Rawiri Waititi: We all have (civil) rights

OPINION:

Today is April Fools’ Day and the fact Te Pāti Māori is backing the court action of the 16 Waikeria Protesters against the Attorney-General and the Corrections CEO is no joke.

Yesterday, 16 actions were filed in the Wellington High Court and simultaneously in the Waitangi Tribunal against Attorney-General David Parker and Corrections CEO Jeremy Lightfoot regarding the inhumane treatment of the 16 protesters who took to the roof of Waikeria Prison in late December and stayed there for six days.

I was asked to get involved by the men’s whānau – 15 who are whakapapa Māori – to find a peaceful resolution, which we negotiated on January 3, 2021.

They claim under the New Zealand Bill of Rights they were treated inhumanely, beaten, victimised and tortured while under the care of the Department of Corrections.

At no time were these men’s rights to make complaints given any possibility of seeing the light of day. Just as importantly, a number of the protesters required medical assistance or hospitalisation in terms of injuries received while in Waikeria prison and prior to their protest action.

To include the Corrections CEO in this action is about accountability for what happens in the prison system on his watch.

It is about time the Minister of Corrections acknowledged that his Corrections Department CEO misled him and the public shortly following my intervention in insuring a peaceful end to the protest.

If a crime is committed, a sentence must be served.

But prisoners should not be persecuted and, in Aotearoa, they should be provided with the opportunity to rehabilitate.

They claim they were:

• Locked up for 20 hour periods without the right to exercise.

• Forced to stay in soiled clothes.

• Strip searched at will.

• Assaulted and bunked in a facility not fit for human beings.

• Denied the right to complain or seek support.

These men are no model citizens but they are fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins and sons.

If you treat a person like an animal, they will act like one.

They are still locked down for 20-hour periods and given no chance to rehabilitate as an ongoing part of their victimisation.

The saddest part of this whole saga is we operate under a failed justice system adopted from a land 19,000 kilometres away and 181 years ago.

It was wrong then and is wrong today.

Waikeria is a dump, and we all know it is substandard and should not have been in operation.

We must find solutions for Māori and not just accept that the Pākehā way of dealing with our people, even those who have fallen on rough times, is the only way.

Prisoners must be given skills and tools to make a positive start upon release.

Corrections is another failed government department.

The Waikeria episode has underlined my resolve that Te Pāti Māori will ensure this government and its outdated policies are highlighted and bring about meaningful change for Māori.

Te Pāti Māori must always advance the rights of Māori to self-management and self-determination.

Rawiri Waititi is Co-Leader of Te Pāti Māori and MP for Waiariki

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