Racial discrimination

Your rights

We all have the right to be treated fairly, with respect and to be free from unwelcome racial discrimination.

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 (to choose their political status and the way they want to develop) and the protection of their language, culture, heritage, and relationship to the environment
  • We all have the right to enjoy one's culture and to use one's own language
  • We all have the right to freedom of religion and belief.
  • 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.

Racial Harassment

Racial harassment is behaviour that is racist, hurtful or offensive and either repeated or serious enough to have a harmful effect on you. Many people experience unfair treatment and racism because of how they look or where they come from. Racial discrimination can also be subtle, creating systemic barriers that lock people out of social and economic opportunities. Read the Commission's Racial harassment guide (PDF) for more information.

The Human Rights Act makes this 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.

Every year we field thousands of complaints and queries from people across the country. Approximately a third of all complaints are about racial discrimination. Nine out of ten complaints are resolved by our team of mediators.

If you experience or indirect discrimination you can complain  to the Human Rights Commission. Find our more information about using your rights here.

Find out more about Structural Discrimination

The Human Rights Commission published a discussion paper that looks at the part that structural discrimination or institutional racism plays in perpetuating inequalities. View the Commission's Report on Institutional Discrimination (PDF) (Accessible Version) here.

What laws protect your rights

The Human Rights Act and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) exist to promote and the protect our rights.

The Human Rights Act makes it unlawful to discriminate on the ground of colour, race, ethnicity, or national origin in any of the prohibited areas of public life. Read more here.

New Zealand ratified CERD in 1972 which means you should not be treated differently  based on where you were born, what ethnicity you identify as and the colour of your skin. CERD also requires New Zealand to outlaw hate speech and criminalise membership in racist organisations as well as promote understanding between all New Zealanders. 

New Zealand has also signed up to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Read more about these laws here.

Positive discrimination

Both the Human Rights Act and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act recognise that certain groups may need to be treated differently to help them achieve equality with others. This includes things such as university entry quotas for Maori and Pacific people. Learn more and read our Guideline to measuring equality here.

Race Relations in New Zealand report

Read the Commission's report card on the state of race relations in New Zealand: Human rights and race relations – Whakawhanaungatanga a iwi for a comprehensive view on the human rights situation in Aotearoa. 

Additionally, every year the Commission publishes a report that surveys general developments in race relations over the last year, collates key data, analyses complaints and gives an overview of race relations research.

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 racial discrimination.

You can visit section for more info about race relations.