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UN Rapporteur Concludes NZ Visit

UN Expert On Rights Of Indigenous People Concludes Visit To New Zealand

New York, Nov 25 2005

While the standard of living of the Maori of New Zealand has improved and is better than that of indigenous peoples in poorer countries, there is widespread concern that the gap in social and economic conditions is actually growing larger and an increasing proportion of Maori are being left behind, a United Nations human rights expert said today.

"Despite positive developments over the past years, there are in fact significant disparities between Maori and Pakeha in regard to social and human development indicators, especially in the fields of health, housing, income, education and social services," said Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, using the Maori term for Europeans.

"Tensions arising over unresolved and newly arising issues need to be addressed with political will and good faith by both sides," he added.

Maori people participate significantly in the economic development of the country and during the last few decades many have reaped some of its benefits, he said.

There is concern, however, over "surprising differential" of ten years in life expectancy between Maori and Pakeha, the lower health levels of Maori, the many Maori children in poverty, the problems facing single-parent households, family destabilization, domestic violence against Maori women and girls, increasing use of drugs and alcohol by youngsters, and high suicide rates.

Moreover, he said, Maori are grossly over-represented in the criminal justice system. All these issues are considered by Maori the result of a trans-generational backlog of broken promises, economic marginalization, social exclusion and cultural discrimination.

Maori possess only about 20 per cent of the land they once owned, and particularly troubling to Maori at the present time is the Foreshore and Seabed Act, which according to numerous legal scholars and practitioners would extinguish the customary rights of Maori communities that have traditionally used coastal resources for subsistence.

"It is hoped," Mr. Stavenhagen said, that these concerns will be addressed in New Zealand's forthcoming report to the committee, which is due at the end of this year.

The fact that Maori is now recognized as an official language in New Zealand has helped the establishment and development of Maori schools with a Maori curriculum, he said.

Nonetheless, the resources and funding for such schools is considered to be quite inadequate, he said, adding that "there is need to carefully analyse the current mainstreaming of the education system so as to better take advantage of the cultural possibilities of an increasingly pluralistic society."

On other fronts, he said that Maori and the Government have been able to negotiate numerous contentious issues over the years to reach agreements that are satisfactory for both sides, and New Zealand society is well aware that only such peaceful understanding in the solution of pressing human rights issues such as discrimination, land claims, sovereignty, poverty and social services will ensure the endurance of a democratic and plural polity.

Special Rapporteurs are unpaid experts serving in an independent personal capacity who receive their mandate from the Commission and report back to it.


ENDS

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