New Zealand’s International Obligations

New Zealand has had a good record of ratification and compliance with its international obligations since it ratified the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 1948. The sections below provide more information on New Zealand’s international obligations and how you can be involved.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) protects the fundamental needs of citizens, including the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to work, the right to health and the right to education. Click here for ICESCR full text. New Zealand ratified the ICESCR on 28 December 1978.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

New Zealand is obligated to report to CESCR every 5 years. New Zealand presented its 3rd government report to CESCR in May 2012. NGOs may submit a report at any time, but preferably at least one week before the Committee’s main session or that of the pre-sessional working group. To read New Zealand Human Rights Commission’s latest report to CESCR click here.

Making a submission to the CESCR

CESCR attaches great importance to cooperation with all non-governmental organizations active in the field of economic, social and cultural rights – local, national and international, those in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council and those without such status. The Committee constantly encourages their participation in its activities.

Written reports may be submitted at any time, but preferably at least one week before the Committee’s main session or that of the pre-sessional working group.

The main activities of the Committee that are open to NGO participation are:

Consideration of State party reports:

NGOs may submit relevant information once a State Party’s report has been submitted but before it is considered; directly to the pre-sessional working group either in written form or as an oral presentation; within the framework of the Committee’s “NGO hearing” at the time of State Party report consideration; and in follow up to the Committee’s concluding observations.

NGOs wishing to attend the sessions of the Committee, the pre-sessional working group meetings or the Committee’s NGO hearings should request accreditation from the secretariat in advance.

Days of General Discussion:

NGOs specialized in the topic scheduled to be addressed by the Committee during its Day of General Discussion can participate by submitting a background document no later than 3 months in advance of the session. The document should not be more than 15 double-spaced pages in length. NGOs can also send their experts to participate in the Day of General Discussion.

Drafting of General Comments:

During the stages of the drafting and discussion of a General Comment, specialized NGOs can address the Committee in writing. During discussions, NGOs can make short oral statements on specific points of the draft general comment. It is preferred that any recommendations as to the text of a draft general comment be presented also in written and electronic form.

More information

  • For more information on the submission process is available here
  • The Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights can be contacted at:
  • Examples of NGO statements presented jointly with the International Service for Human Rights can be viewed here.

Universal Periodic Review

The Universal Periodic Review was created in 2006 by resolution 60/251 to review the status of human rights in U.N. member countries. Every four years, member states must prepare a UPR report to declare what steps they have taken to improve the human rights within their country and show their compliance with international human rights instruments including:

  • the UN Charter
  • the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • human rights instruments to which the State is party (human rights treaties ratified by the State concerned)
  • voluntary pledges and commitments made by the State (e.g. national human rights policies and/or programs implemented), and
  • applicable international humanitarian law.

The review is conducted by the UPR Working Group consisting of the 47 members of the Human Rights Council. The Working Group considers information provided by the state under review, reports from human rights experts and groups, and other stakeholders including NGOs and NHRls. During the review U.N. member states have the opportunity to ask questions and make recommendations to the state under review, but the Council itself does not make a judgment. The state under review has the option to accept or reject recommendations made by individual states.

A strong case is made for trans people to be able to obtain official documents that reflect their gender identity. The effect of current law and policy is that many trans people do not have, and cannot obtain, official documents that contain consistent information about their gender identity and sex. The report recommends changes to current law to simplify requirements for change of sex on a birth certificate, passport and other documents. The Inquiry advocates a threshold that should apply across all official documents.

Most trans people experience difficulty having their rights to privacy respected. For many, disclosure resulted in discrimination and other threats to their security. The Inquiry found that the current law provides an adequate basis for trans people to assert their rights to privacy of personal information and for agencies holding such information to be clear about their responsibilities to protect it. Inconsistencies in practice require attention.

New Zealand had its first periodic review in 2009 and second in 2014. As part of the process the Human Rights Commission prepared its own assessment, presenting both a report on New Zealand’s compliance and a presentation to the Human Rights Council. You can view the Commission's work and submissions here.

Making a submission the the UPR Working Group

The review process provides a unique opportunity for NGOs, individuals and civil society groups to influence New Zealand’s human rights landscape. The UPR considers New Zealand’s human rights performance as a whole; all human rights and the way they interact in the New Zealand environment.

NGOs who hold consultative status with United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)  may submit a request for accreditation to attend sessions of the Working Group as observers. Accreditation forms must be submitted well in advance of the scheduled meeting. NGOs may also schedule information meetings with the UPR to share information and best practices with states and other interested organisations.

More information on the submission process is available here.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

The ICCPR is considered to be part of the International Bill of Rights along with the ICESCR and the UDHR. It commits states to respect the civil and political rights of citizens including the right to life, freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and the right to a fair trial. The ICCPR is overseen by the Human Rights Committee. The ICCPR was ratified by New Zealand on 28 December 1978.

New Zealand has made several reservations to the ICCPR which have been summarized here and set out in full on the Ministry of Justice website.

  • Reserves the right not to apply article 10(2) or 10(3) where the shortage of facilities makes the mixing of juveniles and adults unavoidable.
  • Reserves article 10(3) where the interests of other juveniles or the offender may be better served by moving that juvenile to a mixed facility.
  • Reserves article 14 (6) to the extent that it is not satisfied by the existing system for ex gratia payments to persons who suffer as a result of a miscarriage of justice.
  • Reserves the right not to introduce further legislation on racial hatred with regards to article 20 as New Zealand legislation already takes adequate measures.
  • Reserves the right not to introduce further legislation for the existence of trade unions with regards to article 22 as New Zealand legislation already takes adequate measures.

New Zealand has also made the following declarations:

  • New Zealand recognizes the right of the Human Rights Committee to consider communications received by state parties who also recognize the Committee under article 41 except where the declaration of the party was made less than twelve months prior to the submission of a complaint relating to New Zealand.

New Zealand ratified the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on 26 May 1989. The Optional Protocol provides an individual complaints mechanism. The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was ratified by New Zealand on 22 February 1990 and abolished the death penalty.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) commits its members to the elimination of racial discrimination and the promotion of understanding among all races. The Convention also requires its parties to outlaw hate speech and criminalize membership in racist organizations. New Zealand ratified the CERD on 22 November 1972. To read the full text of ICERD click here.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) oversees the implementation of the ICERD. To learn more about the CERD click here.

New Zealand is obligated to report to the CERD every 2 years (but in practice generally every 4 years as two combined periodic reports). Prior to reporting, the Committee releases a list of themes that it is particularly interested in discussing with government representatives.

New Zealand presented its most recent government report to the CERD in February 2013. The Human Rights Commission has submitted an independent report to the Committee with a five year review of race relations drawn from its most recent Race Relations Report.

Making a submission to the CERD

Accredited national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations may provide information on issues relating to the consideration of reports of States Parties, on a personal level and in informal meetings outside the Committee’s working hours, to members of the Committee wishing to attend such meetings.

NGOs submitting to CERD

The best option is to produce a supplementary report. There are two ways of approaching such a report; the first is to draw up a comprehensive report that considers each point of the state report and offers supplementary or contradicting information. Although time and resource consuming this seems to be the most effective way to provide information and has a high probability of getting the Committee’s attention. The second approach is to target specific issues of concern — such as those affecting particular groups, or specific fields such as education, employment or working conditions.

It may often be more effective to produce a supplementary report in collaboration with other NGOs. By doing so, you can avoid duplicating your work and use their knowledge, materials and resources in an effective way. Moreover, members of CERD are less likely to read all of the NGO reports if they receive too many. Such an approach can take two forms: NGOs can either produce a joint report under the name of a coalition, or they can coordinate their work for the preparation of individual reports.

International NGOs experienced in the work of CERD, such as ARIS, can also be of great help to national NGOs for such purposes as access to the UN; lobbying and identifying Committee members who might be interested in the issues of their concern; collecting documents; and, in the absence of the NGOs representatives in Geneva, handing out the supplementary report directly to members of the Committee.

How and when to hand in the report

Establish direct contact with the Country Rapporteur, who may indicate when, where and how the report should be sent. It is preferable to submit your report 2 months in advance of the relevant session. Other members of the Committee may be reticent about receiving reports directly from NGOs. There are three options to consider to ensure that your report is read:

  1. Eighteen copies, plus one extra for the Secretariat, may be sent to CERD’s Secretariat which will forward them directly to the members of CERD. Put the report in separate envelopes addressed to each member of CERD.
  2. A copy may be sent to ARIS before the session starts so that the report may be added to their list of documents. At the beginning of the Committee session, the list will be circulated among members who can order copies of the desired documents.
  3. If NGOs can attend the meeting, a copy may be handed to each member in person at the session as early as possible. Ask each member if they would like to see it but do not insist. Some experts despair at receiving supplementary reports as late as on the very day of the examination of the state report concerned.

Contact the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination:

Contact ARIS (Anti-Racism Information Service):

More info

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the first human rights convention of the twenty first century.New Zealand signed the Convention on 30 March, 2007 and ratified it 26 September, 2008.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities gives voice, visibility and legitimacy to disabled people and their issues in New Zealand and the rest of the world.It is aimed at protecting the dignity of persons with disabilities and ensuring their equal treatment under the law including the right to health services, education and employment. The CRPD in New Zealand is overseen by the Ministry of Social Development (Office for Disability Issues).

Read more about the CRPD here.

Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) promotes the equality of women throughout society, also obligates states to suppress all forms of sex trafficking.

CEDAW was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 18 December 1979. It was ratified by New Zealand in January 1985. The full CEDAW text can be found here.

The Convention obligates signatory states to end all forms of discrimination against women and contains three core elements:

  1. affirms women’s legal rights, includes all manner of civil and political rights
  2. devotes attention to women’s reproductive rights: “the role of women in procreation should not be a basis for discrimination”
  3. addresses cultural conceptions of women and how stereotypes, customs and norms can perpetuate discrimination

Party states are obliged to report four yearly on compliance with the CEDAW. These reports, which cover national action taken to improve the situation of women, are presented to the Committee by Government representatives. In discussions with these officials, the CEDAW experts comment on the report, obtain additional information then make recommendations. New Zealand appeared before the Committee in July 2012.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs is responsible for the CEDAW in New Zealand. More information about the CEDAW and a collection of New Zealand’s national reports to the CEDAW committee can be found at their website.

New Zealand has also ratified the Optional Protocol to the CEDAW. This allows the Committee to receive complaints and undertake substantive inquiries into any alleged violations of the Convention. While there is not individual webpage about how to make complaints under the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, this information is available in a larger document which covers communications under all the international conventions. Further information about the protocol can be found here.

Making a submission to CEDAW

The Committee welcomes country-specific information from national NGOs in relation to the state reports before it. National NGOs are also encouraged to submit their reports to the Committee’s pre-session working group.

Submissions to the Pre-Session Working Group:

Written reports should be submitted two weeks prior to the beginning of the pre-session working group. At least of 10 copies should be sent. For more details on pre-session details and meetings can be obtained from International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific.

Submissions to the Committee:

Written Submissions must be sent electronically to the Committee’s secretariat in pdf format. Additionally 30 copies of the submission must be sent by post. These should arrive at the Secretariat two weeks prior to the beginning of the session. The submission must identify the full name of the NGO and indicate which country the submission relates to.

Oral Submissions: NGOs wishing to make an oral submission before the Committee should contact the Committee secretariat at least two weeks beforehand. It is suggested national NGO’s coordinate as speaking time is limited. Oral submissions are usually no more than 10 minutes overall. NGO’s making an oral submission should bring at least 35 written copies of their statements with them.

