Update (16/05/22):

An 18-year-old live-streamed himself shooting people in a supermarket in the United States yesterday. 

Ten people were killed and three people were injured. 

Head of the Christchurch Call Paul Ash told RNZ changes made online after the Christchurch terror attacks meant this livestreamed video did not go viral. 

The livestream of the Christchurch terror attacks was live for 17 minutes before it was taken down.

Two hundred people saw this video live. By the next day it had been reposted 1.7 million times.

Yesterday’s attack was taken down after less than two minutes.

Ash said the protocols created as part of the Christchurch Call were responsible for this faster response.

Re: explored what the Christchurch Call is and what it has done to address online violent extremism. 

Here’s what we found.

After the Christchurch terror attacks, the Government established a Royal Commission of Inquiry - an independent review to look at what happened and what could be done to stop attacks like that from ever happening again. 

This inquiry was completed in 2020 and 44 actions were recommended to help the Government and other organisations respond more effectively to future violent extremism events, as well as stop extremists from emerging in the first place.

Three years on, Re: looked at what has been done when it comes to these recommendations and if it has made people any safer.

The Royal Commission of Inquiry’s (RCOI) 44 recommendations were broken into four themes:

  1. Improving New Zealand’s counter-terrorism effort
  2. Improving New Zealand’s firearms licensing system
  3. Supporting the ongoing recovery needs of affected whānau, survivors and witnesses of the March 15 2019 terrorist attacks
  4. Improving New Zealand’s response to our increasingly diverse population

Some of these could be actioned quickly, like assigning a Minister to oversee this work but others, like creating new Government agencies, take longer.

Andrew Little, the lead coordinating minister of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Terrorist Attack on the Christchurch Mosques, said the Government has committed to implementing all of the recommendations in some form, but cannot put a time on when this will be completed.

While the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) is pleased at how quickly work has begun, its chair of inquiry Abdur Razzaq, said this was the start of a long journey to ensure the safety and inclusion of everyone in Aotearoa.

Comparing what the Government had done within a span of three years to the United States’ response to 9/11 and the United Kingdom’s actions after the London tube attack, Razzaq said New Zealand was well ahead of other countries when it came to implementing change.

FIANZ released a report card in January, in which they graded the Government’s implementation timeline  of RCOI recommendations as “exceeded expectation”.

But some of the most important recommendations are yet to be implemented, Razzaq said.

“We have a concept of shukur, one of our tikanga, it means being grateful or saying thanks. But we are also critical in many aspects.”

Improving New Zealand’s counter-terrorism effort

The RCOI found New Zealand’s security and intelligence agencies had been “slow to understand the threat of extreme right-wing domestic terrorism”.

As such, one of the major recommendations of the report is to have a new intelligence agency which  sits above the Security Intelligence Service (SIS), the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), and the National Assessments Bureau (NAB).

The main focus of agencies' is the collection of information, but the RCOI said there was insufficient work done to analyse this information to identify and strategise against emerging threats. 

This new agency would fill this gap, but is yet to exist.

Razzaq said FIANZ had expected this to happen by now and are eager to understand why it hasn’t been, or what interim measures have been introduced to address the gaps March 15 revealed in our current security services.

“We know that the Royal Commission found that the Police and SIS weren’t coordinated,” Razzaq said. 

“We understand they are now, but we want to understand the nitty and gritty of that.”

Little said work on the RCOI recommendations regarding intelligence has begun with a review of the Intelligence and Security Act.

The RCOI identified several issues with the Act - especially a section which outlines that advocating, protesting or dissent “does not of itself justify an intelligence and security agency taking any action”. 

The RCOI found that while far right websites and forums are used to spread “divisive hateful rhetoric”, they are also exercising their right to freedom of expression. 

In the current form of the Act, the RCOI found it could be “open to argument” that collecting information and identifying potential extremists on these platforms is breaching their right to expression.

This was limiting intelligence agencies ability to properly monitor and identify extremists, the RCOI said.

Little said they expect the review of this Act to be completed later this year and then other security recommendations would be followed through.

