Article – Annemarie Thorby
The defendants called their final witnesses in the Urewera Four trial on Monday to testify to their peaceful nature.Urewera 4 Trial: Day 18 – Peaceful People
Operation 8: Day 18, March 12th
by Annemarie Thorby
The defendants called their final witnesses in the Urewera Four trial on Monday to testify to their peaceful nature.
Last week ended on Thursday with Tame Iti calling his final evidence.
Four people appeared on his behalf: Paul McHugh, a Reader in Law at Cambridge University; Rau Hunt, one of the former accused in the case; David Williams, Professor of Law at University of Auckland, and Tamati Kruger, Tuhoe spokesperson.
Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara elected to call no evidence.
On Monday Urs Signer calling three witnesses on his behalf: Dugal McKinnon, Lecturer at the NZ School of Music; Ruakere Hond, chairman of Te Reo o Taranaki and Rangatira of Parihaka; and Dave Moskovitz, IT Consultant and musician.
Emily Bailey elected not to call evidence.
‘Who Is Urs?’
Christopher Stevenson, Urs Signer’s lawyer, began by addressing the jury. He said even though the trial was not going to last the expected three months, it was still a long trial for everyone involved.
He explained to the jury that at this stage, we were ‘really getting down to the crucial and important part of the trial’.
After the defence case was put, the jurors would be hearing addresses from the Crown prosecutor and then from the defence lawyers. Finally would the Judge would sum up and explain points of law.
‘The crunch time for you, the jurors,’ explained Mr Stevenson, ‘would be considering the verdicts in this case’.
Mr Stevenson said Urs Signer was calling three witnesses on his behalf.
‘Mr Signer is facing allegations that, he had in his mind, murder and mayhem’.
‘But who is Urs?’
Mr Stevenson said he was calling people who would be able to give more information about Mr Signer.
‘Not the sort that touches on fact, but it is the evidence that would give the jury a background to where Mr Signer was at in his life in the time leading up to the case,’ Stevenson said.
He hoped it would be useful background for the jury as ‘the responsibility of deciding the verdict is the jury’s’.
‘You will have to live with your decision, so it is also about you. This case will become part of you, you will never forget it. You will always have to live with the decision you make…’
‘You have to be right. There are no second decisions down the track.’
Mr Stevenson said that he wanted to give the jury ‘more information about Urs so you have more of a framework to make that very important decision’.
All three witnesses were being called to give an impression of Mr Signer, their impression of his values and his outlook on life.
‘It picks up on the theme I’ve been trying to develop’, explained Mr Stevenson. ‘A young foreign national trying to make a life here. Quite admirably trying to immerse himself here… and the movement to Parihaka is really a natural progression.’
‘The allegations of murder and mayhem, arson and kidnapping…are so outlandish, so preposterous….they border on the fantastic…outlandish propositions.’
‘An Expression for Social Justice’
The first witness was Dugal McKinnon.
Mr McKinnon, a senior lecturer, had taught Mr Signer between 2004 and 2006 at the NZ School of Music in Wellington.
Mr Signer studied first the clarinet and then composition at the School and began his Honours degree in 2007.
Some classes and tutorials were relatively small so Mr McKinnon had gotten to know Mr Signer and towards the end of 2006 he had asked Mr Signer to play on an album he was recording.
Mr McKinnon explained he took interest in Signer in a cultural sense as Signer came from Switzerland and McKinnon said he knew what it took to move countries as a young person.
One piece of music Mr Signer composed in his third year was about Louse Nicholas and her court case. ‘It was an expression for social justice.’
‘Anyone who knew Urs knew that he felt strongly about issues and was willing to talk about… issues of social justice.’
Mr McKinnon said Mr Signer had worked to ensure that there was student representation during the merging of the Massey School of Music with Victoria University. The set-up Mr Signer helped create ‘remains to this day’.
The overall impression the lecturer had was one of maturity and a wide awareness of issues. Mr Signer was ‘a caring and gentle person, showing a great deal of concern.’
Towards the end of his studies, Mr Signer had begun to greet people in Maori at his performances.
When asked if video footage shown during the case had changed Mr McKinnon’s impression, he replied, ‘It is very difficult without context. I have had very good knowledge of Urs over the years teaching him, and those impressions remain very strong.’
There was no cross-examination of Mr McKinnon.
‘To Stand Passively’
The next witness on the stand was Ruakere Hond, chairman of Te Reo o Taranaki and a Rangatira of Parihaka.
Mr Hond gave a mihi, introducing himself and said ‘all of Parihaka supports him coming and talking on behalf of Urs and Em’.
He talked about the long connection between Taranaki and Tuhoe and said that he was standing in court for Te Miringa Hohaia.