Further Information:

A detailed guide for NGO participation with the Committee can be found here and more information can also be found on the Committee’s website or by contacting the Committee directly at

Convention Against Torture

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) requires states to prevent torture and degrading treatment within their borders and forbids the return of people to their home country if they are likely to be tortured. It also creates a reporting procedure for the Committee against Torture to hear individual complaints.

The CAT was adopted by General Assembly resolution 39/46 on 10 December 1984. New Zealand ratified the CAT on 10 December 1989 with the following reservation:

The Government of New Zealand reserves the right to award compensation to torture victims referred to in article 14 of the Convention Against Torture only at the discretion of the Attorney-General of New Zealand.

Learn about the Commission's work in this space here.

Making a submission to the Committee Against Torture

State NGOs and NHRls are encouraged 10 submit written reports to the Committee Against Torture. These reports will be reviewed and the submitting parties will have an opportunity to meet with the Committee before the examination of the State’s report. Note: NGOs do not need to be accredited with the ECOSOC to make submissions

NGOs and NHRls may engage with the Committee in the following ways:

Written information for List of Issues

The Committee compiles a list of issues (LOls) the session before it is due to examine the states report. Sessions are usually held in May and November of each year so LOls adopted in May will be reviewed during the November session.

Information that NGOs and NHRls wish to submit to the Committee for consideration in the LOls must be received by the Secretariat no later than two months before the opening of that session. LOls and state replies will be posted on the CAT website.

Written information for the examination of the State Party’s report

Written information that NGOs and NHRls wish to submit to the Committee preceding the state report must be received no less than two weeks before the opening of that session.

Briefings with the Committee and country Rapporteurs before the examination of the State’s report

NGOs that have submitted written information may meet with the Committee before the dialogue with the State Party.

NHRls that have submitted written information may meet with the country’s rapporteurs and members of the Committee before the dialogue with the State Party. If NHRls are unable to attend the session they can contact the International Coordinating Committee for a member to represent their interests.

NGO and NHRI representatives may be present at the dialogues with the State as observers. In order to participate they must fill out the accreditation form and submit it to the Secretariat two weeks before the session.


NGOs and NHRIs are also able to submit reports to the Committee on the State’s implementation of the Committee’s recommendations.

Further information on the submission process is available here.

Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT)

The Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) was ratified by New Zealand on 14 March 2007. OPCAT created a subcommittee to oversee “a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

In New Zealand, the independent mechanism is made up of the Human Rights Commission (Central National Preventive Mechanism, or CNPM) and four National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) tasked with monitoring detention facilities: the Independent Police Conduct Authority, the Inspector of Service Penal Establishments, the Office of the Childrens Commissioner and the Office of the Ombudsman.

To learn more about OPCAT view this section.

Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

The United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted by the General Assembly in 1951. The Protocol to the Convention was adopted in 1967. New Zealand ratified the Convention in 1960 and has also ratified the Protocol.

The Convention is the guiding statute for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, an international organisation set up in 1950. The Convention as amended by the 1967 Protocol defines who are refugees and New Zealand’s responsibilities on granting asylum. It also codifies the principle of non-refoulement, which means refugees cannot be forcibly returned to countries where they face persecution.

This principle is part of international customary law meaning it applies to all states, not just parties to the Convention. The Convention is primarily intended for those fleeing life threatening hardship and persecution, not economic refugees.

Currently the Immigration Act 2009 is the key piece of legislation regarding the implementation of the Convention in New Zealand. New Zealand is obliged by international law and domestic law to protect persons who have a well-founded fear of persecution if returned to their country of nationality or habitual residence. A person recognised as a refugee or protected person in New Zealand, or who is a claimant, may not be deported under the Act unless specifically allowed for under the Act or the Refugee Convention.