Even without this new agency, Little said he is confident “all possible terrorist threats we face are covered, and intelligence is being covered” by the existing intelligence agencies.

Improving New Zealand’s firearms licensing system

Before the report was published, the Government had already banned the ownership of military-style semi-automatic weapons and conducted their buy-back programme.

In 2020, the Government passed new laws around gun ownership, putting further restrictions on what weapons can be owned, who can own them, and increasing the punishment for firearms offences. 

Still in development is a system for registering every weapon in the country and legislation for the mandatory reporting of firearms injuries.

Supporting the ongoing recovery needs of affected whānau, survivors and witnesses of the March 15 2019 terrorist attack

Little said it was “apparent from the report that a lot of families were still struggling and not getting the support they needed”.

The RCOI found government agencies had failed to understand the cultural diversity of the Muslim communities they were working with, failing to bring interpreters to many meetings. 

Some victims also reported pressure from ACC to return to work against medical advice.

Following the release of the RCOI report, the Government formed the Collective Impact Board.

The board is made up of representatives from relevant support agencies and affected communities that discuss the ongoing problems faced after March 15 and what support is needed.

The Government also created Kāpuia, a ministerial advisory group made up of representatives from a range of ethnicities and religions to consult on the implementation of the recommendations. 

But Little said more work needs to be done to support the Muslim communities in New Zealand - particuarly in the challenges they face with acceptance.

“One of the most common comments I get is about their kids in school, and the continuing misunderstanding not only with other kids, but teachers as well.”

Razzaq said the Government being more aware of this Islamophobia is a positive step forward.

The Government has reduced their “overconcentration of resources” towards Muslim extremism, Razzaq said. 

“The Police and SIS have apologised for that. That recognition is a big step.”

Improving New Zealand’s response to our increasingly diverse population

The fourth area the RCOI focussed on was social cohesion -  proposing a set of recommendations aimed at stopping extremists being created and building more unity within Aotearoa.

The Government has created the Ministry of Ethnic Communities, as well as set up a hiring programme to increase diversity and inclusion of the public sector.

However, Razzaq said it is still yet to be seen if these hires are just tokenism or a real commitment by the Government to have diversity in all departments and levels.

“There is a higher awareness in the Government of very little ethinic diversity at the senior level,” he said. 

“Why aren’t juniors moving on to become executives?”

Research is also being undertaken by the Ministry for Social Development, looking at the issues New Zealand has around social cohesion and how these can be overcome.

Little said this allows the Government to better understand the challenges to social cohesion in our society, including “getting the balance right between freedom of speech and expression, which includes things people find deeply offensive”.

“We are trying to identify [within that] what is really threatening and marginalising communities. 

“We have a good understanding of where threats are coming from and are well equipped to deal with that.”

Since March 15, New Zealand co-founded the Christchurch Call, a collection of Governments, tech companies and organisations working to address the role the internet plays in the spread of extremism and violent extremist material.

Razzaq said work towards social cohesion is an important part of the long term solution to making his, and many other communities, safer in Aotearoa.

“It doesn’t just affect the Muslim community, but all of society. All groups, including the disabled and LBGTQ.”

Are we safer?

While Razzaq and FIANZ have been happy with the pace of implementation this far, he said the question remains: “Are we safer?”

National Islamic Youth Association co-chair Haris Murtaza highlighted the assault of Dunedin high school student Hoda Al-Jamaa as an example of the abuse visibly Muslim people still recieve in Aotearoa.

Hoda was physically assaulted, and her Hijab ripped off, after she refused to teach another student swear words in Arabic.

“We know that isn't a one off … We got messages from many women who are so grateful that Hoda’s case came to light, because they have experienced similar things and didn't have the platform to bring that to light,” Murtaza said. 

Razzaq said “there is still palpable islamaphobia and securitisation of Islam that was quite pervasive in the past”.

As these recommendations are implemented, and their impacts felt in society, Razzaq said an important next step will be to survey both Muslim and other opressed groups in New Zealand to gauge their lived experiences of these changes.

“It’s one thing to say that these things are happening but the proof is in the pudding.”

Top image: Illustration of woman running away from online hate. Credit: woocat / iStock

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