Today, August 9, is Indigenous Peoples’ Day in many countries around the world and it is a chance to celebrate the diversity and achievements of Indigenous peoples and to commit to ensuring that their rights are protected.
In New Zealand, the day is a timely reminder of the need for continued commitment and action on the human rights issues affecting Māori.
Addressing the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva last month, Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) Commissioner Jackie Blue reported on New Zealand’s slow progress in addressing disparities for Māori women in areas such as health, employment, domestic violence and access to justice.
The disparities in the justice system are particularly troubling: Māori women make up 61% of New Zealand’s female prison population. And of even more concern is the fact that their over-representation appears to be getting worse. Imprisonment rates of women are rising and New Zealand Law Society research shows that in 2017, Māori comprised 55% of adult women convicted of a crime, and 67% of women sentenced to imprisonment.
On average 266 women and girls were in prison in New Zealand in 2000, which was 4.7 percent of the prison population: the rate of imprisonment per 100,000 of the general population was 6.9.
By January this year, there had been a three-fold increase, with 801 women and girls in prison, making nearly 8% of the prison population. The overall rate of imprisonment had more than doubled to 16.6 per 100,000.
The CEDAW Committee is the latest in a long line of UN human rights bodies to urge New Zealand to take action to address Māori over-representation in the justice system.
Drawing on human rights standards, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), recommendations and guidance from international experts highlight the importance of:
- recognising Indigenous justice systems;
- addressing underlying issues, such as discrimination, social and economic disadvantage and historical factors;
- working in partnership with indigenous peoples to determine effective strategies;
- ensuring training for police, judges and government agencies on the rights of indigenous peoples; and
- upholding indigenous peoples’ rights to participation and self-determination.
Homegrown experts, such as Dr Moana Jackson and Dr Kim Workman have long called for a fundamental rethink of our justice system.
Justice Minister Andrew Little’s recently announced initiative, Safe and Effective Justice / Hāpaitia te Oranga Tangata is therefore a particularly welcome development.
As Minister Little said in In announcing the initiative: “Real change means we have to do things differently” and that there is a need to start “honest conversations as a country, supported by real evidence” if we are to fix our broken justice system.
A two-day Justice Summit later this month is an important step in this process. The Human Rights Commission welcomes this initiative and looks forward to the outcomes of the summit.
9 August is observed around the world as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
For further information, videos and resources are available at: http://www.un.org/en/events/indigenousday/ #WeAreIndigenous, #IndigenousDay, #IndigenousPeoplesDay, #UNDRIP