Survivors of mosque massacres not consulted and reporters shut out of royal commission hearings into March attack that killed 51 people
Concern is growing that New Zealands royal inquiry into the Christchurch massacre is lacking teeth and transparency with survivors, the media and security experts raising red flags.
On 15 March a lone gunmen killed 51 people in a white supremacist-inspired attack at two inner-city Christchurch mosques. Prosecutors say the massacre was livestreamed by the Australian-born shooter, Brenton Tarrant, and is the biggest mass murder in New Zealands modern history.
Jacinda Ardern announced a royal commission of inquiry would be held to ascertain what could have been done to prevent the tragedy, particularly by the security and intelligence sector, who said the killer was not known to them, or Australian authorities. No stone would be left unturned to establish the truth, she said, and ensure that such an attack could never happen again.
But frustration is growing at the inquirys lack of transparency. Survivors say they feel overlooked and shut out of the investigative process, while media are also unable to report freely because of restrictions imposed for national security reasons.
The Muslim community was not consulted on the inquirys terms of reference, and many say the investigation is unduly opaque and lacks respect for the communitys fears of further persecution in New Zealand.
We were ignored, Aliya Danzeisen of the Islamic Womens Council told Newsroom.
It makes it more challenging for an already challenged community.
Geopolitical and strategic risk expert Paul Buchanan, who has been interviewed by the royal inquiry, said it was little more than window-dressing, adding that it was also failing in its attempt to reassure the public that everything was being looked into.
Its very clear that they cant really do much until the trial [of Tarrant] begins and evidence is presented in court, said Buchanan.
It has hamstrung some of their investigations because they can see the evidence but theyre not allowed to speak about it. I said to them what is the point of having a royal commission if you cant address the real issues? And they seem to be aware of that.
New Zealand journalists have also raised concerns that the government will not adequately be held to account as media are not able to attend hearings, view or read interviews or transcripts or cite evidence and submissions.
One Christchurch-based journalist described the inquiry as a black box.
The only information we can get from the commission is the information they put out, said RNZ reporter Katie Scotcher.
Wide-ranging suppression orders have also raised questions from the Human Rights Commission, with New Zealands chief human rights commissioner Paul Hunt saying it was important that justice was not only done, but seen to be done.
Earlier this year former race relations commissioner Joris De Bres refused to meet the inquiry, citing concerns for Muslim inclusivity in the process.
The inquiry has been tasked with exploring the killers activities in New Zealand, Australia and internationally, his use of social media, his connections, and what state sector agencies knew or should have known about his plans.
Ardern said the inquiry would also investigate whether state sector agencies had inappropriate concentration or priority setting of counter-terrorism resources such as focusing overly on jihadists threats and ignoring the extreme rightwing element emerging in New Zealand and on the global stage.
The inquiry is expected to report back to the governor general Dame Patsy Reddy by 10 December.
A spokesperson for the royal commission said the investigation had been meticulous and rigorous in requiring gvoernment agencies to answer direct and probing questions. Regular updates about the hearings were posted on its website.
We appreciate this will not satisfy all interests, but we must manage the work of the royal commission with the utmost care to protect the integrity of the process, the spokesperson said.
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