Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough
Basic human rights under pressure
Opinion: The pandemic has changed several basic assumptions. It used to be taken for granted, for instance, that citizens and permanent residents had an automatic right to return home from abroad. Not any more. The recent ‘‘temporary’’ suspension of flights from India has trapped some 9000 Australian citizens inside India for an indefinite period of time.
New Zealand, however, chose last week not to renew its own temporary ban on flights from India. This was quite a brave decision. Covid continues to rage across India and the reliability of India’s pre-flight Covid tests has been called into question.
Our managed isolation facilities have risked being overwhelmed. One day in early April, of 23 new positive Covid cases in managed isolation, 17 of them had arrived from India.
Such episodes reinforce the restrictions the pandemic is imposing on the movement of people, worldwide.
While understandable, the readiness of some countries to abandon their nationals in foreign locations – even on a ‘‘temporary’’ basis – has been disturbing.
Not so long ago, governments would go to bat for any of their citizens trapped in a foreign jail, or stranded abroad for reasons not of their making. Now, governments themselves are pulling up the drawbridge on their own citizens, out of an excess of caution.
We had seen the same readiness to sacrifice one’s fellow citizens for the greater good during the fight against terrorism. Again, Canberra was quick off the mark to revoke the citizenship of any Australian who went abroad to join the Islamic State group.
For its part, New Zealand now seems to have all but abandoned the ‘‘Kiwi jihadi’’ Mark Taylor – last heard of 18 months ago inside a Kurdish-run jail in Syria.
True, New Zealand had no ability to put staff on the ground inside war-torn Syria. Yet – for diplomatic reasons – we also couldn’t negotiate directly with the Kurds for Taylor’s release without conferring international legitimacy upon them by doing so. This would have risked angering Turkey, which is notoriously hostile to any expressions of Kurdish autonomy.
Thanks in part to such diplomatic niceties, Taylor has been allowed to simply slip off the radar. The fate of the Islamic State recruit (and New Zealand citizen) Suhayra Aden and her two children also remains unclear, despite media reports in February that Aden was being readied by the Turkish authorities for deportation back to this country.
Worldwide, the erosion of citizenship rights means that one’s nationals risk being left effectively stateless, in foreign locations.
New Zealand happens to be a signatory to a UN convention whereby member countries agree not to enact policies that add to the world’s 10-15 million population of stateless people.
This week in Geneva, the UN refugee agency has been holding a conference aimed at eliminating statelessness worldwide, by the year 2024.
Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and Roma gypsies in Europe are among the peoples that have no citizenship rights inside the countries they have regarded as home, for generations.
To its credit, New Zealand has not allowed the pandemic to stampede it into suspending basic rights indefinitely. Unfortunately, though, Covid has made some of those rights look far more fragile than they ever did before.