A report on the status of human rights in New Zealand says serious fault lines are developing and that the country’s reputation as a global leader is at risk.
“A three year study of the six major human rights treaties New Zealand has signed shows we’re better at talking about human rights than walking the talk and implementing our promises made internationally,” says Auckland University of Technology’s Professor Judy McGregor, co-author of Fault lines: Human rights in New Zealand.
“The detailed research shows we’re slipping behind in areas such as child poverty, gender equality, systemic disadvantage of Māori, and the rights of disabled people to challenge the State.
“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. 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.”
Funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation, Fault lines was written by Professor McGregor, human rights lawyer Sylvia Bell and Waikato University’s Professor Margaret Wilson. Each has significant practical experience of working in human rights.
The report suggests New Zealand needs to take urgent remedial action to retain its point of difference as a human rights leader. It is also critical of the level of understanding of Members of Parliament of human rights treaty obligations.
In addition the report says New Zealanders’ strong belief that we are good at human rights has blinded us to the fact that we are falling behind other countries in implementing economic, social and cultural rights on the ground, despite our treaty obligations.
It suggests 13 recommendations to help New Zealand retain human rights leadership including a comprehensive rewrite of human rights legislation, a new parliamentary select committee to deal with human rights and the urgent repeal of non-human rights compliant legislation to reinstate the rights of all New Zealanders to complain about discrimination.
The recommendations also suggest a new more proactive role for the Māori Affairs Select Committee in monitoring New Zealand’s response to the United Nations about closing the inequality gaps. More New Zealanders should be nominated for significant UN human rights treaty bodies and journalists need better training in the reporting of treaty body reports which remain largely invisible to the public.
New Zealand has ratified six international treaties covering political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights, racial discrimination and the rights of women, children and people with disabilities.
Fault lines, examines each of the treaties and New Zealand’s engagement in the Universal Periodic Review, an overview of human rights progress. The report is based on interviews in New Zealand and at the United Nations, case law, analysis of treaty body reports and personal observation.
Professor McGregor says the backing of the Law Foundation, which is New Zealand’s major funder of independent legal research was critical to producing the report.