Your rights

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.

Using your rights

What you can do about language-based discrimination

You should firstly keep a record of incidents you find offensive. It's also a good idea to talk it over with someone you trust and who will keep the information confidential. This may help clarify your best course of action.

You should firstly keep a record of incidents you find offensive. It's also a good idea to talk it over with someone you trust and who will keep the information confidential. This may help clarify your best course of action.

Speak to the person who is harassing you and tell them you want them to stop, otherwise you will complain. You can do this in person, in a letter, or with a union or other representative. If this doesn’t work, or is inappropriate, you can seek advice and assistance from:

  • a racial harassment contact person (many workplaces have a harassment policy)
  • a manager or school counsellor
  • the Human Rights Commission
  • your union representative or a lawyer
  • a professional disciplinary body
  • the police
  • the Employment Relations Service (if you have been harassed at work).
  • Phone 0800 20 90 20.

Other organisations and individuals who can help you with initial advice and clarification include your local Member of Parliament or Community Law Centre.

What the Commission can do

We can advise you on whether your complaint is covered by the Human Rights Act and if it is we can help with mediation.

If mediation doesn’t work, we can advise you on your legal options. Learn more in our Enquiries, Complaints and Support section, or call our Infoline on 0800 496 877. Our service is free and confidential.

The main focus of our service is on resolving disputes involving unlawful discrimination, such as on the grounds of age, gender, ethnicity, or disability. But we can also help you with advice on broader human rights issues.

What happens if you think your human rights have been breached

If you think you have suffered a breach of your human rights, our Enquiries, Complaints and Support section has more information about how we can help, and your options.

If your complaint involves discrimination and we cannot resolve it informally, you will be entitled to ask the Office of Human Rights Proceedings to provide you with free legal representation.

If you have further questions about the laws that protect your rights you can view our Frequently Asked Questions section or read the Resolving Discrimination and Harassment Guide.

Language rights 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. Read more here.

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

Celebrating your rights

New Zealand is one of the most ethnically diverse nations on earth. The Commission facilitates a number of events that allow you to celebrate our nations diversity: