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Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission Pays Tribute To Sir Robert Martin MNZM

Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission expresses our condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Sir Robert Martin MNZM, who has died overnight at his home in Whanganui.

Sir Robert Martin MNZM (Photo: Creative Commons)

Sir Robert devoted his life to disability rights after living in institutions in his younger years, says Kaihautū Tika Hauātanga | Disability Rights Commissioner Prudence Walker.

He spoke of his childhood experiences as a ward of the state in institutions when he gave evidence of abuse and neglect at the Royal Commission Inquiry into Abuse in State Care.

“Sir Robert played a critical role in Aotearoa and internationally in upholding disabled people’s right to be part of the community, and to contribute to society,” says Walker.

In 2008, he became a Member of the NZ Order of Merit and in 2020 a Knight Companion of the NZ Order of Merit for services to people with disabilities.

In 2017, Sir Robert made history as someone with a learning disability when he was elected to the Committee for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), he was re-elected for a second term in 2020.

Sir Robert was committed to taking up and creating opportunities on the world stage in his drive to give voice to disabled people, saying: “It’s important to push the boundaries”.

With his own lived experience of institutions, Sir Robert made vital in-roads in helping the 11 million disabled children in institutions around the globe through influencing countries to review their policies and practice.

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He advocated through his appointment to the UN joint working group of the CRPD and on the Committee on the Rights of the Child. He presented on the harm of institutionalisation and contributed to reports on abuse in institutional settings in the Conferences of States Parties (COSP) and their side events.

Sir Robert raised the profile of Easy Read and Plain Language as important formats for making information available within the United Nations (UN) and contributed to enhancing accessibility in UN conferences and meetings.

In an example of influencing change in specific countries, Sir Robert presented to the Spanish Congress of Deputies event on the rights of persons with learning disabilities. A week later, the Government of Spain announced persons under Guardianship would have the right to vote in the next election for the first time.

At various times, he was the Country Rapporteur for Australia, Canada and Vanuatu. Sir Robert was a member of visiting delegation to Hungary 2019 and part of the working group on the Optional Protocol investigation.

He knew that he was paving the way for other people with learning disabilities to take to the world stage.

“I might be first but I most certainly don’t want to be the last,” he said.

Sir Robert’s presence in the disability rights space will be sorely felt and forever honoured.

We share this whakataukī as a tribute to Sir Robert.

“Kei tēnā, kei tēnā, kei tēnā anō tōna ake āhua, tōna ake mauri, tōna ake mana."

"Each and every one has their own uniqueness, life essence and presence."


This short video looks at his life:

Sir Robert’s statement to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in State Care

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