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Government To Respond To 259 Human Rights Recommendations

Thirty countries have called on New Zealand to address its serious issue with family violence, particularly against women.

Acting Chief Human Rights Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Dr Karanina Sumeo says, “Addressing violence and abuse remains New Zealand’s most significant human rights issue affecting women.

“The impact of such gendered-violence affects women as well as families, workplaces and communities – we can’t turn away from it any longer.”

The recommendation was amongst those made by member states at the United Nations Human Rights Council last week.

Every five years New Zealand is reviewed on the global stage for its human rights record, through a process called the Universal Periodic Review, overseen by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The process includes communities in Aotearoa engaging with diplomats from around the world to inform the human rights recommendations that UN member states make.

The full list of 259 recommendations made by member states has now been made public.

“The recommendations are an important guide for our Government to ensure it is fulfilling its mission to build the public good in the long term,” says Dr Sumeo.

In coming months, the Government will prepare a report outlining how it will respond to the recommendations.

Following the last Universal Periodic Review in 2019, the government accepted 130 recommendations and “noted” (did not accept) 34 of them. This led to actions such as the National Action Plan Against Racism, which is currently in development. The Commission is urging the Government to accept at least as many recommendations this time.

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“We look forward to working with the Government to address the human rights challenges revealed by these recommendations,” says Dr Sumeo.

The Commission highlighted the following themes, amongst others, in the recommendations:

Concerns for Indigenous rights

Twenty-one countries made recommendations regarding the current Government’s backdown from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and te Tiriti o Waitangi in Aotearoa.

The Commission’s Tino Rangatiratanga shared leader Julia Whaipooti says, “Aotearoa trails other democracies in realising Indigenous peoples' tino rangatiratanga (self-determination).”

“There is a serious flaw in how readily Parliament can override human rights, and especially the rights of Indigenous peoples.

“There is a growing understanding that greater constitutional protection for Indigenous rights and te Tiriti o Waitangi is needed, as reflected by the recommendations.”

Inclusive education for disabled people

Eight recommendations call for access to inclusive education for disabled people.

Kaihautū Tika Hauātanga Disability Rights Commissioner Prudence Walker says, “Disabled children are denied equal access to education, frequently being discouraged from enrolling in their local schools, and being denied supports and reasonable accommodation that should be provided as a matter of right.

“Evidence suggests that disabled students who have been genuinely included in education are more likely to live purposeful, dignified lives.

“Committing to truly inclusive education would bring many benefits to our communities.”

Pay transparency

Eight recommendations call for pay transparency laws to be put in place.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali’I Dr Karanina Sumeo says she would like to see the Government urgently introduce pay transparency legislation requiring businesses to end pay secrecy, report pay gaps, and publish initiatives to eliminate pay inequity. Such legislation should require all businesses, with additional support for small, medium, and large enterprises, to collect gender, ethnicity and disability workforce data. She would also like to see the Equal Pay Act 1972 amended to include ethnicity, disability, and gender alongside sex as grounds to make a claim.

Protections against hate

Strengthening protections against hate speech for both religious communities and rainbow people was recommended seven times.

This included calls to implement all recommendations from the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the March 15 terror attacks including hate speech legislation to protect religious groups.

Recommendations were also made to include sexual orientation as a protected ground in hate speech laws.

The Commission’s rainbow spokesperson Prudence Walker says, “Everyone wants to be able to live openly as themselves and be safe. To achieve that, we need to include sexual orientation in civil hate speech protections. Its current exclusion is discriminatory.”

A human rights-based housing strategy

Nine recommendations call for action to address the housing crisis, particularly for those on low incomes and people experiencing homelessness.

The Commission’s housing spokesperson Prudence Walker says, “The Government’s frontline response to homelessness should be built upon fulfilling the right to a decent home, which ensures people’s dignity and mana is respected.”

Addressing the housing crisis is not solely about building more homes, it is also about ensuring that people can live dignified and healthy lives in those homes.

Walker says the lack of accessible rental homes and social housing contributes to homelessness for disabled people and leads many to live in inaccessible and unsafe accommodation.

“We have to make sure that people – whether they are disabled people, elderly people, or young families – have appropriate and accessible housing,”

Modern slavery

Six recommendations call for modern slavery legislation.

Dr Sumeo says she expects the Government to introduce modern slavery legislation, to help businesses ensure that they are not knowingly or unknowingly supporting forced labour in their supply chains. Dr Sumeo says legislation should be aligned with the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, which requires businesses to protect and respect human rights, and remedy any breaches made.

Other key issues covered in recommendations include climate change mitigation and adaptation, the country’s disproportionate incarceration of Māori, effective protections for migrant workers, addressing child poverty, progressing the National Action Plan Against Racism, and raising the criminal age of responsibility.

The Commission’s submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council, alongside the joint stakeholder submission, provide further human rights-based action recommendations for the Government.

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