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Gang-patch Legislation ‘problematic For Human Rights’

Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission says the proposed Gangs Legislation Amendment Bill falls short on a range of human rights standards and is likely to have unintended consequences.

Submitting to the Justice Select Committee today, the Commission’s Kāwanatanga Chief Executive Meg de Ronde raised concerns that measures proposed under the Bill will have a disproportionate impact on Māori and are likely to constitute indirect discrimination.

“We would expect that the Government engage with Tangata Whenua on the matters raised in this Bill, however this has not been the case, which demonstrates a neglect of the Government’s te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations.”

An approach based on human rights requires policies to be evidence-based, non-discriminatory and developed in a way that ensures participation by those most likely to be impacted.

A report from the Attorney-General found that the measures proposed under the Bill would create unjustified limitations on the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

de Ronde commented that the Commission would like to see greater constitutional protection for rights in Aotearoa New Zealand. “This legislation is a case in point – the Government’s own Attorney-General has made it very clear that this law is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights, yet it could be passed regardless.”

There is valid concern about the harm caused by gang-related offending, and more can be done to make our communities safer. However, measures in the Bill are punitive and suppressive. They make substantial inroads into individual freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights Act without clear evidence they will be effective at reducing gang membership or gang-related offending.

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“We are concerned with the large scope for unintended consequences from this legislation,” says de Ronde.

The Commission considers that adopting these measures is likely to exacerbate pressures in communities and the criminal justice system, and increase the economic and social burden on society.

“We urge the committee to put the Bill aside and turn to a more human rights-based approach,” says de Ronde.

A human rights-based approach would have a stronger focus on prevention and early intervention within communities, would address structural and socio-economic disadvantage and would alleviate pressure on multiple systems (justice, health, corrections) in the long term, the Commission submitted.

To reduce harm, there is also a need to understand the unique experiences of, and provide tailored support for, women and children in gang environments.

de Ronde urged the Justice Committee to consider the Bill within the Aotearoa-specific context, recognising the history of colonisation, intergenerational trauma and abuse in State care which has led to the formation of gangs.

The Commission submitted that any legislation to address these issues should be paused until government has had time to consider the final report and recommendations from the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care, which are due to be released soon.

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