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Waitangi Tribunal's focus on human rights welcomed

Human Rights Commission welcomes Waitangi Tribunal's focus on human rights

The Waitangi Tribunal report on the foreshore and seabed raises important questions about the human rights of Maori and of all New Zealanders, says the Human Rights Commission.

Chief Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan says that the Commission has a statutory responsibility to promote public understanding of the human rights dimensions of the Treaty of Waitangi, and the Tribunal's report is an important contribution to that debate.

"The report looks at the issue from a human rights as well as from a Treaty of Waitangi perspective. It raises questions about equal access to justice through the courts, consultation, and freedom from discrimination, and the Government's responsibility to deal with all New Zealanders fairly", she said.

"Most attention has focused on the Tribunal's findings relating to potential breaches of the Treaty, but what has not been highlighted is the Tribunal's final conclusion that there is a lot of common ground which could form the starting point for further dialogue."

"The Tribunal's report raises questions which will need to be addressed by the Government if it decides to proceed with legislation, and by the Attorney-General if she has to exercise her statutory function to consider and report on any inconsistencies between any proposed legislation and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act."

"Particular Bill of Rights provisions that will need to be carefully examined are the right to freedom from discrimination and the right to justice."

Ms Noonan said that the Commission would be providing further advice to Government on how a human rights framework can assist in addressing the issues. If legislative intervention is deemed to be warranted then it should be guided by:

* the need to find a human rights compliant solution reached after full consideration of the range of options. * the use of a fair, open and transparent process, which includes consultation and dialogue with all potentially affected parties.

Any limits that Government policy places on human rights require robust justification. Basically this involves a two stage process, firstly of determining: * whether the legislation/policy in question serves a significant and important objective; and if so, * whether there is a rational and proportionate connection between that objective and the policy, or whether the objective can be achieved in another way which interferes less with the right or freedom affected.

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres says that the Commission has a dual responsibility for the protection of human rights and the development of harmonious race relations.

"It is in the long term interest of race relations that any policy or legislation on the foreshore and seabed respects the rights and interests of all New Zealanders, and that the issues are addressed through a process of dialogue involving all parties", he said.

Mr de Bres said that if the Government does proceed with the introduction of a Bill and it is referred to a Select Committee, it will be important for the Select Committee to take a broad and inclusive approach and to allow for a timeframe that enables the views of a cross section of New Zealanders to be considered and addressed.

"If that turns out to be the case, then the further dialogue called for by the Waitangi Tribunal may be able to take place in that context, and the concerns not just of Maori and the Crown, but also of the general public, will be able to be heard and examined on their merits," he said.

In their final word in the report, the Tribunal says that whatever happens, it hopes "for an outcome that is faithful to the vision of the Treaty: two peoples living together in one nation, sharing authority and resources, with fundamental respect for each other".

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