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Human rights better protected in written constitution

9 August 2013

Human rights would be better protected in written constitution says Caritas

Basic human rights would be better protected if a revised and strengthened Bill of Rights became part of a formal, written New Zealand constitution, says Catholic social justice agency Caritas in a submission on the government’s Constitutional Review.

‘Some human rights lie so deep that Parliament cannot override them,’ says Caritas advocacy spokesperson Lisa Beech. ‘A superior law Bill of Rights would articulate clearly the laws and principles governing these, in a similar way that international human rights agreements have striven to guard against individual states abusing the human rights of its own people.’

While the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act (NZBORA) passed in 1990 was a step forward in recognising human rights, Caritas says it has witnessed many breaches of human rights and discriminatory legislation, because the government of the day has found them ‘justified’. This includes the GCSB Bill currently before Parliament.

However the Bill of Rights would need to be strengthened within a superior law, written constitution to meet some of New Zealand’s international commitments. It also currently fails to adequately protect the most fundamental right – the right to life, which extends from conception to natural death.

‘We cannot be complacent about the necessity of protecting human rights, particularly the right to life,’ says Caritas in its submission, ‘which is about protecting the most vulnerable members of society – people with serious illnesses and disabilities, unborn children, frail elderly people, the poor and people in prison. When the right to life is breached for any of us, none of us is safe.’

‘The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act needs to be more comprehensive, it needs to be superior law, and the Courts must have the ability to uphold it,’ says Ms Beech.

A written constitution would also ensure that both New Zealand law-makers and the public are better informed about constitutional matters and more easily able to see where fundamental constitutional matters are being changed. Caritas supports the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference’s proposed preamble to a written constitution, and has also been guided by the Bishops’ previous statements on the Treaty of Waitangi.

Caritas says our constitutional arrangements must reflect and honour the Treaty of Waitangi/te Tiriti o Waitangi, as the fundamental agreement governing the relationship between tāngata whenua and all who have subsequently settled and are settling in New Zealand. Parliament has been able to ignore some provisions of the Treaty/te Tiriti, and significant questions about sovereignty/tino rangatiratanga and governorship/kāwanatanga in the Treaty/te Tiriti are yet to be addressed.

On extending the Parliamentary term from three to four years, Caritas says in the absence of better checks and balances on government, and stronger protection of human rights and the Treaty of Waitangi/te Tiriti o Waitangi, the status quo is preferred.

‘One of the few existing protections against abuse of power in New Zealand is our short three-year electoral term.’

The full text of Caritas’ submission is available here.

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 165 Catholic aid, development and social justice agencies active in over 200 countries and territories.

ENDS

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