Golriz Ghahraman, New Zealand’s first refugee MP, has hit headlines as critics accuse her of being a “genocide denier” and covering up her role as a defence lawyer for those accused of human rights abuses in Rwanda and Yugoslavia. But in previous interviews with VICE, Ghahraman has openly discussed her roles in defence.
The attacks appear to have their source with former Labour staffer Phil Quin, who said Ghahraman’s work at the Rwanda Tribunal meant she’d defended "the worst killers known to man," that she’d misled the public into thinking she had worked solely in prosecution and calling her a genocide-denier—a claim Ghahraman has called “deeply offensive”.
The accusations of a coverup, at least, seem like a stretch. VICE spoke in some depth to Ghahraman about her involvement in defence teams for war criminals back in October, and she discussed candidly the fact she’d been involved in the teams as well as her reasoning for doing so. It seems Ghahraman also openly discussed her defence role with journalists from the Herald, although her comments to them have not yet been published.
Here’s a transcript of that section of her interview with VICE:
VICE: So you worked as a prosecutor in Cambodia—and in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, what were your roles there?
Ghahraman: I was a lawyer on defence teams there.
That’s interesting. So you’re defending people accused of human rights abuses.
Yeah. So the way those courts work, the aim of having those trials, is to return those societies to a model where nobody’s above the courts, nobody’s above the law, but you still have to have a process. So where there’s been mass human rights abuses, often there’s a race or gender or ethnic discrimination element to the conflict, and in order to stop that cycle of conflict, it’s vital to identify the people involved, and individualise blame. So you don’t have groups fighting generationally—you actually hold people responsible, and have a fair process. And in that sense it’s also really important to have a defence.
"How we treat the weakest links or the worst people in our society actually does define us."
Sure, but did you find that personally difficult? You’ve come from a strong background of advocacy, did you find it difficult defending people who have done these things?
No. Because I believe so strongly in the process. If you’re going to convict someone, we need to actually see, you have to know what those individuals were actually responsible for, we have to have a fair process, because how we treat the weakest links or the worst people in our society actually does define us. Having that fair process after a war has happened really will define the kind of society that comes out of it.
So you know, to me, it is really important to have a strong defence in those courts, so that the verdicts were safe, and we left a model of justice for the community.
Follow Tess on twitter: @tessairini