite it being revealed that they have misled (lied to) the public over their knowledge of responsibilities as a part of the Government to try to justify this stance – see Greens appear to have lied over their waka jumping bill support – they went ahead and voted twice yesterday in Parliament to advance the bill.

The first vote was an attempt by National to send the bill back to an indecisive committee:

ELECTORAL (INTEGRITY) AMENDMENT BILL

Procedure

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): I move, That the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill set down for second reading be discharged and referred back to the Justice Committee to enable the many amendments proposed by officials and submitters to be considered.

A party vote was called for on the question,That the motion be agreed to.

Ayes 56

New Zealand National 56.

Noes 63

New Zealand Labour 46; New Zealand First 9; Green Party 8.

Smith targeted the Green position in the second reading debate.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson): …

The Green Party position over this bill sets a new low in parliamentary integrity. Co-leader Marama Davidson says this bill is undemocratic. She says it is a threat to democracy. She says it goes against Green Party principles and policies, but they are voting for it. She justified it by saying this, and I quote, “It is in our supply and confidence agreement and we had to.” That is untrue and contradicts the advice from the Cabinet Office that has now been leaked by horrified Green insiders.

Late last year, Mr Shaw stated that the advantage of the supply and confidence agreement was this, and I quote him, “Green MPs will not vote for anything they do not agree with.” That is exactly what is happening here. This betrayal of core values could not be more serious. A founding Green co-leader said of the same bill, in 2001, that it was the most Draconian, obnoxious, anti-democratic—

Hon James Shaw: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Dr Smith has now brought the memory of Rod Donald into this debate and into question time a number of times. I think this is the fourth time that I’m aware of—

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER: Would you get to the point? Is there a point of order here?

Hon James Shaw: Yes, there is. I’m offended and I would like him to withdraw and apologise. It is called waving a dead man’s hand—

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER: Everyone will sit down.

Hon James Shaw:—and he has no right to speak—

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER: Sit down!

Hon James Shaw: —for Rod Donald.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER: Sit down! When the Speaker is on their feet, members resume their seats. That is not a point of order. Unfortunately, you cannot take offence on behalf of another member. That member is absent; you cannot take offence on behalf of another member. That is not a point of order, and I call the Hon Nick Smith to continue.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Let me quote from the Hansard

Hon James Shaw: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER: Are you going to re—

Hon James Shaw: I am not offended on behalf of anybody else; I am offended.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER: I am sorry, but the point of your offence is on behalf of another person. You are taking offence at reference to another person. You cannot do that. It is not a point of order.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: A quote for Mr Shaw’s benefit from the parliamentary Hansard “the most Draconian, obnoxious, anti-democratic, insulting piece of legislation ever inflicted in this Parliament”, yet it is now to become the law with the votes of people like Mr Shaw. We also heard evidence from officials at select committee that this bill breaches the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Only six months ago, I heard the member in this House quoting the importance of those treaties and human rights, yet today is the vote on a bill that tramples on those very rights.

Greens left it to struggling rookie MP Ghahraman to speak for them.

GOLRIZ GHAHRAMAN (Green): …

Of the many, many decisions that we’ve made since the 2017 election, the decision to support this bill has been the most difficult for the Green Party…

So the difficult decision on this bill is not typical of the kinds of decisions that we’ve had to make in joining this Government. What does make this decision uniquely difficult is the strong competing principles. The first is that the Green Party has spoken out vehemently against a bill like this in 2001 and 2005.

The competing principle is that the Green Party is now committed to this new, multi-party Government, built on the merging of three parties’ priorities in the first truly multi-party MMP Government—MMP, a form of Government fought for and brought about in large part by the great work of the great man Rod Donald, a man who has been brought into this debate, whose memory has been dragged through this debate by members in the Opposition who worked so hard during his life to impede his great work. That’s disgraceful.

Some say, with some justification, that it is a disgrace to Donald’s memory for the Greens to support this bill.

Our confidence and supply agreement includes a commitment to act in good faith to allow Labour and New Zealand First to implement their coalition agreement. Mostly, that doesn’t involve the kind of proactive support in the House, but this bill does.

No it doesn’t. The Greens always promised to act with integrity in Parliament, they promised to oppose legislation that was against their principles.

So it is this commitment to good faith and our commitment to see the new Government succeed that has decided our position on this bill. We know that most out there—we know that nature can’t afford another three years of a neo-liberal National Party Government.

That sounds like she (and the Greens) see support of this bill as necessary to keep the Government together. Has Peters threatened to pull out of his Government commitments unless the Greens roll over on this for him? That’s how it looks.

I now wish to address the process we’ve taken to come to our decision. Far from some sort of smoke-filled back-door deal, the Green Party has gone through a robust internal process.

We announced initially that we would support the bill to select committee. That gave us the opportunity to reach out to our grassroots, and it also gave our members the opportunity to be heard and to have their views put on the record. We have discussed and debated the competing principles behind this bill, led by our party’s national executive and its policy committee, which represent elected members from the grassroots.

She doesn’t actually say that Green members approve of their support of the bill. They used to say important decisions were made by party membership, not MPs. They often gave that as a reason for not negotiating a governing arrangement with National.

Many people understood our support of this bill and some didn’t—some pushed for us to oppose it, including many who submitted to the Justice Committee.

She suggests here that the Green position has significant majority support, but doesn’t substantiate that.

I would like to acknowledge especially Jeanette Fitzsimons and Keith Locke, our great previous MPs who will be disappointed in our support. These people were heard and I’m sorry that the outcome will be disappointing them today. To be clear, we do not think that this is a particularly good bill.

New Greens seem to have quite different principles to Old Greens.

And we do have concerns about party caucuses being able to remove MPs from Parliament. So, yes, this was a difficult decision, but it has come about because we’ve decided that this new Government must succeed and we must support it in good faith to succeed.

Again this suggests that the survival of the Government was dependent on Greens supporting this bill, despite not liking it. Traditional Green supporters hate it.

So, the confidence and supply agreement does that but it also allows the Green Party to speak out on our unique kaupapa. That is something that’s close to my heart. Protest is close to my heart and I value you it as an out-of-Government—[Interruption]

Hon Gerry Brownlee: The member means flexible kaupapa.

The ‘unique kaupapa’ of the Greens has flown out the window, as extinct as a huia.

I can’t think of any reason for them doing this other than rolling over for Winston under threat of losing their place in Government.

 

 

Golriz Ghahraman cops more criticism for inaccurate claims

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman has attracted attention in the past for making questionable claims. She was in the firing line again today over this tweet:

That states: Golriz Ghahraman is the Green Party’s defence spokesperson

I think it’s questionable that she ‘holds the Defence portfolio’. She seems unclear on proper Parliamentary job descriptions.

Oxford: portfolio – the position and duties of a Minister or Secretary of State.

She is Green spokesperson for Defence. She isn’t a minister, nor an associate minister.

And she isn’t the first woman to be defence spokesperson.

Ghahraman has responded to this:

No woman has held the portfolio as full spokesperson (as far as the Parliamentary Library records confirm. Associates aren’t full spokes persons. I had no idea it was a thing before being contacted about it tbh. But there you go).

But again, she isn’t a minister or an associate minister. She can’t even claim to be shadow minister 9not a common term in New Zealand) – that is Opposition MP Mark Mitchell (National’s Spokesperson for defence).

And she isn’t the first female spokesperson for defence either – @GraemeEdgeler :

No-one is disputing Heather was Associate Minister of Defence. Golriz was disputing that Heather Roy was ACT’s (full) defence spokesperson. Golriz is wrong. There is a single 2005 press release from ACT listing Heather as ACT’s Defence Spokesman. That resolves the claim.

Ghahraman is getting a reputation for not being a particularly solid MP. She is floundering online.

‘Perfectly executed’, restrained Syria missile strike applauded and slammed

After days of rhetoric and threats the US, UK and France launched a strike against Syrian government targets yesterday. The talking game has resumed.

BBC – Syria air strikes: Trump hails ‘perfect’ mission

The US, UK and France attacked three government sites, targeting what they said were chemical weapons facilities.

