Is Jacinda Ardern failing to speak out on international issues?

  • 17/08/2018

A Victoria University of Wellington law lecturer is urging Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to confront Poland's president when he visits New Zealand next week.

It comes after New Zealand was called out for failing to confront Saudi Arabia over its imprisonment of human rights activists and subsequent face-off with Canada.

Dr Marcin Betkier has written to Ms Ardern, asking her to ask "hard questions" about the actions of Poland's 'far-right' government. He blames President Andrzej Duda for causing a "deep crisis in the rule of law", and wants our Government to exert "soft pressure" against him.

"Since 2015, when the current far-right government took power, the Polish justice system has been systematically dismantled," he says.

"Piece by piece, it has been bought under the control of the ruling party, which has effectively destroyed several key institutions of Polish democracy."

In her first prime ministerial speech on foreign policy, Ms Ardern emphasised the importance of "speaking up for what we believe in, standing up when our values are challenged, and working tirelessly to draw in partners with shared values".

But after Canada faced a diplomatic backlash for criticising Saudi Arabia's arrest of women's rights activists, Ms Ardern's voice was conspicuously absent.

Amnesty International says it's not good enough and New Zealand's silence has been "deafening".

"This is a pivotal moment for New Zealand diplomacy," said executive director of Amnesty International New Zealand, Tony Blackett.

"Either we defend our values, or we quietly endorse blatant human rights violations."

Dr Betkier echoes this statement, saying it's important crucial questions are asked "even in the farthest (from Poland) parts of the world".

In his letter to the Prime Minister, he writes that the problems created by the Polish government are well known internationally, and have been the subject of scathing criticism from the European Union, among others.

"I believe that true friendship, which was born on the slopes of Monte Cassino (where my great uncle fought alongside New Zealand soldiers), demands asking these questions, and I hope that you are able to accommodate them within diplomatic protocol," he writes.