Amicus Curiae: The Controversy Surrounding Helen Clark's Bid for Secretary General

Communications Co-Manager, Rebecca Hallas


Former Prime Minister Helen Clark is currently making headlines as a result of her bid for Secretary-General of the United Nations. However, not all such headlines are positive. Aside from the age-old ‘boys club’ problem that can arise for women in elections for powerful positions, there may be valid criticism of her bid for Secretary-General.

The Māori Party has chosen not to support Clark in her endeavour to secure the position, citing the former Prime Minister’s failure to sign the UN’s Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as one of the reasons, in addition to the 2007 Urewera raids. However, in Clark’s defence, she had cited an inability to honour all of the articles in the UNDRIP as her reasoning for not signing it: We asked for more time to improve the Declaration to make it fully capable of implementation in all countries. At that time we were concerned that some aspects of the UNDRIP cut across New Zealand's constitutional framework and legal system.” With regards to the raids, the Prime Minister also has a lack of immediate control over day-to-day police operational matters.

Perhaps most notably, Clark’s support of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 has been pointed to, at least, as an example of her failure to support the rights of indigenous peoples, and at worst, as an abuse of the rule of law resulting in “the biggest modern day confiscation of land from Maori”. The Act stripped Maori of the rights guaranteed in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, instead vesting “full legal and beneficial ownership of the public foreshore and seabed… in the Crown”. Indeed, after being enacted, the Act attracted concern from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Committee, among other things, expressed concern surrounding the speed with which the legislation came into force, and stressed the importance of making any necessary amendments and continue engaging in discourse with Maori.

And yet, in spite of stepping away from Labour to form the Māori Party after the introduction of the above Act, former Māori party co-leader Dame Tariana Turia has expressed vocal support for Clark. Dame Turia noted that in spite of making a “fatal mistake” over the foreshore and seabed, Clark was “an outstanding politician”. She did not however, join fellow politician Winston Peters in his criticism of the Māori Party for their stance. In response to Peters’ claims that the Māori Party were behaving in a “treacherous” manner, Dame Turia fired back by stating point-blank that the New Zealand First leader “constantly, deliberately votes to appeal to redneck New Zealand”.

It remains to be seen whether the Māori Party will relent in their position, or indeed, if Clark will issue a formal apology for the Foreshore and Seabed Act. The search for Secretary-General continues, and whether Clark's political history will be a stumbling block or a boost to the top spot has yet to be ascertained.

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