Human rights are vital to peace, security and sustainable development worldwide. In New Zealand they underlie our expectations about life, education, health, work, our personal security, equal opportunity and fair treatment, and our system of government. Respect for each other's rights is a prerequisite for harmonious relations among the diverse groups that make up New Zealand.

The Human Rights Commission has a responsibility to develop a national action plan for the better protection and promotion of human rights in New Zealand.

This first comprehensive assessment of human rights in New Zealand provides the basic information from which to develop that action plan.

While there will always be legitimate disagreement about the best way to realise specific rights, international human rights law, which New Zealand has helped to develop, provides the basis for dignity, equality and security for every person. We have used the international standards to assess the extent to which people's experiences reflect an active respect for their human rights; the extent to which people are protected from human rights abuses or violations; and to determine whether there are any significant differences between particular groups of New Zealanders in the enjoyment of those rights.

This report has been prepared in close cooperation with the Children's Commissioner.

Many people have contributed to it. In particular we are grateful to all those who made submissions, answered the questionnaire and to those who willingly participated in the nationwide consultations and in the nationwide public opinion research. We also acknowledge the very considerable contributions of the members of our National Advisory Council and the disability, race relations and children's sector groups. They have been generous with their experience and expertise and have kept us focused on the daily realities of life in New Zealand. Equally significant has been the guidance and advice of the officials on the Government Liaison Committee and the many public servants who have provided data and analysis and vigorously critiqued early drafts. Researchers involved in the sections on children's rights, freedom of expression and rights of those in detention have enriched the report. Our editors deserve special mention for the skill and good humour with which they worked through the many revisions.

Finally we thank the staff of the Office of the Children's Commissioner and those of the Human Rights Commission for the energy and commitment they brought to this enormous task in addition to their already heavy workloads.

The report reflects both the achievements and the weaknesses of New Zealand 's historically pragmatic approach to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of human rights. It asks whether that approach still suffices to provide every New Zealander with a sense of dignity, equality and security and with a recognition of their responsibilities to others.

The answer to that question is one that we hope many New Zealanders will discuss as they consider the evidence and the issues presented here, and contribute their views on the framework for a New Zealand action plan for human rights.

Rosslyn Noonan
Human Rights Chief Commissioner Te Amokapua

Cindy Kiro
Children's Commissioner Kaikomihana mo nga tamariki

Joris de Bres
Race Relations Commissioner Kaikomihana Whakawhanaunga a Iwi

Judy McGregor
EEO Commissioner Kaihautu Oritenga Mahi

Robyn Hunt, Joy Liddicoat, Merimeri Penfold, Michael Powles, Warren Lindberg
Commissioners - Kaihautu