10 highlights from the year in human rights

10 highlights from the year in human rights

December 15, 2017

2017 has been a big year for the Commission and for human rights in New Zealand. We’ve been able to achieve some incredible things and bring attention to a number of important issues – this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our supporters and the community of passionate human rights advocates.

Thousands of Kiwis have signed petitions, read the stories of survivors, given nothing to racism, shared the Commission’s videos and messages, advocated on behalf of others and helped encourage organisations to introduce life-changing policies and practices. Below are 10 highlights in human rights from the year, amongst the many.

Government Commits to inquiry into abuse in State care:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently announced there will be an independent inquiry into historical claims of abuse of children in State care. This followed continued campaigning by the Commission and others for a public apology and independent inquiry into the historic abuse of at least 100,000 children and disabled adults who were taken from their families and held in State institutions between the 1960s and 1990s. 

In February, a group of prominent New Zealanders led an open letter petition, with support from the Human Rights Commission, that garnered 12,500 signatures. The open letter, an independent petition and the stories of hundreds of survivors of State abuse – many taken and abused while children – were presented by survivors to MPs on the steps of parliament in July.

These efforts were also further supported by a recommendation from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination to hold an inquiry.

“We need to shine a light on the abuse that took place in our State institutions. Those who were responsible should be held accountable, we must learn from the past, so we can ensure that this can never happen again,” said Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy.

Launched the award-winning Give Nothing to Racism Campaign

Big name New Zealanders teamed up to launch the award-winning Give Nothing to Racism campaign, calling on Kiwis to stand up to racism by giving it no encouragement. No respect. No place. No power.

The hard case but hard-hitting campaign video, featuring New Zealander of the Year Taika Waititi, and accompanying celebrity memes have so far been shared more than 3 million times and reached more than 5 million people in 186 different countries. 

“We live in one of the most ethnically diverse nations on the planet – as well as one of the most peaceful. Whether it stays that way will depend on us, every New Zealander has a role to play in our future. Racism starts small but so too does hope,” said Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy.

Launched independent report into Seclusion and Restraint practices in New Zealand

The Commission released the independent report Thinking Outside the Box – A Review of Seclusion and Restraint Practices in New Zealand, written by international expert Dr Sharon Shalev. The report was commissioned to provide an independent perspective on seclusion and restraint practices in several different detention contexts and to identify areas of best practice, as well as areas that require improvement.  

Dr Shalev’s report reconfirmed the concerns of other monitoring agencies including the holding of young people in police cells, the over-representation of Māori in seclusion and restraint events, and several of the rooms and units being used do not provide basic fixtures such as a call-bell to alert staff, a toilet, or fresh running water.

“These matters are particularly concerning, given what seems to be New Zealand’s high propensity to use seclusion and restraint. The focus must now be on improving the situation. Dr Shalev’s report provides an important catalyst for further discussion about these issues,” said Chief Commissioner David Rutherford.

Historic convictions for sex between men in New Zealand to be quashed

In February, former Justice Minister Amy Adams announced that historic convictions for sex between men in New Zealand will be quashed. The Commission has advocated that this should happen and welcomed the announcement.

Former Human Rights Commissioner Rickard Tankersley said at the time that the announcement would go a long way towards restoring the human rights of those whose lives have been affected by convictions for gay sex, before the Homosexual Law Reform Act was introduced in 1986.

“I’m delighted that the Minister has shown strong leadership in her proposal to fix what has been a blight on the lives and memories of hundreds of people who ran afoul of an unjust Victorian law. For many of those affected by these convictions, today’s announcement will be life-changing,” Mr Tankersley said.

Celebrated the lives of 1 in 5 Kiwis who live with disability

Disability Pride week saw the Commission celebrate the lives of 1 in 5 Kiwis who live with disability, sharing their stories and encouraging others to do the same with the 'Proud to be me' campaign.

The campaign has seen people like Kramer Hoeflich who is now a leading national advocate for disabled Pasifika youth, Robbie Francis who has ended up driving a social enterprise empowering coffee growers (many of whom live with disability) in Mexico and educating New Zealanders to think about where our coffee comes from, and Duncan Armstong who’s also an award-winning performing artist share their personal stories and journeys.

“For me Disability Pride Week is about being proud of disability and celebrating achievement through stories as a way of helping reduce misconceptions which act as a barrier to full participation in our community,” said Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero.

Continued to call for better collection of hate crime data

To better understand the extent of hate crime in New Zealand, the Commission has been active in calling for the collection of data when hate crimes exist.

The Commission has been working with NZ Police on a plan that would see officers collect statistics on whether a crime is motivated by race, gender, religion, age, ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation.

“We want officers to be able to collect that data because at the moment it is all anecdotal. With respect to people who have said hate crime is not a problem in New Zealand: people in minority communities tell us it is. Right now, we have no evidence to point to either way because we do not collect the data and that needs to change,” said Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy.

Encouraged businesses to adopt family violence policies

The Commission has worked closely with some of New Zealand’s largest businesses to encourage others to implement their own Family Violence Policies and has continued to support calls for legislation that would see all workplaces introduce this type of policy.

The Commission made its own submission on Jan Logie’s Domestic Violence Victims Protection Bill earlier this year and on White Ribbon Day asked businesses and Members of Parliament to consider their role in ensuring the draft bill becomes legislation.

“Businesses should remember they don’t need legislation to take action. More than anything, they need to let affected staff know there is leave available to them if they need it and that they will be connected to support services they may need.

Letting staff know that they will be supported at a time when they most need it is hugely beneficial. A family violence policy doesn’t have to cost much, but the benefits of having one are far-reaching,” said Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue.  

Called for continued action to address issues faced by the intersex community

The Commission called for continued action to address issues faced by the intersex community and has held further intersex roundtable discussions and engagement with health professionals and government representatives.

Last year, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) made a number of recommendations to the Government around the treatment of intersex children. The Ministry of Health, through the NZ Paediatric Society, is funding the development of a national intersex network that will begin to address some of these recommendations and will work in partnership with intersex people and their families, the Commission, medical practitioners

“It is so important that intersex New Zealanders are supported. Addressing these recommendations and ensuring our processes and procedures are in-line with international best practice is a key part of that,” Dr Blue says.  

Celebrated the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ 10th anniversary

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. To mark this important milestone, the Commission and the Massey University-based Centre for Indigenous Leadership held a conference to discuss a pathway forward for Indigenous Rights in New Zealand.

The Conference on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples saw inspirational keynote speakers including Ta Pita Sharples, Naida Glavish, Moana Jackson, and Pania Newtown share their own unique perspectives around the declaration and Māori indigenous rights.

"For the benefit of future generations, we are determined to ensure that concrete steps towards achieving the ends of the Declaration are taken. The Commission will be using what has been learned and shared at the conference to inform our work in the indigenous rights space going forward," said Chief Commissioner David Rutherford.

Continued to push for equal pay legislation that reflects the pay equity principles

In August, the Commission outlined concerns with the Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill following its first reading including the requirements for women to provide onerous levels of evidence that their pay equity claim has merits.

The new Government has since announced that it will be going back to the drawing board to develop new legislation that remains true to the pay equity principles put forward by the Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles.

“We are pleased that the new Government is focused on developing new legislation that reflects the pay equity principles and seeks to provide a fair outcome for those who have had an unfair deal for far too long,” said Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue.