On being overtaken by events

Open letter response to Murray McCully

Dear Mr McCully,

Thank you for your reply dated 20 November 2013 to our email of 29 August 2013. In it you state that the “international debate on the possibility of military action against Syria as a result of the use of chemical weapons has now been overtaken by events.” The events that frustrated the US in its desire to strike Syria resulted from failure to gain sufficient support from major allies and opposition from the world community. It should be noted that our Prime Minister, John Key, had supported the US in its aggressive posture. You also wrote: “We have consistently called for urgent international attention on a political solution to end the conflict.” If that is so, then could you please explain Mr Key's support for US aggression against Syria? Does that not contradict your claim that the National Government has consistently called for a political solution to end the conflict?

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 26 September this year, John Key made the following reference to the Syrian conflict:

The Secretary-General has advised the Council and the General Assembly, "The United Nations Mission has now confirmed, unequivocally and objectively, that chemical weapons have been used in Syria." The report found "clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used" on 21 August. The information in the report also makes it very clear that those rockets must have been fired by the Syrian regime. As the Secretary-General has said, these are war crimes. Those responsible must be brought to account.

Does the New Zealand Government stand by these wild, unsubstantiated and embarrassing accusations made on its behalf at the United Nations General Assembly? How could John Key's outburst possibly have contributed towards a political solution or even rational debate so far as New Zealand is concerned? Digging himself in even more deeply, the Prime Minister went on to tell the UN delegates “those that try to cast doubt on the report's conclusions make themselves look foolish and do a disservice to the UN”. As nobody was denying the facts of the crime, John Key must have been hoping that his audience wouldn't have understood the difference between the principle of innocent until proven guilty and acceptance, or otherwise, of the fact that a crime had been committed. The Assembly will hardly have appreciated being addressed in such tones and no doubt delegates would have drawn their own conclusions regarding references to 'foolishness' and 'disservice'.

New Zealand is applying for a seat at the UN Security Council and is claiming, as a qualification, that it has an independent foreign policy. This country has yet to demonstrate that its foreign policy is truly independent of Washington. For example, the New Zealand Government is forthright in its criticism of selected players in the Middle East yet remains notably silent over Israel's occupation of Syrian territory and repeated air strikes against its already traumatised society. The US veto at the UN regularly affords the Israeli state protection in the face of condemnation from most of the rest of the world.

Domestically the Prime Minister has refused to give an assurance that New Zealanders have not been the subject of mass surveillance by the United States – saying that he doesn't talk about such matters. When asked if the US spy agency, the National Security Agency (NSA), was spying on New Zealand citizens, as it has been doing on the German Prime Minister, her family and other private citizens for example, Key dodged the question. Instead he replied, "All I can tell you is we have very strict rules in New Zealand about reasons why information can be gathered on someone and my expectations are our agencies live within the law." But of course the question was not about our spy agencies. John Key would not even say if he considered NSA spying on New Zealanders would be acceptable. The Prime Minister's demeanour and evasiveness over the matter were in marked contrast to his assertive presence at the UN. Democracy is not well served when a prime minister, while helping the news media with their enquiries, repeatedly responds with 'no comment'.

It is evident that a strengthening of respect for, and determination to enforce, international humanitarian law will require more, demonstrably independent, voices on the world stage. Perhaps the New Zealand Government could salvage something of its reputation by repudiating the earlier outrageous assertions made by Mr Key at the UN General Assembly. A demonstration of humility and honesty, to a world that has come to regard the statements of many politicians with scepticism, might not come amiss.

We look forward to your reply to our questions.

Yours sincerely,

Leslie Bravery
Palestine Human Rights Campaign www.palestine.org.nz
Full text of Murray McCully's earlier reply dated 20 November 2013:
(From) Office of Hon Murray McCully
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Minister for Sport and Recreation
20 Nov 2013
Leslie and Marian Bravery
By email: lorca@clear.net.nz
Dear Leslie and Marian Bravery
Thank you for your email of 29 August regarding events in Syria, addressed to a number of Ministers. As this issue falls within my portfolio your letter has been referred to me for response.
This Government remains seriously concerned about the conflict in Syria and the dire regional humanitarian situation it has caused. The ongoing death and destruction in Syria is appalling, including the recent use of chemical weapons against civilians. To date the New Zealand Government has committed NZ$7.46 million to the humanitarian response to the conflict.
I would note that the international debate on the possibility of military action against Syria as a result of the use of chemical weapons has now been overtaken by events.
We have consistently called for urgent international attention on a political solution to end the conflict.
Yours sincerely
Hon Murray McCully
Minister of Foreign Affairs


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