Example 2

Statements of intent: Examples of reporting practice.

Human Rights Commission (Te Kāhui Tika Tangata), 2008-2011 Statement of Intent and Service Performance, pages 8-10

Strategic Context
Te Mahinga Taiao o te Komihana

The human rights of people in New Zealand, and therefore the Commission’s work, are affected by a broad range of global, regional and national influences and trends. These include international and domestic law, the health of the New Zealand economy, and key demographic, social and cultural trends.

The International Environment

Human rights are integral to security and sustainable development worldwide. Within the international community there is increasing recognition of the centrality of human rights to durable responses to the major challenges facing humanity: violent conflict, terrorism, poverty, climate change and environmental degradation, trade and economic inequalities, and global migration.

Those challenges are particularly acute in the Asia-Pacific region, including in New Zealand’s immediate Pacific neighbourhood. Recent events in Fiji, Timor-Leste and Tonga highlight the vulnerability to violent civil unrest of societies where neither civil and political, nor economic, social and cultural rights, are adequately respected. With Auckland being the largest Polynesian city in the world, the impact of these developments is felt within New Zealand.

Geographical proximity, trading opportunities and recent migration patterns are increasingly linking New Zealand’s prosperity and wellbeing to the stability and development of the Asian region. New Zealand therefore has an interest in working with its trading partners on human rights issues that are of significance in New Zealand and in other parts of the region.

The United Nations establishment of the Human Rights Council in 2006 emphasised its recognition of the importance of human rights to global peace. Replacing the former UN Human Rights Commission, the Council now faces the challenge of demonstrating its effectiveness on serious human rights issues, in order to build its credibility. The Human Rights Council is mandated to undertake a “Universal Periodic Review” of every member State’s human rights performance, regardless of whether they have ratified the human rights Conventions. The reviews begin in the second quarter of 2008. To assist in building the credibility of Universal Periodic Reviews, and those of the Treaty Bodies, which report on compliance with specific human rights Covenants and Conventions, provision has been made for direct engagement by national institutions in the processes and procedures of the Human Rights Council. New Zealand’s first review will take place in 2009. Several of its regular treaty reports fall due between 2008 and 2011.

The trend to have national human rights institutions contribute more directly to international monitoring of States’ human rights performances was explicit in the two latest human rights treaties: the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. New Zealand was amongst the first countries to sign them. Both have significant implications for the work of the Commission.

Human Rights in New Zealand

In 2007, Cabinet required all government departments to engage with the Commission on the New Zealand Action Plan for Human Rights priorities and to take account of these priorities in developing their work programme. This represents a significant step towards a more systematic approach to incorporating human rights into legislation, policy and practice.

In most of the major legislative and policy reviews undertaken in the last 12 months there has been evidence of a willingness to consider and to incorporate, at least in part, reference to the relevant human rights standards. The reviews of the Police, Immigration and Public Health resulted in Bills before Parliament with greater human rights protections than the preceding laws. All had also involved considerable public consultation and engagement with the Commission before drafting of the legislation. Where engagement with the Commission has only occurred at Select Committee stages, for example with the Electoral Finance Bill and anti-terrorism legislation, there has also been some improvements in human rights provisions but not to the extent that they could be deemed fully human rights compliant.

The promulgation of the revised national education curriculum in October 2007 included references to human rights and responsibilities, recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi and cultural diversity in its Principles and Values. The government is revising the New Zealand Transport Strategy and will consider the Commission’s recommendations on accessibility targets. Positive developments have also occurred in the use and protection of te Reo Māori and Pacific languages.

Other factors contributing positively to the human rights environment in New Zealand include a buoyant labour market, the reduction in public anxiety about race relations and increasing ethnic and cultural diversity. While New Zealand has been enjoying a period of relatively strong economic growth and high employment, the global credit crisis and other factors threaten to soften this growth and may increase economic hardship. Poverty and economic inequality impact negatively on human rights and harmonious relations. A range of current forecasts and analyses suggest both may grow in the year ahead. At the same time New Zealand’s labour market will continue to require new migrant and seasonal workers. Without recognition and respect for their human rights, New Zealand workers will suffer as will New Zealand’s reputation internationally.

The uneven nature of human rights legal protections in New Zealand remains a significant feature of the Commission’s operating environment. While New Zealand has a long history of contributing to the development of and subsequently ratifying international human rights standards, there is no single document, such as a written Constitution, which explicitly incorporates them into domestic law or which comprehensively establishes the rights and responsibilities of New Zealanders. Nor do New Zealanders grow up learning about their rights and responsibilities explicitly as part of their education. While just under half of respondents to a 2007 survey on knowledge of human rights said they knew a lot, one in five respondents claimed to know little or nothing about human rights.

And despite optimism about race relations, race-based discrimination continues to be the most frequent ground of complaint to the Human Rights Commission. One in five of respondents to a 2007 survey reported personal experience of some form of discrimination – most commonly in their interactions with government departments, in employment, or in the provision of goods and services. The prevalence of discrimination in these areas, particularly in employment, is also evidenced in the Commission’s complaints data. Structural disadvantages continue to limit the participation of some groups. The Census of Women’s Participation 2008 highlights continuing disparities, particularly for Māori, Pacific peoples and disabled people. An overall slowing of progress in EEO is evident.

In the absence of a clear consensus on the place of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements, the level of recognition of the Treaty in legislation, policy and practice continues to vary. Relationships between the Crown and Tangata Whenua are of variable quality. In the past year, recognition of the Treaty in the new Curriculum and positive progress in Treaty hearings and settlements have occurred, alongside challenges to settlements and concerns about settlement policy and practice. Although some communities have made progress in negotiating recognition of their customary rights under the Foreshore and Seabed Act, concerns about the Act’s impact on indigenous rights continue to be raised.

Human rights challenges and the Commission’s focus

The developments described above provide a context for the Commission to review and focus its priorities, to ensure they remain relevant and responsive to the evolving national and international human rights environments.

In 2005, the Commission published the Mana ki te Tangata/The New Zealand Action Plan for Human Rights (the Action Plan), following a comprehensive review of the status of human rights in New Zealand. The Action Plan acknowledged New Zealand’s considerable human rights achievements, but found that there remain critical areas where action is needed to effect change. An evaluation of progress in implementing the Action Plan has found that despite significant gains, the pressing issues and priorities identified in the Action Plan remain critical.

Continuing human rights challenges which demand the focus of the Commission include:

  • Building community-wide understanding of and respect for human rights and responsibilities – from children, families and communities, through to government law and policy makers
  • Reducing discrimination, entrenched social and economic inequalities and barriers to full participation in society affecting particularly disabled people, Māori, Pacific peoples and new migrants
  • Achieving more equal participation and representation; accelerating progress on EEO and expanding the use of ‘good employer’ policies, practices and tools to the private sector
  • Strengthening the Treaty relationship between the Crown and Tangata Whenua. Healthy Treaty relationships and effective methods of engagement are necessary if the constitutional and human rights issues relating to the Treaty are to be progressed
  • Incorporating human rights systematically into legislation, policy and practice. Economic, social and cultural rights, in particular, lack robust protection
  • Maintaining a watching brief on the human rights implications of a range of global issues, such as terrorism, climate change, bioethics and developments in genetic technology.

The Action Plan sets out the key priorities for action over the period from 2005-2010 in order to better ensure that the human rights of everyone in New Zealand are respected, protected and fulfilled. These priorities, along with subsequent research, inquiries and surveys on specific human rights, race relations and EEO issues, provide the evidential basis for determining the Commission’s strategic priorities and key activities described in this Statement of Intent.

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