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Location: Auckland, New Zealand

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Forced sampling a treaty breach

A leading human rights lawyer says Maori lawyers throughout the country are seeing serious difficulties with the government's proposal to change the law so DNA samples can be taken from suspected criminals.

Moana Jackson says as well as the civil liberties issues involved with taking DNA from people before they have been charged with an offence, as would be allowed under legislation which the government is introducing to parliament this week, there are significant cultural issues.

“The whole issue of taking DNA impinges on the whole issue, the right to take body parts or various samples without proper concern for what the cultural implication might be, the question of tapu and so on, and just because they have been charged with a crime doesn’t mean they lose those rights or lost that inherent mana that each of our people are born with,” Mr Jackson says.

He says the cultural and civil rights issues should be looked at together.


Labour leader Phil Goff is expressing deep concern about the rising unemployment rate among maori and calling for government assistance to Maori businesses to help fight a situation he predicts will get worse.

Phil Goff says latest figures show that nearly one in ten Maori are unemployed with 9.6 percent unemployed compared to mainstream unemployment of 4.6 percent.

“I think it’s important hat all of the major Maori business organisations work together collectively get the assistance they need from other sectors of business and work collectively to put their views to government so their voice is heard. The Maori unemployment situation is as we have seen from the latest figures starting to get progressively worse. That is of real concern,” Mr Goff says.


A lawyer working in the Manukau community law centre Nga Ture Kaitiaki is warning that Maori, and particularly Maori children will suffered hugely if proposed cuts to community law centre funding goes ahead.

Emma Afa of Ngati Porou says the proposed 44 percent cut in funding of the 27 law centres around the country from July has come about because of the downturn in the property market with the centres financed through the interest on house settlement money in lawyers' trust accounts.

“A lot of my Child Youth and Family cases are Maori and this means if we are not available to give advice, to give assistance, to give information, they certainly can’t afford private sectors lawyers and they could probably go without advice, which means in the worst case scenario the children will never be returned back to the whanau,” Ms Afa says.

It is hoped the government will come to the rescue when Justice Minister Simon Power attends a hui of law centres next week.


A leading Maori lawyer is warning that not only would the proposal to take DNA samples from suspected criminals before they have been charged contravene civil liberties but it would break the Treaty of Waitangi.

Moana Jackson says the proposed law change, introduced to Parliament this week, has major cultural implications and just because a person is charged with a crime they should not lose their mana which is inherent in the taking of tapu body parts including DNA.

“Even if the police were able to satisfy our people there were safeguards in the actual way it was being administered, that doesn’t remove the fundamental issue which is really taking samples form people who have not been found guilty of any crime, and if that’s not a breach of our civil liberties, it certainly seems to me it’s a breach of our rights under the Treaty of Waitangi,” Mr Jackson says.


A lawyer working in South Auckland says if the government doesn't come to the rescue and planned slashing of community law centre funding goes ahead Maori will be terribly affected.

Emma Afa who works at Nga Ture Kaitiaki Community Law Centre in Manukau says it would be disastrous if there is a 44 percent cut in law centre funding because finance from lawyers’ trust accounts has dried up due to the down turn in the housing market.

She says law centre representatives are meeting the Minister of Justice Simon Power next week seeking funding.

“We’ve got to go straight to the top over this. It affects us all nationwide. It affects all our lover socioeconomic people in our communities and for Maori that is going to be a big impact because we are represented in our criminal law, our CYFS matters, These places exist particularly for tangata whenua,” Ms Afa says.


A Nelson duo who are about to take up a fellowship from Victoria University to write a fourth volume in their series on Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka, the history of the Nerlson Malborough area, say their work is edged in sadness.

John Mitchell and his wife Hilary says the books began with regular meetings with kaumatua wanting to record a generic history to underpin Waitangi Tribunal claims in the late 80's.

“Of the 70 odd people whop attended and the 45-odd who attended regularly, only Auntie Kath Hemi of Ngati Apa, Blenheim is still alive. It’s tinged with sadness that off those folks who were so supportive, there is only one alive today to see the end of what they were requesting,” Dr Mitchell says.


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