Chapter 21: Conclusions
What emerges most clearly from this report is that human rights matter, and affect
the lives of each and every New Zealander.
New Zealand meets international human rights standards in many respects, and
often surpasses them. Although New Zealand is not flawless, the report shows
that we have most of the elements essential for the effective protection, promotion
and fulfillment of human rights: democracy, the rule of law and an independent
judiciary free of corruption; effective structures of governance; specific processes
for human rights and other forms of accountability; recognition of the vulnerability
of particular groups and individuals; and active, involved, diversely organised
Further, as individual New Zealanders we are generally free to say what we think,
read what we like, worship where and how we choose, move freely around the country,
and feel confident in the laws that protect us from discrimination and the arbitrary
abuse of power.
Most New Zealanders today also experience the benefits of the economic, social
and cultural rights – education, decent work, good health, and affordable,
healthy housing – that underpin a fair and just society and are crucial
to the dignity, equality and security of each individual. The interrelationship
of these rights (for instance, the linkage between healthy housing and children’s
education and heath) is compellingly illustrated in the report.
The six elements of a human rights approach (participation, accountability, non-discrimination,
empowerment, decision-making linked to human rights norms, and the identification
of the human rights of all involved in conflict situations) are applied in this
report. The human rights approach shows how, across almost all areas of government
and the wider state sector, there are opportunities for individuals and groups
to participate in decision-making, and significant procedures for ensuring accountability
are available to the individual at no cost. Despite arguments about aspects of
their application, the principles of non-discrimination and equal enjoyment of
rights and obligations underpin public policy and most private sector practice.
New Zealand’s approach to human rights generally has been pragmatic and
practical rather than legalistic. Human rights, particularly economic, social
and cultural rights, are currently provided for largely through policy and practice
rather than legislation upheld by the courts.
Equally significant is the recognition throughout the report that, while the
State has a major responsibility to respect, protect and promote the human rights
of its citizens, individuals are directly affected by the way they are treated
in the home, at school, at work and at play. Every sector of New Zealand society,
and each individual within it, has a responsibility to recognise and respect
The report identifies where New Zealand is doing well.
It also identifies where we must do better. The fundamental right to be who we
are and to be respected for who we are – whether a disabled person, Pakeha,
Maori, Pacific, Asian, gay, lesbian, a transgender or intersex person, male,
female, young or old – is still not a reality for all New Zealanders.
While each chapter identifies specific areas where we need to do better, certain
themes emerge across the report as a whole:
- a failure to wholeheartedly accept difference and diversity;
- the vulnerability to human rights abuses of those most dependent on others – children,
disabled people, and those in detention and institutional care;
- the extent to which poverty undermines realisation of the most basic human rights
- the persistence of structural disadvantage and discrimination, even when poverty
is not a factor. This is most significant for: disabled people; non-Pakeha New
Zealanders in some situations; women, in some areas; and gays, lesbians, transgender
and intersex people
- violence, bullying and harassment represent the most flagrant human rights abuses
and are present in too many New Zealand homes, schools, workplaces, playgrounds
and playing fields
- a need for explicit recognition of human rights standards at all levels of New
Zealand society, and for appropriate data, agreed indicators and measures to
assess the extent to which those standards are respected
- the possible fragility of New Zealand’s human rights protections in the
absence of more comprehensive constitutional and legal provisions
- the challenge of agreeing on the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand’s
present and future.
The most pressing issues to emerge from the report are those relating to the
poverty and abuse experienced by a significant number of New Zealand children
and young people; the pervasive barriers that prevent disabled people from fully
participating in society; the vulnerability to abuse of those in detention and
institutional care; the entrenched economic and social inequalities that continue
to divide Maori and Pacific people from other New Zealanders; and the challenge
of the place of the Treaty of Waitangi now and in the future.
In considering the findings of this report, the Commission concludes that there
are very few outstanding issues relating to New Zealand’s support for and
formal compliance with international human rights standards. Equally few areas
require specific domestic legislative change.
When translating the findings into a national action plan for human rights the
Commission will therefore be emphasising the importance of:
- making the international human rights standards explicit and well known in New
- integrating human rights analysis into the process of policy development by central
and local government
- implementing existing human rights strategies and policy initiatives, and translating
them into everyday practice
- developing indicators and measures to enable the status of human rights to be
reliably evaluated and monitored
- extending a human rights perspective beyond the legal system and into every New
- taking immediate action on the most pressing issues.
The next steps — Nga ritenga whai muri
The findings in each chapter and the overall conclusions of this report will
form the basis for developing a New Zealand Action Plan for Human Rights by the
end of 2004.
The purpose of the Action Plan will be to identify practical and achievable actions
for the next five years to further improve the status of human rights in New
Zealand. It will build on New Zealanders’ commitment to giving everyone
a ‘fair go’ and on the very solid base that successive generations
have created and bequeathed to us. It will focus on key priorities rather than
seek to address every issue that has been raised.
It will require the active support, not just of central and local government,
but also of business and community groups. Most importantly, it will need individual
New Zealanders to not only affirm their own human rights, but also accept their
responsibility to respect and defend the human rights of others. It will need
New Zealanders to reinforce the fundamental principle of respect for one another
without, in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, distinction
of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other
opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.