The Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt is urging the New Zealand Government to place human rights, equality and well-being in the centre of its reform agenda.
Mr Hunt made the comments in response to the Justice Minister Andrew Little’s submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva last night (Monday 21 January).
For decades, successive New Zealand governments have promised to improve how civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are implemented. This week, the United Nations is holding the government accountable for these commitments, which are binding in international law.
Minister Little updated United Nations member states on the human rights challenges New Zealanders face and how the Government intends to respond.
Mr Hunt noted that many of New Zealand’s human rights challenges arise from social and economic discrimination. Despite efforts by previous governments, Māori, Pacific peoples, women, migrants, refugees and disabled people experience markedly worse outcomes across a range of key indicators, such as housing, health, income, employment and education.
“I welcome the Minister’s frank acknowledgement to the United Nations of the need to urgently address systemic discrimination across many areas of New Zealand society, including health, employment, education and justice.
“I also note that many of the United Nations member states made recommendations regarding family violence, reducing discrimination – particulary in respect of Māori – and addressing a wide range of social and economic inequalities.
“We have almost 30 percent of New Zealand children living in households whose income falls below the income poverty line. As the United Nations has said for many years, poverty is a human rights issue.”
“And with New Zealand facing a housing crisis, the rising housing costs are hitting the poor hardest and the lack of accessible housing is affecting disabled people,” said Mr Hunt.
He acknowledged that the Government has committed to a reform agenda in several key areas, including budgetary planning, physical and mental health services, education, housing, welfare, tax, and historical abuse in State care and in the care of faith-based institutions.
“These reforms have the potential to reduce inequalities, improve human rights outcomes for all and ensure that New Zealand complies with its international human rights obligations, including economic, social and cultural rights,” said Mr Hunt.
“In particular, we welcome the introduction of the first “Wellbeing Budget” this year. This signifies the start of a movement towards a more holistic approach to measuring social, economic, cultural and environmental outcomes for New Zealanders.
“We were also very encouraged by the cross-party support for the child poverty reduction legislation passed by Parliament late last year and the Government’s focus on family violence.”
However, Mr Hunt observed that the Government does not take a consistent approach when integrating human rights, equality and well-being into policy and service delivery.
“I strongly encourage the Government and all MPs to ensure that human rights, equality, well-being, fairness and dignity are placed at the centre of new law, policy and practice.”
“A human rights approach to the Government’s reform agenda will help to improve social, economic, cultural and environmental outcomes, and lead to a healthier society for all,” said Mr Hunt.