Attendees at the Auckland vigil for those lost in the terrorist attacks on Christchurch mosques. Photo: Jihee Junn

Mosque terror attacks: African NZ group condemns nine-month race relations vacancy

‘We need someone asking what is being done about racist hatred’, says head of African Communities Forum.

An African community group is redoubling demands for the urgent appointment of a Race Relations Commissioner following the terrorist attack in Christchurch that has left 50 people dead. The position has been empty for over nine months since Dame Susan Devoy, first appointed in 2013, stepped down in June last year following a wider controversy around the culture at the Human Rights Commission and a staff “schism”.

Chinwe Akomah, president of The African Communities Forum Inc, launched an online petition last month after seeing the racist rhetoric that emerged from the anti-UN Migration Pact rally in Aotea Square. She described Friday’s white supremacist terrorist attack, one that killed 50 people including six from the African community, as “the final straw”.

“This is when we need our race relations commissioner in talks with the prime minister, with the ministry of justice, with the police. We need them to get our gun laws changed, to get race relations legislation in place that actually holds people’s racial hatred to account. We need someone asking what is being done about racist hatred online.”

Akomah pointed to several instances in the nine months since Devoy’s departure in which the absence of a race relations commissioner has been felt by ethnic communities, including Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux’s speaking tour, Don Brash’s “racist and offensive” speeches and the proposal by a New Zealand First Party members’ remit to introduce a Respecting New Zealand Values Bill for migrants.

“Historically it’s during that kind of thing that someone like Susan Devoy would speak up and say “this isn’t ok, this is racist’ and advocate for central government to get stuff done.”

Devoy wrote on The Spinoff on Saturday that there was “nothing new” about the type of hatred. “Muslim Kiwis – everyday people, mums and dads, kids, teens, grandparents – have been facing hatred, abuse and extremists in our country for years. Most of us just pack our kids’ lunches as we prepare them for school. My Muslim friends prepare their kids for hatred before they step out the front door.”

In early November 2018 a legal challenge to the appointments process was dismissed by the High Court. At the time, the minister of justice, Andrew Little, said that “hopefully we’ll be able to make an appointment, if not by the end of the year then certainly early next year”.

A spokesperson for Little declined to comment any further. A Human Rights Commission spokesperson told The Spinoff that the selection process is co-ordinated independently by the Ministry of Justice and that the Commission “does not have control over the timing of the appointment or who is appointed.” Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt is currently acting in the role.

Akomah said the ongoing vacancy sent a strong message to her community. “It says we’re not good enough. It says to us that we do not matter and that we are not cared for. Why does it have to take one of our communities being targeted and killed for people to wake up realise? It shouldn’t take 50 people dying for something to be done.”

She added: “I would like the public to stand with all ethnic communities and voice their concern. If everybody signs the petition and takes up that charge, it would mean so much to us. I would urge them to stand firm and keep talking about racism. New Zealand is beautiful and it’s diverse, but that doesn’t mean it is inclusive. We need to work much harder on that part.”

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