Right to language and culture

Our work

The Human Rights Commission has a longstanding commitment to the promotion of language as a human right. The vision for language in the New Zealand Action Plan for Human Rights (2005) was that “by the bicentenary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 2040 New Zealand is well established as a bilingual nation and communities are supported in the use of other languages”. The Commission contributes to this vision in a number of ways detailed below.

National Statement on Language Policy

The Statement on Language Policy PDF (Accessible Version), developed through the national language policy network of the New Zealand Diversity Action Programme, is intended to provide an elementary framework to prioritise, implement and monitor language policy development in New Zealand pending the development of a more substantial strategy. Hopefully it will stimulate further debate and action.

This booklet contains the Statement, the language priorities from the New Zealand Action Plan for Human Rights and details of Te Waka Reo, the national language policy network. It is published as a contribution to the United Nations International Year of Languages.

The New Zealand Diversity Action Programme

The New Zealand Diversity Action Programme is a community initiative which is facilitated by the Human Rights Commission. There are a number of participating organisations related to Newcomers.

Read more about the programme here.

Language in the workplace

The right to use one’s own language is an internationally recognised human right, which is mentioned in a range of human rights treaties and declarations.

However, English is the most widely used language in New Zealand and people have very different responses to the use of languages other than English in the workplace.

The Commission has published an information sheet on this issue called English language only’ policies in the workplace.

Te Reo Māori

Te Taura Whiri I te reo Māori (Māori Language Commission) exists to promote te reo Māori as a living, treasured and widely used language. The Human Rights Commission works closely with Te Taura Whiri I te reo Māori on a number of initiatives across the year such as Māori Language Week. Learn about the history and development of the Māori Language here.

New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL)

Deaf New Zealanders access to their own language is central to health, education and justice outcomes. The Human Rights Commission continues to support NZSL, it's use across communities and Sign Language Week. Read about the history of the New Zealand Sign Language Act here.

Between August 2012 to August 2013 the Commission carried out an inquiry into the use and promotion of New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). Read more about the inquiry here.

Community Languages / Language Weeks

A series of language weeks have been supported by the Human Rights Commission in conjunction with community groups and government agencies. Read more about these languages weeks by clicking on the links below:

Speak Up” – “Kōrerotia

Speak Up” – “Kōrerotia is the radio show of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission engaging in conversations around race, newcomers and diversity in our country. You can listen to the show here.