International human-rights law
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) was not a binding international treaty. It was followed by a series of more detailed United Nations human-rights treaties, designed to be binding upon states who sign up to them. New Zealand is a party to seven of the nine core international human-rights treaties. These treaties operate at the international level and are not themselves a part of New Zealand law. The idea is that, by entering into these treaties, New Zealand agrees to ensure that the various rights will be recognised within law and made enforceable for the benefit of persons in New Zealand.
The UN human-rights treaties are typically monitored by periodic reporting to the UN. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade periodically prepares a report on New Zealand’s progress in implementing a treaty. NGOs and others are permitted to make ‘shadow reports’ (alternative reports prepared by non-government bodies).
Good, but could do better
New Zealand has consistently received high rankings on its human-rights record from monitoring agencies such as the UN Human Rights Committee, Amnesty International and Freedom House. The country is acknowledged as a world leader in human rights. Monitoring agencies have, however, expressed concerns over such issues as the police use of tasers, the high rate of Māori imprisonment, the level of violence against women and children, and aspects of New Zealand’s immigration policies.
Some treaties have optional protocols, which, if a state adopts them, allow individuals within that state to bring a complaint against it to the treaty monitoring body. New Zealand has adopted the individual complaints procedure for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).
New Zealand’s international commitments
The UN human-rights treaties to which New Zealand is a party are the:
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
- Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
The two UN human-rights treaties to which New Zealand is not a party are the:
- International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICRMW)
- International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPED).
In addition to government actions, groups of New Zealand citizens have for many years been concerned over international human-rights issues. Religious groups, trade unions, aid agencies and activist organisations have all protested at different times over breaches of human rights around the world.