Our primary aim of meeting with affected whānau, survivors and witnesses was to listen to them. In addition to sharing their personal experiences and concerns, many also offered us their suggestions of how the issues they raised with us could be addressed.
We were told that some affected whānau, survivors and witnesses needed time to heal before they could participate in processes, including the Royal Commission of Inquiry and (what would have been) the trial of the individual. Due to the time-bound nature of such processes, some would not be able to participate, despite this being an empowering part of their personal recovery. One proposal put forward to us suggested the establishment of a long-term restorative justice process that is not time-bound. The process would be co-designed with affected whānau, survivors and witnesses to address their ongoing complex needs. Such a process would provide victims with accountability, healing, an opportunity to voice their experiences and seek vindication. With no time limitation, the process would enable those in need of support to engage at times that work for them and, in this way, empower them in their own recovery.
We were told that a coronial inquiry should be held to provide an independent assessment of the response to the terrorist attack including the response of New Zealand Police and hospitals and ensure that all outstanding questions are answered.
We heard from some affected whānau, survivors and witnesses, and members of the Muslim Community Reference Group about the importance of transparency from the government and Public sector agencies when it comes to making changes in response to our report and in implementing our recommendations. We were told that it should not be left to communities alone to hold the government and Public sector agencies to account for ensuring that our report is acted on. For example, some affected whānau, survivors and witnesses proposed that there should be a minister responsible for affected whānau, survivors and witnesses of the terrorist attack and the implementation of the Royal Commission’s recommendations, similar to the Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry, and that all relevant Public sector agencies would report to that Minister.
Increased security at the masjid
Some people spoke of the need for increased security at Masjid an-Nur and the Linwood Islamic Centre and other Muslim gathering places on an ongoing basis. Security solutions proposed included maintaining a New Zealand Police presence, ensuring entrances of masjid are not exposed, installing security cameras and other security measures. This would need to be resourced by government. It was also suggested to us that security be improved at all religious places of worship, not just masjid.
Embracing human rights, diversity and reducing the impacts of harmful extremism
Nearly everyone we met with believed that tackling racism and prejudice would make New Zealand safer and contribute to preventing a terrorist attack in the future. They said that the key to eliminating racism lies in raising awareness throughout New Zealand society.
[The] root of this hatred must be shaken. Racism can be eliminated including through the media. Peaceful messages should be delivered.
Some people suggested that New Zealand should have tougher sentences for hate crimes and hate speech. A few people suggested that the definition of hate speech in the Human Rights Act 1993 should be broadened to include hostility against people on religious grounds.
People shared with us a range of ideas about how to teach people about diverse cultures and religions, and the importance of diversity in New Zealand society. These ideas included:
- Providing information on how to report racist incidents;
- Anti-racism campaigns;
- Public awareness campaigns on diverse cultures and religions;
- Broadening teacher training and the school curriculum to include education on diverse cultures and religions;
- Inviting masajid across New Zealand to host community events;
- Local authorities sponsoring and organising public events to celebrate certain Muslim events like Eid, as many do for celebrating other cultural events such as Matariki, Chinese New Year and Diwali; and
- Inviting Muslim community leaders to lead a public discourse on Islam and engage in more interfaith dialogue.
Improvements to New Zealand’s national security system
Some people we met with suggested improvements to New Zealand’s national security system. They felt that security agencies should be more proactive. Specifically, they suggested that security agencies should increase monitoring of anti-Muslim, extreme right-wing, and other threats to vulnerable communities on social media, and that they should take online threats more seriously.
Misunderstandings and fear about the spiritual purposes and philosophy of the Islamic faith have long been known to exist even in peaceable and cultural diverse societies where Islam is a minority religion. Such misunderstandings, in the hands of white supremacist extremists, formed the ideological basis of the attacks. It is therefore exceptionally critical for such misunderstandings not be allowed to exacerbate the more general issues of the system-centred approach.
Some people recommended more training for staff in the wider New Zealand Intelligence Community to recognise escalating threats sooner.
We were told that Public sector agencies should be recruiting and developing appropriate expertise, including cultural expertise, so that they can understand:
- the challenges faced by, and recovery needs or, traumatised people and communities;
- the challenges people working with traumatised people and communities are likely to face and the need to ensure that there is interpretation and translation support available;
- how people who have experienced terrorism are likely to receive and process information;
It is important for supporting agencies to understand that victims can find it difficult to process information when they are feeling emotionally distressed. Trauma can affect information processing in several ways.
- how to build trust-based, collaborative relationships with vulnerable communities; and
It is absolutely crucial to actively listen to, support and appropriately engage - all three of which are inseparable - with the affected communities to, in turn, be able provide them with appropriate services and support.
- supporting psychological recovery needs to encompass community engagement activities.
Rather than providing a tokenistic or passive presence, police are called on to become active in building a genuine relationship of care and vigilance with the community, and to be attentive to the community’s needs and safety.
We were told about the importance of taking a human-centred (more specifically, a survivor wellbeing-centred) approach to recovery. A critical element of this is that the survivors are provided with the opportunities and space to be heard, and that they are involved in the development of long-term solutions.
It is paramount to elevate the voices of victims. Victims have sobering sentiments as well as ideas for solutions to key issues, but struggle to be heard on these ideas.
A human-centred approach, we were told, would focus more on problem solving and finding solutions and is inherently future-focused. The alternative, system-centred approach that affected whānau, survivors and witnesses have experienced has instead been concentrated on reacting to risk or problems rather than the needs of those the system should be supporting.
It was also recommended that, as part of their readiness planning, Public sector agencies plan for longer-term recovery needs of communities, and that these plans are flexible and adaptable. For example, the way in which a survivor is defined may need to differ depending on the nature of the event from which communities are recovering. Similarly, different communities often categorise whānau in different ways and this needs to be taken into account.