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Submission on New Zealand’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

10 February 2015

1. Introduction

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Government’s draft periodic report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee concerning New Zealand’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Multicultural New Zealand represents 19 multicultural councils operating throughout New Zealand as well as advisory councils for women, youth, seniors, and business. We provide a collective voice for ethnic, migrant and refugee communities.

We were not represented at the consultative meetings held on 2 and 4 February 2015 because we had not been advised of them taking place. However, we would like to make the following comments relating particularly to the rights of people from ethnic, migrant and refugee communities:

2. Human Rights Commission

We are surprised that the section on the Human Rights Commission (paragraphs 28-29) makes no mention of the Human Rights Amendment Bill currently before Parliament, including the proposal to abolish the designations of Race Relations Commissioner and Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, or the fact that the vast majority of civil society submissions to the Select Committee were opposed to these changes. We suggest this be included here or elsewhere.

3. Constitutional Advisory Panel

We are disappointed that the report only refers to one recommendation from the Constitutional Advisory Panel, namely that the Government should actively support a continuing conversation about the constitution. There were other significant recommendations, including developing a national strategy for civics and citizenship education, developing a Treaty education strategy, setting up a process to develop options for the future role of the Treaty, exploring means of improving Maori representation in local government, and setting up a process to explore strengthening the NZ Bill of Rights Act, for example to include economic, social, cultural, property and environmental rights. We believe these additional recommendations should be included in the report, as well as steps the Government is taking to implement the recommendations.

4. National Action Plan for Human Rights

Paragraph 34 refers to a “mid-term” review of the 2005-2010 National Plan of Action for Human Rights in 2008. We note that this is barely inside the reporting period (i.e. seven years ago) and refers to the period prior to that, and we note further that the report refers only to the seven positive findings and not to the challenges identified by the Commission at that time.  The Commission noted that “significant challenges remain, however, to fully realising human rights for everyone in New Zealand. The pressing issues and priorities identified in the Action Plan remain.”  These were identified as:

  •  Building community-wide understanding of and respect for human rights and
  • Reducing discrimination, entrenched social and economic inequalities and barriers to full participation in society affecting particularly disabled people, Māori, Pacific peoples and new migrants
  • Achieving more equal participation and representation; accelerating progress on EEO and expanding the use of ‘good employer’ policies, practices and tools to the private sector
  • Strengthening the Treaty relationship between the Crown and Tangata Whenua.
  • Incorporating human rights systematically into legislation, policy and practice.
  • Maintaining a watching brief on the human rights implications of a range of global issues, such as terrorism, climate change, bioethics and developments in genetic technology.

We suggest that the report should also contain an indication of the themes identified for the new National Action Plan, which we understand to be:

  • how human rights issues are managed within the policy and law making processes
  • New Zealand’s growing diversity and its impacts on our society and race relations
  • issues raised in respect of inequalities and discrimination in New Zealand
  • tackling violence and abuse in New Zealand.

5. Mass arrivals of asylum seekers

We note that the section of the report dealing with mass arrivals of asylum seekers by boat fails to mention the Immigration Amendment Act provisions for their indefinite detention, their preclusion from gaining permanent residence until after a reassessment of their claims for refugee and protected person status (after three years) and their more limited eligibility for family reunification compared to other refugees and asylum seekers.  We believe these provisions will be of interest to the Human Rights Committee and should be included in the report.

6. Article 25

We note that the report omits reference to compliance with Article 25, which is about participation in public affairs, as follows:

“Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:

(a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;

(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections;

(c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country. “

We consider this to be a serious omission, as there is clear evidence that despite the legal provisions in the Bill of Rights Act, participation in electoral processes, involvement in decision making and access to public services is unequal for different groups.  Examples are in local government representation (where there are very few Māori, Pacific and ethnic councillors), School Boards of Trustees and District Health Boards, funding allocation bodies, and senior management positions in the public service.  There is also evidence of structural discrimination leading to different levels of access to or use of public services.  It would be appropriate to include information on these matters from the Electoral Commission, State Services Commission, the Human Rights Commission and other agencies under this heading.

7. Inequality

We are puzzled by the inclusion of trades training and anti-domestic violence programmes and educational and social welfare initiatives (paragraphs 161-166) under the subheading of Combating Stereotypes. We presume this is an error. In any event, we believe that the report should provide a comprehensive overview of inequalities in New Zealand, as it is one of the key human rights challenges we face.  Some of the material included in this section should perhaps be moved to other sections.

8. Supporting migrants

We note that paragraphs 167-168 are repeated at paragraphs 169-70. As with the Combating stereotypes section above, we are not clear that this information is in the right section (note that this is not a comment on the value of the programmes, we have for example, very positive experience of the E Tu Whanau programme for refugee, migrant and ethnic communities).  We wonder whether the entire section on inequality (paragraphs 159-172) could do with a thorough review with regard to relevance and placement.

9. Article 27

 We are bemused by the inclusion of the issue of Māori representation in local government under Article 27, which we understand to say that “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.” We suggest that paragraphs 189-195 be moved to the proposed section on Article 25 on political participation (see above).   In their place we would like to see a section on Government efforts to support communities to maintain their languages. We note the significant investment in Te Reo Maori, the NZ Sign Language Act and the recently adopted Pacific Languages Framework. Given the recent increase in other ethnic communities in New Zealand (e.g. Chinese, Indian, Korean, Filipino) and the importance of maintaining community languages for cultural diversity, we would welcome a signal in the report that this is a further development in government language policy that will be addressed.

10. Conclusion

There are comments we could make in relation to other sections of the draft report, but we have restricted ourselves to those sections that impact most directly on ethnic, migrant and refugee communities.  We would have liked to be invited to the consultation meetings, but in any event appreciate the opportunity to make a written submission.  We look forward to seeing how you are able to address our concerns in the final version of the report. For those matters that you are unable to address, we will consider submitting a shadow report to the UN Human Rights Committee in due course.

Footnote, May 2015

The Government submitted its report to the UN Human Rights Committee at the end of April 2015. A number of the suggestions made by Multicultural New Zealand were incorporated, including some of the technical points about the structure of the report and the inclusion of matters relating to the Constitutional Review Panel, the Human Rights Amendment Bill and the Immigration Amendment Act. However, negative aspects of the latter two (e.g. abolition of the designations of Race Relations Commissioner and EEO Commissioner, indefinite detention and discriminatory treatment of  "mass arrivals" of asylum seekers)  were not referred to. No reference was made to unequal representation in public bodies, except in the case of Maori in local government. Matters that have not been addressed may be taken up by Multicultural New Zealand when the UN Human Rights Committee considers the New Zealand Government's report in 2016.  


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