More than 100 missiles struck in response to a suspected deadly chemical attack on the town of Douma last week.

A Pentagon briefing on Saturday said the strikes had “set the Syrian chemical weapons programme back for years”.

Later there was a bitter exchange between the US and Russia at the United Nations.

The wave of strikes is the most significant attack against President Bashar al-Assad’s government by Western powers in seven years of Syria’s civil war.

Responding to the strikes, Mr Assad said in comments published by his office: “This aggression will only make Syria and its people more determined to keep fighting and crushing terrorism in every inch of the country.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he condemned the Western strikes “in the most serious way”.

Russia, whose forces are bolstering Syria’s government, had threatened military retaliation if any Russian personnel had been hit.

Reuters – Most rockets in Western attacks on Syria were intercepted: Russia

Russia’s defense ministry said on Saturday that the majority of missiles fired during the overnight attack on Syria by U.S., British and French forces were intercepted by Syrian government air defense systems, TASS news agency reported.

According to Interfax news agency, Russia’s defense ministry also said that Syria intercepted the U.S. and allied attacks using Soviet-produced hardware, including the Buk missile system.

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has responded angrily to the strikes, while Syrian state media called them a “flagrant violation of international law.”

There was no agreement at the United Nations for the strike – because of course Russia vetoed, so it was unilateral military action.

We have hardly got the capability for being involved in a missile strike. Has new Zealand got any missiles?

Ghahraman has been attacked for ‘supporting a despot’ but she has a point. International law should be important, and while violence is sometimes necessary to  confront and end violent actions it is highly debatable whether the missile strike in Syria will do anything to end the seven year civil war there.

If history has taught us anything, it is that violence doesn’t and hasn’t ever stopped violence, in that region or elsewhere. So it matters, and is telling to me, that everyone involved is well aware that strike action is almost certainly not going to make victims safe, stop the use of chemical weapons, or end the war. The airstrikes must be seen for what they are: a continuation of a policy that protects American and western interests and a breach of international law.

While the question of lawfulness may seem pedantic in the face of chemical warfare, the opposite, an acceptance of a “might is right” ad hoc approach to something as grave as the integrity of international borders and the use of force, is worth guarding against with vigilance. Leaving the US to do what it wants creates a precedent that we have to live with in future, at the whim of the Trumps in this world, with little respect for the rules and airstrike capability to match. New Zealand, as a small country that relies on multilateralism and the rule of law, needs to stand up against ad hoc unlawful international violence.

It was very telling that in Trump’s statement on air strikes he did not claim the attack was consistent with the UN Charter or was a legal response to the use of chemical weapons. He simply said that the attacks were in the national security of the United States.

What he should have said was the attack served US economic interests.

I doubt that was behind Trump’s reasoning for the strike. He committed himself to a military strike via Twitter and would have risked looking week to Russia if he had not acted – not a good reason but likely to be why he acted.

The support of foreign wars by US arms manufacturers is a different (but important ) issue, but seems to think oil is the economic reason.

This war would not have been as bloody or long lived had it not been for the eager involvement of the US, Russia and their allies and for their unwillingness to pressure their regional allies, to divest from the cheap oil coming from either Iran or Saudi.

I think that the Greens would love for the price of oil to double to deter it’s use, but that would have a massive effect on the New Zealand economy.

Aotearoa is the land that gave my family and me safety and dignity when we arrived as refugees, because Kiwis stand for peace and for inclusion. What we should do is engage with the international community in ensuring the victims have access to aid, safe passage out of targeted areas, can settle as refugees without being accused of terrorism or banned from that safety by the likes of Trump. What New Zealand can do is never support any nation on the East/West divide who sponsors violence. We can, as we have always done, stand against violence, with ordinary people, sharing our values.

It is a fair point to a large extent. Getting involved in wars in the Middle East in particular seems like a fool’s errand (unless you make money off the supply of the means of destruction).

Zero war may sound like a great ideal it only works if all countries share the same commitment. If vile murderous crap happens in other countries should New Zealand tut tut and stay on the sidelines? This is a dilemma.

