Your rights

Your rights

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”


Human rights are what people need to live with dignity and enjoy freedom. Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that every person in the world should have.

Everyone has the right to:

  • The right to life and liberty
  • Freedom of expression
  • Equality before the law
  • The right to be free from discrimination
  • The right to participate in culture
  • The right to education

In New Zealand the Bill of Rights Act and the Human Rights Act set out these human rights in law.


Everyone is equally entitled to human rights without discrimination. Discrimination happens when someone is treated unfairly or less favourably than another person in the same or similar circumstances. Discrimination can be direct or indirect, and generally takes the form of exclusion or rejection from something.

People with may experience unfair treatment because of factors such as how they look, how they identify, their age or gender, or who they choose to love.

Discrimination can also be subtle, creating systemic barriers that lock people out of social and economic opportunities.

What laws protect you against discrimination

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.

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act sets out a range of civil and political rights, including among other things, the right to freedom of expression, the right to religious belief, the right to freedom of movement, and the right to be free from discrimination.

Every year we field thousands of complaints and queries from people across the country. 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.

To find out more about what the Human Rights Act protects you from you can view this part of our Enquiries, Complaints, and Support section.

Social rights

Equality is one of the most powerful ideas in modern political thought and gives life to rights. This is because all individuals have rights because each individual matters - equally.

The clearest statement on equality in New Zealand is found in Article 3 of the Treaty of Waitangi in which the Crown extended to Māori "all the rights and privileges of British subjects." Apart from this, there is no specific reference in New Zealand law to equality. 

While many people assume that freedom from discrimination and equality are the same thing, a world without discrimination is not necessarily a world without equality.

'Social rights', within a Human Rights approach framework, refers to the treatment of all groups in society as equal rather than equal treatment. Differences in gender, sex, income, health, age, income, or sexual orientation or identity should not result in unfair treatment under the law and should not reduce opportunities unjustifiably.

The Human Rights Commission recognises and values diversity of identities and communities and acknowledges the difficulty encompassing this diversity under any single umbrella term.

The rights of sexual and gender minorities

All people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have the same human rights and freedoms. All sexual and gender minorities in New Zealand have these rights. This includes people who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, takataapui, intersex, transgender, whakawähine, tangata ira tane, fa’afafine or fakaleiti. 

It is unlawful to discriminate against anyone in New Zealand because of their sexual orientation or sex/gender identity within areas of life covered by the Human Rights Act 1993. These include applying for a job, at work, in education and health care in government agencies’ policies and practice and when you buy things or pay for services.

The Yogyakarta Principles set out the international human rights standards that all countries must meet to uphold the human rights of sexual and gender minorities. They state that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have the same rights and freedoms. All sexual and gender minorities in New Zealand have these human rights, whichever word they use to describe their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Human rights in relation to sexual orientation or gender identity include, for example, the rights to: 

  • be freed from discrimination 
  • be recognised as a person before the law 
  • life, liberty and security of the person 
  • freedom from arbitrary detention and to a fair trial 
  • an adequate standard of living, including decent work and housing 
  • education 
  • health and protection from medical abuses 
  • found a family 
  • participate in public life and in cultural life
  • freedom of expression 
  • freedom of association and peaceful assembly 
  • freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Anti-discrimination provisions in all major international human rights treaties spell out specific grounds on which discrimination is prohibited.

The principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation had become “one that is firmly grounded in international standards, requiring not only the repeal of discriminatory criminal laws but also the adoption of proactive anti-discrimination measures”.

New Zealand laws which related to sexual and gender minorities:

The rights of children and young people

Overall, most children in New Zealand are able to enjoy their rights, but they remain one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. There are still significant numbers of children who experience violence and neglect, poverty and poor health, and barriers to the full enjoyment of their right to education.

Children and young people (all human beings under the age of 18) have the same basic human rights as adults. Children also have specific human rights that recognise their special need for protection. 

Children’s rights are commonly viewed as falling into three categories:

  1. Provision rights: include the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to free education, the right to adequate health resources and the right to legal and social services.
  2. Protection rights: include protection from abuse and neglect, protection from bullying, protection from discrimination, and safety within the justice system.
  3. Participation rights: include the right to freedom of expression and the right to participate in public life.

Children’s rights are enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC). This is one of the key international human rights treaties and is the most widely accepted of the human rights instruments.

Domestic Violence and Bullying

Family violence remains the greatest human rights issue facing New Zealanders. All of us, no matter who we are or where we live deserve a life that is free from violence. This is a basic human right all New Zealanders ought to have and one we are all responsible for.

At the 2013 review of New Zealand’s human rights record before the United Nations Human Rights Council the government accepted recommendations to put in place a national strategy to combat domestic violence and child abuse. In its response the government noted it is developing plans to address targeted areas of violence against women and children.

The key pieces of legislation are the Crimes Act 1961, the Domestic Violence Act 1995, the Summary Offences Act 1981 and the Harassment Act 1997


Bullying at school is a serious problem. It can lead to serious negative physical, emotional and social impacts. Bullying affects the rights of young people to be safe and free from violence. Experiencing bullying or harassment can also interfere with young people’s right to education.

The Commission has published an analysis of the human rights issues in situations of school bullying, harassment and/or violence, to help make schools safer for everyone: School violence, bullying and abuse: A human rights analysis.

Bullying is also a difficult issue to deal with in the workplace. In response the Commission has developed a toolkit which looks at what workplace bullying is, what the law says, and examines the costs to employers. View the workplace bullying kit here.

Learn more about the Commission's work in the area of bullying, in particular our work as part of the Bullying Prevention Advisory Group here

The Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 makes it an offence to send or post harmful messages – punishable by a $2000 fine or three months’ jail – and creates a specialised enforcement agency to deal with cyber bullying complaints. Under the Bill, inciting someone to commit suicide over the internet is illegal.