Key’s nod to impunity



“They blindfolded me, and bound my hands.  My son was crying a lot as he did not understand what was going on.  They then untied my hands so that I could pick him up.  They took us outside and put us into a van – I knew it was a van because I could hear them shut the sliding door.  They took me somewhere, I do not know where exactly, but the drive was not that long.

They took us inside a house.  First, they separated me and my son.  My son began to scream and cry again.  They brought him back to me to keep him quiet.

They put a gun to my head and threatened me, again asking about [X].  They were also holding my son, my son was crying, I was crying.  I begged them, and held their leg and asked them not to do anything.  They were asking about [X] again and again.

They beat me, and then burned my leg with a scalding iron.  This was extremely painful.  My leg swelled up and there is a huge scar on my leg, a scar that is still infected and causing me pain.  My son also seemed to have a fever.  We received no medical care.

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They touched me in a sexually bad way.”

I have lifted these paragraphs from a statement I took from a Sri Lankan asylum seeker I acted for in Bangkok.  She is Tamil, from Batticaloa.  Her son was two years old.  Her captors were conducting enquiries on behalf of the Sri Lankan authorities.

These events occurred after the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka.

The events she deposes to are not extreme in any way.  I have other paragraphs more graphic in detail.  After acting for hundreds of Tamils, these are merely normal.  Torture, enforced disappearance, sexual violence, extrajudicial killings…are all common themes in the narratives of Tamil refugees.

This is from the 2013 Human Rights Watch World Report:

“Sri Lanka made no progress in 2012 toward ensuring justice for the victims of numerous violations of human rights and the laws of war committed by both sides during the 26-year-long conflict between the government and the LTTE.  These violations include the government’s indiscriminate shelling of civilians and the LTTE’s use of civilians as “human shields” in the final months of the conflict, which ended in May 2009.

The government continued to ignore the 2011 report of the panel of experts appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which recommended establishing an independent international mechanism to monitor the government’s implementation of the panel recommendations, conduct an independent investigation, and collect and safeguard evidence.

In March 2012, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted a resolution finding that the government’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) did not adequately address serious allegations of violations of international law, and called on Sri Lanka to take all necessary steps to ensure justice and accountability. It requested that the government expeditiously present a comprehensive plan detailing the steps it had taken to implement the LLRC’s recommendations and to address accountability.

The Sri Lankan government responded by publicly threatening human rights defenders who had advocated for the resolution. In July, the government announced that it had adopted an action plan to implement LLRC recommendations. The plan vaguely calls for the government to look into civilian deaths and prosecute any wrongdoers. It sets out a 12-month timeframe to conclude disciplinary inquiries and 24 months for prosecutions. But the government proposal merely leaves responsibility for investigations with the military and police, the entities responsible for the abuses, using processes lacking in transparency.”

Meanwhile, our Prime Minister, John Key, was asked whether he would support an independent inquiry suggested by David Cameron:

“I’m not sure what that would achieve.”

Rather than accountability, John Key prefers impunity.  He is content as long as “progress” is being made.  Who cares if individuals responsible for gross breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law remain in positions of power and influence?

To the victors, go the spoils.  To the victims, goes our milk powder.

I simply can’t see any basis for our election to the Security Council (but, we’ll get Sri Lanka’s vote!).  This is a pathetic illustration of our current ability to be an independent and vigorous arbiter of international law.  John Key and Murray McCully have abandoned our normal upholding of the importance of a multilateral rules based approach in favour of securing a commercial deal, an elephant, and setting up a new All Blacks fan club.

But, I am clearly an idiot.  For the New Zealand Herald tells me so: PM’s softly softly on Sri Lanka may just work.

“Work”?  To what end?

Not towards accountability.  Not towards bringing perpetrators to justice.  Not towards empowering survivors in any way.  Not towards respecting international human rights law.  Not towards enforcing international humanitarian law.  Not towards implementing international criminal law.

Just, I am afraid, towards impunity.  On our behalf.


  1. Very useful article, thank you Mr Timmins.

    Are we dealing, in this country, with . . . . an ex-money trader who has a burning ambition to “take over the world” in a manner reminiscent of a “Pinky-and-the-Brain” episode of “Animaniacs’??

    Well maybe not.

    But my guess is that he’s eyeing up that seat on the UN Security Council, and is going all-out to lobby for it. If we get the UN seat, this is of course a good thing. But if we get it and he then fills it (supposing, for example a failure to achieve a 3rd term as NZ PM) . . . . well, thats a different story altogether.

    For a recent analysis of the damage that money traders are currently doing to the NZ economy see:

    • Please enlighten me as to why “that seat on the UN Security Council” is “of course a good thing”.
      Perhaps you’re thinking because it raises NZ’s international profile, however, surely everyone knows the U.S. would be pulling our strings and, besides, any of the permanent members of the Security Council may simply veto any motions they disagree with.
      I may be missing something for I fail to understand why a seat on this council is such a big deal that our PM is prepared to ignore human rights in the hope of securing a favourable Sri Lankan vote.
      Oh yeah, he also scored an elephant for Auckland Zoo. I wonder what zoo staff feel about this as I expect it will be difficult to integrate another single animal when elephants in the wild have matriarchal families.

      • “Perhaps you’re thinking because it raises NZ’s international profile . . ”

        Yep, Yogibare, I WAS thinking that!

        I suppose it could come down to whether or not you believe there’s more chance of changing something rotten by “working from within” or by “working from without”.

        ” I fail to understand why a seat on this council is such a big deal that our PM is prepared to ignore human rights . . . ”

        My point is that it IS a big deal (to yourself at least) if you really, really want it for yourself.

        • Many thanks for clarifying your position, I appreciate it.
          To date I remain unconvinced that “working from within” is going to change the salient fact I have already stated- “any of the permanent members of the Security Council may simply veto any motions they disagree with”.
          I agree that obtaining the seat would be a feather in Key’s cap and help towards the knighthood I expect he has his eye firmly fixed on.

  2. This tells us all about milk powder exports, dairy cooperation projects, the “publicity” effect of sitting on the UN Security Council (“100 per cent pure” will be a frequently used slogan in New Zealand’s representative addressing the Council and media, I presume), and a few more Sri Lankan tourists and students to visit here.

    Human rights, ahem, well, we talk about that another time, I presume.

    With the bulk of the media back at home, there is too little that Key, McCully and New Zealand diplomats need to fear upon their arrival.

    The MSM are too busy following each other on Twitter, and to find out what Miley Cyrus has recently been up to.

    And elephants are sooo cuute, let us show them on headline news when they arrive here too.

  3. Do you suppose it is time that the whole framework of the Commonwealth association was overhauled? All the old rot of Empire days is showing through, now – even in the older ex-colonies such as NZ, Australia and Canada.

    Politicians, as a species, are inclined to short-termism and expediency – but we don’t need to leave the overhaul to the likes of them.

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
    ― Edmund Burke

    – where ‘men’ stands for all genders.

    Perhaps it’s time for ordinary citizens, such as the writer ATL, to choose and form alliances and principles that make history of those ubiquitous white vans.

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