Te Miringa Hohaia would have been the person to give evidence to support Emily Bailey and Urs Signer but he passed away last year.
Te Miringa Hohaia had been instrumental in bringing the two to the Pa, to Parihaka. He had also been a long-term friend of Tame Iti.
Parihaka is on the western most point in the region of Taranaki. It is about 10 kilometres inland from the lighthouse. The Papakainga has been there since the 1860s. Te Whiti o Rongomai moved the original settlement inland ‘to be away from the bombardment and brigades of von Tempsky.
On 17th March 1860 war broke out because Taranaki refused to sell land to the Crown. When the Crown tried to force a sale, fighting started in Waitara but moved south.
People turned to te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahe in Parihaka. When Taranaki was consumed in warfare, they led the way to resistance against Che crown in a passive non-violent way.
Many people moved to Parihaka to learn the issues of non-violence. Ever since then, on the 18th and 19th of every month, the Marae meets.
Liz Hall, assistant to Christopher Stevenson, asked more about passive resistance.
‘When violence was presented to them, they acted passively.’
‘One way they believed the land was still owned by them even though the Crown took all land in 1863, they sought to assert ownership by ahikaa – by ploughing the land. Thus showed that the land was still owned by hapu of those areas. When approached by the soldiers, no matter if stabbed or beaten, they stood passively.’
‘Tuku means to stand passively – to not respond.’
Mr Hond agreed a ‘response of the community from Parihaka was to greet the soldiers with food and song’.
‘They treated everyone as manuhiri, even when close to 2000 militia attacked Parihaka in 1881….When the soldiers came in the middle, they were met by children playing and women carrying food. And when they come around the hill it is estimated there were 3000 people sitting on the ground.’
‘How did the community in Parihaka sustain itself through food?’
‘Through cultivation and flour mills. Tohu and te Whiti trained in Wellington in agricultural business. They came back to Parihaka with that korero. They brought those activities to the fore in Parihaka at that time. There was no one higher than anyone else, everyone worked alongside the gardens. Gardens are ultimately the symbol of Parihaka.’
‘Rongo is the concept of peace and unity associated with Rongo-ma-tane – the god of food.’
‘The concept of cultivation is a primary unifying for the whole community.’
In 1867 there were around 2000 people living in Parihaka, by 2006 Mr Hond said there were ‘around 40 people living there, people come and go.’
Ms Hall asked about the process of moving to Parihaka.
Not just anyone can move to Parihaka.
‘They must demonstrate some form of connection. To have a whakapapa connection definitely allows you to assert your right to be there. But the other part is to demonstrate with action….You have to act in a way consistent with the values of Parihaka.’
In early January 2006 the first Parihaka peace festival was held. The philosophy behind the camp is reflected in its name – ‘International Peace Festival.’
‘It associates what te Whiti and Tohu achieved in Parihaka to all around the world.’
The Festival has been held five times since 2006. It is estimated that around 12,000 people attend, but lately less people have attended.
Urs and Em
‘Emily Bailey’s connection to Parihaka is through her kuia. Her great-grandmother is buried in Parihaka. Her family ties are in Parihaka and have been there for more than 100 years. So Em is very much part of Parihaka through her family lines. Her kuia left later on to go to the city to find work.’
‘Urs connects through Em….He is treated very much as a member of Parihaka, more so since the birth of their child. We see him (the child) as an ure of Parihaka.’
Mr Signer attended the first Parihaka Festival in 2006 as a member of the Wellington Peace Action Group.
‘It was in 2007 that we began to recognise that Urs and Em had whakapapa connection and began to recognise that they had the necessary contributions.’
Mr Hond saw Mr Signer as ‘someone committed to whakapapa, to community action….People saw his commitment’.
Mr Signer and Ms Bailey were also involved in the 2008 festival. Amongst other things, they managed the ablutions at the Festival.
‘They were very active, very energetic, very positive people to be around. Great in such a festival. To have people to walk around positive and supportive and `nothing is a problem’ is perfect.’
After 2008 Mr Signer and Ms Bailey moved permanently to Parihaka. They remained there and helped the community ‘pack-down after the Festival and the land to recover. ‘Urs and Em were in there boots and all, they were Trojans of the work.’
The invitation to them to come and live at Parihaka full-time reflected not only their whakapapa but also their commitment.
‘The fact they are workers who never shy away from work to be done is part of why.’
Since living in Parihaka they have been instrumental in establishing the community garden. They are also particularly involved with the marae meetings. They work in the kitchen but also ‘participate out in front’.
‘Urs has a good grasp of te Reo and sometimes we have visitors from overseas…he comes in and speaks for them.’
‘In morning it is Maori only so Urs helps them. And after both Em and Urs participate in the discussions that take place after lunch. There are a huge range of issues discussed.’
Issues that Urs has taken further include, include Urs fighting to slow the speed limit around Parihaka. ‘He began a petition. Sometimes the road is quite windy, children are in the middle of the road. Urs got the speed limit lowered to 60km just before the papakainga and just after’.
They both were also active in campaigning around the cleanliness of water and the impact of intensive farming. ‘They run training things in the community as well.’
Both, along with others, are founders of Taranaki Climate Justice.
Ms Hall then asked if Mr Hond has seen footage from the Crown case of the camps, and had he also seen the scenario documents. Was he also aware that a rifle had been found where Mr Signer and Ms Bailey were staying.
‘It doesn’t change my opinion at all. In terms of the way Urs and Em act in Parihaka, it is completely out of odds with any form of violence….an idea of a rifle in Tuhoe doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s just the way it is.’
‘Parents of All’
Val Nissan, Emily Bailey’s lawyer, also questioned Mr Hond and again we heard about the active involvement that both Ms Bailey and Mr Signer have at Parihaka.
Ms Bailey is also a member of the Papakainga Trust and is currently looking at the way a constituted body can reflect the needs of Parihaka. She also works at the kohanga reo.
Mr Signer’s and Ms Bailey’s young child, Piriniki, is also very much part of the community.
‘All children belong…and Urs and Em are parents of all children on the Papakainga.’
Mr Hond said he had had contact with Ms Bailey since 2006, but did not become aware of them both until 2007. However, he ‘could see the way they behaved’.
‘I cannot speak highly enough. Their values are consistent with Tohu and te Whiti…Urs and Em always bring positive resolutions to community issues.’
Cross-Examination and Re-Examination
The Crown-prosecutor, Ross Burns, had a few questions.
He wanted to know if Mr Hond ‘accepted that Mr Signer and Ms Bailey may be putting on a good face (in Parihaka) because of the serious charges they face?’
‘I find that hard to accept. I have seen the way they act at the festival, the kaupapa they bring to the festival.’
‘The way they are now is not inconsistent with how they were before 2007.’
Mr Burns also asked about the video footage taken around the same time as the 2007 Parihaka Peace Festival. He said that the military expert had described it as an ‘armed military patrol’.
He also said that there may be two sides to Mr Signer and Ms Bailey, ‘…one side you see, but there may equally be another side. Equally committed to negative things…’
Mr Hond consistently said no: ‘I don’t accept that….I doubt that very much, people commit themselves to a cultural sense.’
‘Are you asking the jury to disbelieve the evidence of their own eyes?’
‘That evidence is completely inconsistent with what I know of the two.’
Under re-examination Ms Hall asked if Mr Hond knew the context of the footage camera that the prosecutor had asked him about.
‘Not really. It was secret surveillance…it was about a waananga…waananga are happening all the time in Tuhoe.’
‘Context is Very Important’
The last defence witness was David Moskovitz, a professional investor in internet start-up companies, an IT consultant and a lexicographical expert. He is also one of the lead singers and a trumpet player in the Wellington band Klezmer Rebs.
Mr Moskovitz met Mr Signer in 2005. Klezmer Rebs was short a clarinettist and Mr Signer became ‘an integral member of the band’.
The band gets together every Sunday, so Mr Moskovitz would see the defendant ‘every week or so’ except when he was way away.
Mr Moskovitz described the sort of music the band played and the music composed by Mr Signer.
He said that Mr Signer was not Jewish, ‘but I sometime think he has a Jewish soul’.
He described Mr Signer as ‘a very tolerant person,…Urs is always the peace-maker in our band’.
To sum up Mr Signer, he said, ‘Well, he’s a fantastic performer and a great composer. But in terms of his outlook on life, he is very concerned about the world and social justice. He wants to try and make the world a better place. I think he uses music as one way to achieve that.’
He is not violent, ‘…all the social change he wants to bring about is by changing people’s minds and the way they think.’
When asked about the video footage and the scenario document, Mr Moskovitz said, ‘I can’t imagine Urs putting himself in a situation where he has to hurt people. Every conversation I have had with him, that has never risen. And context is very important.’
He wanted to tell the court a short story about the importance of context, but was unable to do so in the courtroom.
Mr Burns asked the same questions he had previously asked Mr Hond, and he got very similar answers. Moskovitz said none of the evidence changed his view of Mr Signer.
End of the Day
Emily Bailey elected to offer no evidence. Court went into Chambers to discuss legal matters for the rest of the day and the jury was dismissed until Tuesday 13th March.