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UN Report Raises a Broad Range of Issues

Human Rights Commission

Media Release

19 August 2007



UN Report Raises a Broad Range of Issues for Discussion

The report of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination raises a broad range of issues for discussion, says Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres.

Although initial media focus has been primarily on the references to the Foreshore and Seabed Act, the Waitangi Tribunal and Treaty Settlements, there are 23 substantive issues specifically relating to New Zealand, of which seven are matters which the Committee particularly welcomes.  These include the adoption of the New Zealand Settlement Strategy and Action Plan for migrants and refugees, the New Zealand Diversity Action Programme, the reduction in social and economic disparities for Maori and Pacific people, especially in relation to employment and education, the improved status of the Maori language and increased funding for human rights.

There are four issues on which the Committee wants a progress report in twelve months time. These relate to the Private Member’s Bill currently before a Parliamentary Select Committee proposing the deletion of references to the Treaty in legislation (which the Committee notes the Government has said it will not support), the inclusion of references to the Treaty in the school curriculum (which the Committee notes the Government is currently considering)  unrestricted access for “undocumented” children to education (which the Committee notes the Government is addressing in part), and a renewal of dialogue on the foreshore and seabed legislation.

The Committee has welcomed the steps being taken to address the disproportionate representation of Maori and Pacific people in the criminal justice system, but calls for further efforts as a high priority.  The Committee would also like to see an assessment of the use of the provision in the Sentencing Act (Section 27) to take into account offenders’ community and cultural background in sentencing.

The Committee calls on the Police to collect data on complaints, prosecutions and sentences for racially motivated crime, and recommends proactive measures to increase the knowledge and use of complaints procedures concerning racial discrimination, particularly for the most vulnerable groups.

While noting that there are few instances of detention of asylum seekers in correctional facilities, the Committee wants to see this practice cease altogether.

The Committee encourages further consideration of how human rights are protected by the Bill of Rights Act, the powers and funding of the Waitangi Tribunal, the Treaty settlement process, and the status of the Treaty in legislation. These are all important matters which merit further public discussion, although there will be divergent views as to the most appropriate solutions in the New Zealand context.  The Committee welcomes the progress that has been made in historical Treaty settlements but seeks an assurance that the cut-off date for lodgment of claims in 2008 will not unfairly bar legitimate claims.

The Committee also seeks more detailed information on measures taken by the Government to implement the New Zealand Action Plan for Human Rights.  This reinforces the decision recently taken by the Government to instruct Government Department Chief Executives to consider how they can implement relevant priorities in the Action Plan in their annual planning process.

Mr de Bres said the Human Rights Commission welcomed the UN report, which provides a good basis for further discussion of important race relations and human rights issues.  Members of Parliament from the major parties have been invited to include comment on the report when they address the New Zealand Diversity Forum in Auckland on Tuesday 28 August on their parties’ priorities for race relations.

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