Amnesty International say ‘urgent action’ needed from Kelvin Davis as Waikeria Prison protest continues

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis needs to take ”urgent action” to address the situation at Waikeria Prison, which is now into its sixth day, says human rights organisation Amnesty International.

Waikeria Prison as at 9am, January 3, 2021. Source: Supplied

Amnesty International Aotearoa is calling on Davis to make sure ”all measures are taken” to address the protest “to protect the human rights of all people involved”.

“All people, including those living and working in a prison, deserve to be treated with dignity. Any response to the events unfolding - including the use of force - must still be legal, necessary and proportionate.

“De-escalation techniques must be used first and foremost and must respect the life and physical integrity of both detainees and prison officers.”

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It said withholding food and water and using tactics like excessive force “will only escalate an already difficult situation”.

"This protest suggests that prisoners are becoming increasingly desperate with the Government’s inaction to protect their right to minimum standards."

"Amnesty International has been concerned about human rights standards in [New Zealand's] prison system for some time."

It echoes calls from a number of groups and politicians for Davis to front up about the standoff.

Youth criminal justice activist group JustSpeak said Davis should de-escalate the situation.

“The men currently protesting at Waikeria are shining a light on the inhumane conditions in this prison and demanding basic human rights for those in Waikeria - clean drinking water, hygienic eating facilities, and the bare minimum of sanitation including toilet paper and clean clothes,” JustSpeak director Tania Sawicki Mead said.

National MPs Simeon Brown and Barbara Kuriger and Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi are also calling for action from Davis.

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Simeon Brown was turned away from the prison when he arrived to speak to staff. Source: 1 NEWS

Waititi said he was trying to get back into the prison to be present as the inmates surrendered.

"The purpose of this visit will be to ensure the safety of the 16 when they surrender."

Whānau of the men have told him they're only willing to surrender if he's present, Waititi said.

"They don’t trust the authorities and believe they will be harmed upon surrender.”

Meanwhile, National corrections spokesperson Brown and local MP Kuriger were turned away as they tried to visit the prison yesterday.

The three politicians have been told they need permission from Davis to attend because of the emergency situation. By law, MPs would typically have open access to prisons.

"Where's Kelvin? Where is he? He should be here and he should be at least supporting his staff as they respond to this," Brown said yesterday.

Today, Brown said he was again stopped from going into Waikeria. 

Whānau of protesting inmates were also calling for Davis to make an appearance. 

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The mother and cousin of two of the 16 inmates say the men are “being treated like animals”.

Davis has declined to comment on the situation so far, with a spokesperson telling 1 NEWS the minister won't comment until the situation is resolved.

The standoff involving 16 inmates in protest of poor conditions at the prison started on Tuesday. They are currently on the roof of the prison's "top jail unit".

A new fire was spotted at the prison last night. The main watch tower appeared to be engulfed in flames yesterday, with a local resident saying it has "completely gone already".

In August, the Ombudsman published a report following an unannounced inspection of the facility.

The report said prisoners were being double-bunked in cells designed for one, that there was a lack of natural light and poor ventilation, that inmates lacked access to clean bedding and clothing, and that prisoners were forced to eat near toilets.

The report concluded the high-security unit is no longer fit for purpose.

A new facility at the prison is scheduled to open in 2022. 

A report from the prison inspectorate in 2017 found the high security wing at Waikeria was in very poor condition, and another report two years later found little had been done to improve the top jail.