New Zealand’s human rights performance slipping

New Zealand’s human rights performance slipping

By Heather McCracken

The study showed New Zealand was slipping behind in areas such as child poverty, gender equality, the systemic disadvantage of Maori, and the rights of disabled people. Photo / NZME.
The study showed New Zealand was slipping behind in areas such as child poverty, gender equality, the systemic disadvantage of Maori, and the rights of disabled people. Photo / NZME.

New Zealand’s image as a global human rights leader is not backed up by performance at home, a new report says.

The three-year study, written by by two university professors and a human rights lawyer, showed New Zealand was slipping behind in areas such as child poverty, gender equality, the systemic disadvantage of Maori, and the rights of disabled people.

It looked at whether ratifying six international treaties had improved domestic human rights, and found while progress had been made, it had slowed and in some cases regressed.

Study author Professor Judy McGregor said New Zealand’s belief that we’re good at human rights has blinded us to the fact we’re falling behind other countries.

“For example, we keep telling the United Nations we were the first to grant women the vote, but we still don’t have equal pay for women or pay equity for carers,” Professor McGregor said.

“Nor do we have adequate paid parental leave, and we continue to suffer completely unacceptable levels of violence against women. We say how good we are, but the reality is we’re in trouble.”

Fault Lines: Human rights in New Zealand was written by Professor McGregor from Auckland University of Technology, human rights lawyer Sylvia Bell and Waikato University’s Professor Margaret Wilson.

New Zealand has backed six major treaties covering political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights, racial discrimination and the rights of women, children and people with disabilities.

The report found ratifying the treaties had sparked positive change – such as introducing paid parental leave, repealing Section 59 of the Crimes Act, and a law change which allowed the children of illegal immigrants to attend school.

But there were worrying signs of regression, such as the law passed under urgency, despite inconsistency with the Bill of Rights, in response to the court decision allowing family members to be paid for caring for disabled relatives.

Also of concern were changes to the welfare system which undermined the standard of living for some children, the report said.

New Zealand was also poor at promoting and monitoring its obligations under the human rights treaties, and has little parliamentary scrutiny of performance.

Data on treaty reporting and progress was scattered across ministries, with no agency taking responsibility or archiving materials.

The report said New Zealand’s human rights legislation – the Bill of Rights Act and the Human Rights Act – were problematic and didn’t prevent the passing of other laws, which breach rights.

The authors called for an overhaul of the Human Rights Act and giving the Justice and Electoral Select Committee oversight of human rights treaty obligations, among 13 recommendations.

The report was funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation.

The six treaties

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

The Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

The Convention on the Rights of All Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

NZME.

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