Right to language and culture

Your rights

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.

How you can expect to be treated

  • We all have the right to the equal enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights
  • All Indigenous peoples are entitled to self-determination and the protection of their language, culture and heritage,
  • We all have the right to enjoy one's culture and to use one's own language
  • We all have the right to be treated with respect, dignity and equity.  We also have the right to not be harassed, taunted or teased because of our colour, our accent, the way we dress, the food we eat or anything else related to our race or ethnicity.

The Human Rights Act makes discrimination unlawful when it occurs in:

  • government or state sector activities
  • public education and health services
  • employment
  • business partnerships
  • industrial and professional associations
  • qualifying bodies and vocational training bodies
  • access to public places, vehicle and facilities
  • access to goods and services
  • access to land, housing and accommodation
  • and access to education.

If you have further questions about the laws that protect your rights you can either view our Enquiries, Complaints, and Support section or our Frequently Asked Questions section.

Visit our Using your rights section to find out what your options are if you think you have faced discrimination.

Official Languages

Our oldest language is te reo Māori, indigenous to New Zealand and protected by the Treaty of Waitangi as well as international law. Our most widely spoken language is English. Māori, English and New Zealand Sign Language are our three official languages. You have a legal right to speak any of our three official languages in legal and official proceedings. Learn more about New Zealand's official languages here.

Community Languages

New Zealand is one of the most ethnically diverse nations on earth and our changing face means we are also speaking other languages more than ever before. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides the right for people from different ethnic, religious or linguistic groups to enjoy their culture, practise their religion or use the language of their community. Learn more about the language weeks that we celebrate in New Zealand here.

Language at work

Under the Human Rights Act, it is unlawful for an employer to treat an employee less favourably because of their ethnicity or national origin. Someone’s first language is usually related to their ethnicity so if an employer tries to stop someone from using their first language, that may be discrimination. Learn more about language use at work here.

Podcast 'Interpretation and the right to effective communication' – Speak Up – Kōrerotia

In September 2015 the Commission's podcast covered interpretation in New Zealand. Host Sally spoke with Maria Fresia, Gareth Abdinor and Terisa Tagicakibau about the right to access information, specifically the legal and moral necessity of using profession interpreters. You can listen here.