Waikeria Jail Stand-off: Human Rights Committee calls for impartial investigation

The Human Rights Commission insists that an independent investigation is required into what happened at Waikeria Jail.

Sixteen demonstrators surrendered to the authorities yesterday after a six-day stand-off.

The men said they were protesting unacceptable conditions at the jail, after concerns of cruel treatment had not been heard.

The Department of Corrections has announced two independent administrative investigations to examine the degree to which the crisis has deteriorated.

But Chief Commissioner for Human Rights, Paul Hunt, said the Ombudsman should carry out an impartial investigation.

“Let’s see what an inquiry establishes, but keep in mind that the Ombudsman’s team of investigators has been telling us for years that conditions in many of our prisons are sub-standard and do not meet basic international human rights requirements.”

Paul Hunt is the incoming chief Human Rights Commissioner.

Paul Hunt Photo: University of Waikato

Last August, the Ombudsman released a study on Waikeria, concluding that the high-security complex was no longer fit for function.

Hunt said there was no lack of studies and suggestions pointing to prison failures, but change was glacial.

“There are some very fine staff working for Corrections, but I am sorry to say that not everyone has got the message. For example, during the protest it was reported that the non-supply of water was used as a negotiating tactic. If that proves to be accurate, this was inhumane and unlawful and suggests that some people in Corrections are living in the past.”

He said there was no urgency to change the conditions.

Justice Advisory Group Just Talk and Amnesty International have backed calls for an independent investigation.

Just Talk Director Tania Sawicki Mead said it was very difficult for any third entity to have confidence in an agency investigating itself.

“The culture of that very organisation is the very thing in question, there’s a wider and more systemic issue at play in the way that Corrections operates across the country.”

Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis said that none of the demonstrators had protested about their living conditions via official channels.

“There were many legitimate avenues for prisoners to raise concerns about their conditions, including through the independent Corrections Inspectorate and the Office of the Ombudsman,” he said.

But Mead questioned how many inmates were aware of their rights, knew about the official complaint channels, and had trust in those processes.

“Any individual making a complaint through the Ombudsman system is likely to wait a really long time before they’re addressed – and these men were talking about basic human rights.”

She said any claims that what the men were protesting about were not true were also disappointing.

“It’s really unreasonable to reject wholeheartedly these really serious allegations coming from these people inside Waikeria, particularly when the Ombudsman’s report verifies with significant detail a lot of their concerns.”

Davis said the matter was still in the custody of the police, who were looking to lay charges against those who had caused harm to the prison.

The police said they were investigating what had happened, but it could take several months before they could lay charges.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *