A new book from Professor Judy McGregor describes New Zealand as “worryingly self-satisfied about its human rights record” despite some major shortcomings.
Human Rights in New Zealand: Emerging Faultlines, which was co-authored by human rights lawyer Sylvia Bell and Professor Margaret Wilson, was released this week.
Over the course of a five-year research project the book’s authors observed that New Zealand often pays rhetorical commitment internationally to human rights that is not borne out in practice “on the ground” at home.
New Zealand’s historic achievements – including being the first country in the world to give women the vote and playing a prominent role in establishing the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – are often used as evidence of a proud human rights records but Professor McGregor says the country is failing to follow through on its commitment to human rights in a number of areas.
The book identifies five critical issues that New Zealand needs to address: the need to improve constitutional and democratic freedoms; child poverty; the over-imprisonment of Māori; women’s rights such as equal pay; and the glacial pace of implementing the convention for disabled people.
“Our reputation for pioneering commitment to human rights is at stake. For New Zealand to continue to be seen as a global leader in human rights and an example to others, there will need to be new leaders with courage,” says McGregor.
“A new kind of leadership in Parliament, government agencies and in communities and civil society is required to champion the urgent need for New Zealand to ‘walk the talk’ on closing poverty and inequality gaps, and ensuring that disadvantaged people enjoy fundamental social protections at the heart of human dignity and respect.”
Human Rights in New Zealand: Emerging Faultlines is based on a five-year research project funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation.