Chapter 21: Conclusions
Ngā whakamutunga

Photo shows man on a bridge. 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 citizens.

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 human rights.

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:

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:

The next steps — Nga ritenga whai muri

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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.