Mixed report card for NZ’s human rights record in Geneva

Mixed report card for NZ’s human rights record in Geneva

April 16, 2018

New Zealand received a mixed reception from the UN Committee responsible for oversight of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) when it met in Geneva in March.

Chief Commissioner David Rutherford and Chief Legal Advisor Janet Anderson-Bidois attended the review as did a significant number of New Zealand NGOs in person, or by videoconference.   

Justice Minister Andrew Little led the State Delegation and addressed questions from the Committee on the Government’s action on policies and legislation, which would ensure all New Zealanders had access to equal economic, social and cultural rights. 

The Committee picked out three areas where it wants the Government to report back to the Committee within 18 months. These were the development of a human rights-based housing strategy; progress on reducing family violence and the removal of benefit sanctions. 

The Commission’s own submission to the Committee was that NZ needed to demonstrate a more tangible legislative, policy and practice commitment to meeting its obligations under ICESCR. The Commission made 20 recommendations to achieve this.

Chief Commissioner David Rutherford says the ICESCR Committee review process is all about what needs to happen in Aotearoa New Zealand to move the dial on human rights realisation in New Zealand. 

"It was empowering to observe the incredulity at some of our worst statistics. While issues like health disparities, or domestic violence, are well-known to many of us in New Zealand, they came as a shock to some Committee members. 

“They were shocked by statistics on child poverty, inadequate housing, the incarceration rate, and violence, abuse and bullying which didn’t seem to sit well with our status as a developed nation.”

The Committee also noted significant standard of living, education and health disparities for groups such as Māori, Pasifika people, disabled people and the LGBTI community. 

“Māori and Pasifika New Zealanders are more likely to be affected by preventable conditions, and to die prematurely. They are also less likely to be able to access care because of socio-economic barriers,” David says.  

“People with an intellectual disability have an average life expectancy several decades less than other people of the same age and health issues identified over a decade ago as “serious abuse” remain to be addressed.  As one Committee member asked: “how can this be?””

During the review, the Commission’s National Plan of Action (NPA) was acknowledged by the Committee as an effective human rights monitoring tool. It asked that the concluding observations of the UN Treaty Bodies be included.

The Government has committed to having its actions in response to the Committee’s recommendations included in the NPA. The Commission will be following this up to ensure this happens. 

“The Committee’s report provides us with a great platform for our advocacy work. Thanks to everyone who assisted in pulling together both our own report, and those from other organisations working to improve human rights for New Zealanders,” David says.