Currently, New Zealand accepts about 750 refugees each year as part of the UNHCR quota programme. Refugee Services is the agency primarily responsible for their resettlement.

More information

  • Key facts relating to the Convention can be found here
  • A more detailed discussion of the Convention and Protocol can also be found here.

Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) defines universal principles and standards for the status and treatment of children worldwide. UNCROC was adopted by the UN in 1989 and defines universal principles and standards for the status and treatment of children worldwide. It is overseen by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

UNCROC is made up of 54 articles that set out a range of human rights standards for the treatment of children and young people. Four articles capture the general principles underpinning the Convention. These are:

  • all children have the right to protection from discrimination on any grounds
  • the best interests of the child should be the primary consideration in all matters affecting the child
  • children have the rights to life, survival and development
  • all children have the right to an opinion and for that opinion to be heard in all contexts.

Click here to read the full text of the UNCROC

New Zealand ratified the UNCROC in 1993, along with all United Nations member states except for the United States and Somalia. The NZ government entered three reservations to UNCROC:

  • Children whose parents do not have a legal right to be in New Zealand are not entitled to education, health and welfare benefits. ‘Nothing in this Convention shall affect the right of the Government of New Zealand to continue to distinguish as it considers appropriate in its law and practice between persons according to the nature of their authority to be in New Zealand including but not limited to their entitlement to benefits and other protections described in the Convention, and the Government of New Zealand reserves the right to interpret and apply the Convention accordingly.’
  • There is no minimum age or agreed conditions of employing children. ‘The Government of New Zealand considers that the rights of the child provided for in article 32 (1) are adequately protected by its existing law. It therefore reserves the right not to legislate further or to take additional measures as may be envisaged in article 32 (2).’
  • Children in custody can be held with adult prisoners in some circumstances.’ The Government of New Zealand reserves the right not to apply article 37 (c) in circumstances where the shortage of suitable facilities makes the mixing of juveniles and adults unavoidable; and further reserves the right not to apply article 37 (c) where the interests of other juveniles in an establishment require the removal of a particular juvenile offender or where mixing is considered to be of benefit to the persons concerned.’

State parties are obligated to report on UNCROC every five years. New Zealand last appeared before the Committee in January 2011. The Committee’s concluding observations included:

  • withdraw reservations
  • establish a permanent mechanism to ensure high-level and effective coordination of the implementation of the Convention
  • take urgent measures to address disparities in access to services of Maori children and their families and take affirmative action for the benefit of children in vulnerable situations
  • raise the age of criminal responsibility
  • intensify efforts to render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities

Click here to read the full report and concluding observations.

Click here to learn about the Ministry of Social Development’s public consultation on New Zealand’s Fifth Periodic Report under UNCROC and have your say.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in September 2007. It was described by the UN as “a landmark declaration that brought to an end nearly 25 years of contentious negotiations over the rights of native people to protect their lands and resources, and to maintain their unique cultures and traditions.” The New Zealand government officially endorsed the UNDRIP in 2010, after opposing it for almost three years. You can read then-Minister for Maori Affairs, Pita Sharples, announced the government's endorsement here.

The Declaration sets out a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, well-being and rights of the world’s indigenous peoples. The Declaration addresses both individual and collective rights; cultural rights and identity; rights to education, health, employment, language, and others. It declares discrimination against indigenous peoples unlawful and promotes their full and effective participation in all matters that concern them. It also affirms their right to remain distinct and to pursue their own priorities in economic, social and cultural development. The Declaration explicitly encourages harmonious and cooperative relations between States and indigenous peoples.

The Preamble proclaims the Declaration to be “a standard of achievement to be pursued in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect”. It is an aspirational document, whose text is not legally binding on States. Prime Minister John Key reaffirmed that UNDRIP is an ‘aspirational’ document, and will be implemented only ‘within the current legal and constitutional frameworks of New Zealand.’

Read the Declaration:

You can also read the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples statements: