NZ's silence on Canada-Saudi face-off 'deafening' - Amnesty International

Amnesty International says New Zealand needs to speak up for its ally Canada as it faces a diplomatic backlash for speaking out against Saudi Arabia's imprisonment of human rights activists.

"Our national identity is based on fearlessly standing up for values like equality. 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."

When Canada spoke out last week against Saudi Arabia, it was met with a heavy-handed response from the kingdom, which severed diplomatic and economic ties with the country.

Saudi Arabia then moved to withdraw all 12,000 of its students in Canada, with the intention of transferring them and their families to other English-speaking nations with high-quality universities and "good relations" with Saudi Arabia.

New Zealand is on that short list. It hosts over 2000 Saudi students, the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) told Newshub last week.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Winston Peters haven't offered Canada support in its Saudi face-off.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Winston Peters haven't offered Canada support in its Saudi face-off. Photo credit: Getty

Ireland, Australia, Japan and Singapore are also on the list of potential destinations for Saudi citizens to be relocated to from Canada, Arabian Business reports.

Saudi Arabia's allies were quick to voice their support for the conservative Arab kingdom against Canada, with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and the Palestinian Authority publicly condemning Canada for interfering in another country's sovereignty.

But New Zealand has stayed quiet.

In fact, Saudi officials came to New Zealand last Friday to meet with New Zealand’s Minister of Trade and Export Growth, David Parker. An agreement has been signed by the two countries to "strengthen cooperation", according to an Arab News report.

New Zealand has a "long-standing trading relationship with Saudi Arabia," the MFAT told Newshub last week, with exports in 2017 worth $575 million. But Mr Blackett says it would be "concerning if [New Zealand's] growing trade ties were preventing our Government from joining Canada in condemning Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses."

He said New Zealand's silence has been "deafening".

According to Amnesty International, over 1500 people have signed a petition urging Foreign Minister Winston Peters to speak out in support of the women imprisoned for defending human rights.

Despite the recent lifting of the ban on women driving, the Saudi Arabian Government has jailed many of the women who advocated for lifting the ban, among other fundamental freedoms.

Two prominent women human rights advocates - Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada - were recently detained in the kingdom, among others listed on Amnesty International's website.

Samar Badawi has advocated for the rights of women to vote and drive, and an end to the country’s male guardianship laws. In 2012 she was presented with an International Women of Courage Award by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama.

But in 2014 she was banned from international travel, and in 2016 she was arrested for her human rights work. She is the sister of Raif Badawi, a blogger who has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes with a cane for setting up a website for public debate.

Newshub has contacted the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in New Zealand for comment.