He kōrero iti
An action plan for human rights – Mana ki te tangata
This report is the first comprehensive assessment of the status of human rights
in New Zealand. It shows where New Zealand does well in protecting human rights
and where we need to do better.
This information will form the basis of a national plan of action for the promotion
and protection of human rights in New Zealand. The plan will identify priorities
and propose strategies and action for improvement.
What are human rights? – He aha te mana tangata?
Human rights recognise and aim to protect the dignity of all people whatever
their status or condition in life. They are about how we live together and our
responsibilities to each other. In particular, they set a basis for the relationship
between the individual and the State.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations on
10 December 1948. The rights in the Declaration fall roughly into two categories;
civil and political rights; and economic, cultural and social rights.
Since 1948, the rights in the Declaration have been set out in United Nations’ Covenants
and Conventions. Through ratification of these treaties and obligations under
the United Nations’ Charter and the ILO Constitution, New Zealand has formally
committed to respecting these rights.
This report assesses the extent to which this is reflected in the structures,
organisations and processes of government as well as in legislation, policy and
practice throughout the wider community.
A human rights approach
The six elements of a human rights approach to assess policy and programmes are:
- an emphasis on the participation of individuals and groups in decision-making.
- accountability for actions and decisions, which allows individuals and groups
to complain about decisions that affect them adversely.
- non-discrimination among individuals and groups through the equal enjoyment of
rights and obligations by all.
- empowerment of individuals and groups by allowing them to use rights as leverage
for action and to legitimise their voice in decision-making.
- the linking of decision-making at every level to the agreed human rights norms.
- identification of all the relevant human rights of all involved and, in the case
of conflict, the balancing of the various rights to maximise respect for all
rights and right-holders.
Conclusions — Ngā whakamutunga
New Zealand meets international human rights standards in many respects, and
often surpasses them. The report shows that we have most of the elements essential
for the effective protection, promotion and fulfillment of human rights. These
- the rule of law and an independent judiciary free of corruption;
- effective structures of governance;
- specific processes for monitoring human rights and other forms of accountability;
- recognition of the vulnerability of particular groups and individuals; and
- active, involved citizens.
However, 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. This report therefore also identifies areas
where we must do better.
The most pressing issues to emerge from the report are:
- 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
- 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.
The report examines a selection of civil, political, economic, social and
cultural rights identifying where New Zealand is already meeting and even surpassing
international standards and where we need to do better.
Equality and discrimination – Te oritenga me te takahi mana
Discrimination is treating people in a way that results in them having less
access to their rights and freedoms than others. In some situations, people
may need to be treated differently in order to ensure equality. Treating
people differently in such circumstances is not unlawful discrimination.
Key findings include:
- New Zealanders value fairness and New Zealand law generally meets international
standards for protecting the right to freedom from discrimination.
- Better data collection is needed to measure the extent of discrimination in
- The idea that equality means treating every one the same is widespread, but
this ignores the need for positive action to ensure equality.
Children and young people – Tamariki rangatahi
Children and young people (under 18) rely on others to fully realise their
rights. Children have the same human rights as adults, but they also have specific
human rights that recognise their special need for protection. The report concludes:
- Most children and young people in New Zealand have access to good schooling
and medical care, and have the opportunity to grow up in a positive environment.
- However, nearly 1 in 3 children and young people in New Zealand live in poverty.
- Significant numbers of children and young people are abused or neglected. New
Zealand has the fifth worst child maltreatment rate of 27 OECD countries.
- Some children are disadvantaged in achieving good education and health outcomes
(including migrant, disabled, Maori and Pacific children).
- In 2003, over 50,000 children reported being bullied to the What’s Up
phone counselling service.
- There is no comprehensive coordinated policy or programme to stop child prostitution.
Disabled people – Hunga haua
While disabled people have the same rights as others, they often find that
they live in a world that is not designed for their use. Key findings include:
- Disabled people are increasingly making their voices heard in central and local
government and in the private sector.
- In New Zealand there has been significant progress in developing a national
disability strategy. But greater urgency is needed in the implementation of
- Disabled people remain among the most disadvantaged citizens, including in
education, income and employment.
- There is a need for more public education to remove the stigma attached to
disability and the prejudice and discrimination experienced by disabled people.
Civil and political rights – Nga tika mo nga tikanga a iwi me nga tikanga
Civil and political rights include democratic rights, the right to life, liberty
and security of person, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and belief,
the right to asylum, the right to justice and the rights of those in detention.
Democratic rights include electoral rights, the right to take part (directly
or indirectly) in government, and the right to equal access to the public service.
There is a duty to play one’s part in public affairs and to respect the
rights and freedoms of others. Key findings include:
- New Zealanders are able to participate in decision-making, including voting
in free and fair elections, and there are many measures to ensure the accountability
of Government to the people.
- A tension was evident between an expectation that government should follow
public opinion and the government’s obligation to respect and protect
internationally agreed human rights.
The right to life, liberty and security of person is made up of three distinct
but strongly interconnected elements. The State’s responsibilities include
national security, as well as legislation, processes and structures to protect
individual citizens. Key findings include:
- On the whole, New Zealand’s legislation complies with international standards,
and there are a number of mechanisms for ensuring that people are protected.
- Some groups – for example, children, women, Maori, disabled people, older
people and ethnic minorities – are more likely than others to be the
victims of violence, harassment and bullying.
Freedom of expression has a special status as a human right because we need
it to promote and protect all human rights. Key findings include:
- New Zealand has legislated for freedom of expression in the New Zealand Bill
of Rights Act and the Human Rights Act.
- In New Zealand the balance is seen by many to be “about right” between
freedom of expression and social responsibility and the protection of vulnerable
- However, there has not been enough informed debate about this balance, including
about the vulnerability of some groups to the impact of hate speech and particularly
its impact on young people.
The right to freedom of religion and belief includes the right to hold, to
change, and to express one’s religion or belief, and not to hold a belief.
Key findings include:
- New Zealand is a secular society with a record of tolerance for religious diversity,
and no specific legal restrictions on religious groups.
- Some people have experienced intolerance of their religious beliefs, while
others experience intolerance from religious groups.
The right to justice requires clear laws that incorporate human rights standards,
an independent and impartial legal system, legal processes that ensure equality
and fairness, and laws that are known and openly made. Key findings include:
- New Zealanders have a high regard for the right to justice.
- New Zealand has clear laws, and a corruption-free, impartial, open and transparent
- Disabled people, Maori and Pacific peoples, and children and young people experience
disadvantage in realisation of the right to justice.
- Justice processes are seen as costly and therefore are difficult for people
on low incomes to access.
Detention occurs where a person is not free to leave a particular place. People
in detention are vulnerable to abuses of State power. Key findings include:
- New Zealand legislation complies in most respects with international law for
prison and military detainees; people detained in mental health facilities;
intellectually disabled people; those in police cells; and children and young
- There are concerns in all of these areas, particularly for the safety of detainees,
the use of sanctions such as isolation, the need for external monitoring, and
the lack of data collection and reporting.
The right to asylum arises when a refugee seeks the right to remain in New
Zealand in order to escape persecution in their country of origin. Key findings
- New Zealand has a good record of compliance with the international human rights
standards as they relate to refugees.
- Concerns have been raised about the length of time that asylum seekers spend
awaiting a decision on whether they can stay in New Zealand and their detention.
- Settlement programmes are not sufficiently comprehensive to meet the complex
needs of refugees.