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human rights violations are held accountable as part of the global fight against impunity, and that victims are provided with effective remedies and reparations.

accessible discourse on human rights – the rights to non-discrimination and the obligations that countries have with respect to refugees. It is horrifying to see the idea that we shouldn’t be letting more refugees - who are fleeing war or persecution - into a country just because we want to preserve some notion of ‘our way of life’.

Abbott’s day to day work is quite varied. Recently, he has led a team that filed an amicus before the International Criminal Court, arguing for jurisdiction over international crimes committed by the Myanmar Army against the Rohingya. He has trained prosecutors and investigators on the duty to investigate serious human rights violations, including unlawful deaths; spoken on expert panels in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council on effective UN mechanisms responding to crimes under international law; and published on several human rights issues including the standards that apply to documenting and investigating mass atrocities.

However, Abbott thinks that a level of optimism is warranted. On the whole, he says, while in 2019 it all seems grim and some people would say it has been a difficult decade, in many respects the world is better off than it was 70 or 80 years ago. He asserts that while these are enormous challenges, they can be overcome in part by reaffirming and building on the international human rights’ legal framework that was put in place gradually since the last world war. He hopes that over time that discourse will win out. Abbott acknowledges there have also been some failings in the human rights movement that need to be addressed - including its failure to fulfill the promised equal emphasis on economic, social and cultural rights. These do contain some answers to the often heard suggestion that human rights are some kind of projection that is irrelevant to peoples’ day-to-day lives. Abbott also believes that New Zealand, in many respects, is uniquely placed to take on a leadership role on many of these issues in the Asia/Pacific region and globally. He notes that we are seeing a retreat from a strong human rights based foreign policy approach by some other international actors: “The US is tangled up with re-evaluating its own foreign policy position globally, and in the Asia Pacific. The UK does a lot of great work, but it has issues at home. The European Union is dealing with challenges within its own membership in terms of right wing governments coming through and that causes difficulties for it to operate on a consensus basis on these issues. And Latin American countries, which were some of the strongest voices on human rights from the 1990s, are also struggling with domestic issues in some instances.” Although it is a small country, Abbott points to New Zealand’s strong judiciary and an equally strong tradition of the promotion and protection of human rights. He says New Zealand has so much to offer by sharing its experiences in terms of a pluralistic society, a democracy, with a commitment to human rights and a free press. Abbott now leads the ICJ’s global work on redress & accountability. The thrust of this work involves ensuring that perpetrators of serious

Abbott has just launched a new ICJ project in Latin America, focussed on post-conflict environments such as in Colombia, Guatemala and Peru. The ICJ is working with governments, lawyers, prosecutors, judges and forensic experts on how to investigate past and ongoing violations, including enforced disappearance and extra-judicial killings. It is also working with civil society and victims helping them find ways to access justice . “The forensics component is quite strong,” says Abbott, and “very interesting.” It can be a hard job. “The difficulty with this type of work is that the results are not always immediately apparent or tangible. You don’t always know about the successes but you hope that just the fact that you are doing it matters. Often you are simply providing a counter narrative to some of the human rights abusing authoritarian narratives that are out there. Sometimes … we can frame a situation [for the media] through a human rights and rule of law lens, which is an important element for readers of newspapers to think about these issues. Or we might simply raise issues that may not otherwise merit a hearing.” Acknowledging that it might sound clichéd, Abbott says that while he is often exhausted at the end of the week, he is grateful to be exhausted by doing something that is meaningful, rather than being exhausted by doing something that isn’t. Asked how long he will keep this work up, he admits that while it sometimes takes a toll mentally and physically, he intends to keep on going. * For more information about the ICJ see: https://www. Kingsley Abbott can be contacted via linked in at and you can follow him on twitter here: @AbbottKingsley


Profile for New Zealand Bar Association

At the Bar April 2019