More specifically, if Syria kept deploying chemical weapons against their own people should New Zealand confine it’s reaction to talk at a largely impotent UN?

Politics is much more complex and difficult than some seem to think, especially international politics.

Washington Examiner – Analysis: Coalition strikes Syria, Russia blinks

Trump said last night that there will be more attacks if Assad continues to use banned weapons on the battlefield. “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”

But at the Pentagon last night, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said there are no further strikes planned at this time.  “That will depend on Mr. Assad, should he decide to use more chemical weapons in the future,” Mattis said. “But right now this is a one-time shot, and I believe it has sent a very strong message to dissuade him, to deter him from doing this.”

Despite deploying its state-of-the-art S-400 air defense system to Syria, the U.S. did not detect any effort by Russia to shoot down allied planes or missiles.

Nevertheless, Russia claims to have shot down 71 of 103 Tomahawk missiles, but it also claims that airfields were bombed that the U.S. says were not targeted. It also vaguely warned of consequences.

“We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences,” said Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the U.S. “All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris.”

That doesn’t sound like Russia blinking. Trump took a week of rhetoric before ordering the strikes. Russia may or may not act on their threats of retaliation.

It’s too soon to tell whether this will escalate or not. The stakes are very high.

“Green Party remains firmly opposed” to TPPA

Green spokesperson on trade, Golriz Ghahraman, has said in an email that the Green Partyremains firmly opposed to the TPPA (being signed soon in Chile), but has used anti-TPPA sentiments to try top raise money for the party via Twitter:

While the “new” TPPA deal gets signed in Chile today, the Green Party remains firmly opposed.

The legislation for this trade deal (the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership – or CPTPP) is coming before Parliament this month. The Green Party is the only political party that has consistently opposed this deal from the start.

Why we remain opposed to it, is that the changes within the new text released last month, are not enough to mitigate the risk of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses.

This means our democracy is under threat.

This sounds over the top, I don’t think there is anything in the trade deals that scraps elections in New Zealand.

Our ability to adopt transformative progressive change in the face of threats like climate change and inequality, and our ability to honour Te Titiri o Waitang,i are all undermined by this deal.

As Greens, what is particularly chilling to us, is that where ISDS clauses have been accessed by foreign corporates to stop governments from changing the law, in 85% of cases it has been to stop environmental protection.

NZ should be placing itself among those nations who are seeking to find a fair way to trade without the unfair negative implications for people and nature.

The majority of New Zealanders have opposed the TPPA and the Green Party has opposed this deal from the beginning.

Has there been any measure of opposition on the revised CPTPPA? Or are the Greens trying to historic polls on one thing somehow equate to a revised agreement years later?

We’ve had a lot of support on this issue before, with a majority of New Zealanders opposing the TPPA. And today, people like you are marching against it again. We need your support now.

Here’s the situation. The Green Party has to raise money from as many generous people like you, to cover the costs of running the Party, to strengthen our membership and to grow the green movement you are a part of getting more people like you to come on board.

So she is trying to leverage donations out of TPPA protests.

Too late for the TPPA, unless they have a policy to pull New Zealand out of the agreement after 2020.

Your support got the Greens into government. And now, together, we must bolster the mandate the Green MPs have. The issues that matter most to you, like the TPPA, must be kept in front and centre; to make sure we can have lots of conversations, with more people, who care about our planet and our environment, just like you do. You’ve been a part of making that happen before, and right now it’s vital your voice carries on.

And we must start right now to further Green the government so we can negotiate with greater influence on the direction of trade deals like this. We’d like to see fair trade deals without ISDS clauses.

Perhaps they can oppose the trade deal negotiations with Russia that NZ First are promoting. And the trade deal negotiations with the EU that Labour are pursuing.

Ghahraman on Iran

New Zealand MP Golriz Gharaman on the protests in Iran:

I hope desperately for democracy & human rights, including equality for women & minorities in Iran. While I 💚 the all the support from around the world, I hope for minimal outside interference. Comment by outsider politicians, including me, is unhelpful to the movement.

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.