Commissioners and senior leadership

Former Chief Commissioner David Rutherford

David Rutherford was appointed Chief Human Rights Commissioner on September 2011. Prior to his appointment, he was the managing director of Special Olympics Asia Pacific and based in Singapore.

He has held senior executive roles in building materials and agribusiness businesses operating in New Zealand and Australia, has been chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Union and has worked as a corporate, securities and commercial lawyer in New Zealand and Canada.

Mr Rutherford has a strong history of involvement in sports and has lectured in sports law at Victoria University. He has been a volunteer Board member in rugby union, netball, Paralympics New Zealand, Special Olympics New Zealand, Special Olympics International and for the Attitude Trust. 

He brings a passion for development and the inclusion of people with disability in sports.


Some priority focus areas for the Chief Commissioner are:

  • Continuing work to prevent bullying in New Zealand schools (was involved with this immediately before joining the Commission). Mr Rutherford is a member of the Ministry of Education Bullying Prevention Advisory Group, which he worked to help establish.
  • Working to develop better understanding of the United Nations’ (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
  • He is monitoring and advocating for the inclusion of disadvantaged New Zealanders particularly in education, housing and health with a particular focus on people affected by the Canterbury earthquake.
  • Leads the Commission’s reporting to the UN Treaty bodies concerned with the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (ESCR) and the Universal Periodic Review, which is about New Zealand’s human rights record and performance.
  • Currently leading the work on the reporting to the UN Committees for the Convention against Torture (CAT) and to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
  • Mr Rutherford is currently engaging on issues of protecting fundamental freedoms and democratic rights in the context of state surveillance and digital business.