In the Commission’s submission to the Justice and Electoral Committee, Chief Commissioner David Rutherford says the right to be free from bullying is fundamental to the realisation of basic human rights.
“Everyone, particularly children, have a right to personal security,” he says.
“There is no difference between the harm caused by bullying in the real or digital worlds. It’s not OK to threaten anyone. Bullying – including cyberbullying – is a major human rights issue in New Zealand because it threatens the very right to life.”
For some years now the Human Rights Commission has been involved in the issue of bullying and its effects.
David Rutherford says the Commission recognises that although some opponents of the Bill may argue it infringes the right to freedom of expression the Commission considers that restriction justified in order to protect vulnerable people and children in particular.
“The Bill strikes the right balance between freedom of expression and the need to prevent or reduce harm to others,” David Rutherford says.
The Commission is also troubled about the extent of cyberbullying, noting with concern that Vodafone New Zealand’s black list of text bullying has received 130,000 complaints.
The Bill will create a new civil enforcement regime that will resolve complaints in a number of ways including mediation and the District Court declaring the breach of Communication Principles.
One of the principles, Communication Principle 10, states that a digital communication should not denigrate someone because of some of the grounds that are unlawful under the Human Rights Act. The grounds are colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.
The Commission, in its submission, questioned why the principle does not extend to the other grounds of the Act such as beneficiary status which is part of employment status. Beneficiaries who are hounded or criticised for living off the State, for example, may be equally upset by unpleasant online comment but unable to complain under the Bill.
“The Commission finds it hard to understand why some of the grounds have been included and not others.”