Last week the United Nations Human Rights Council reviewed New Zealand’s progress on human rights, in what’s called the Universal Periodic Review. This was our second assessment. The first was in 2009, and back then, 64 recommendations were made on things we could do better. This time 155 recommendations were made. This does not bode well and should be seen by the National Government as a wake-up call.
The committee made (thanks to Peace Movement Aotearoa for the number crunching):
- 25 recommendations relating to women’s rights including protection from violence and equal pay
- 18 recommendations relating to inequality, particularly Māori, pacific and minority communities
- 16 recommendations relating to Treaty of Waitangi and indigenous peoples’ rights
- 10 recommendations relating to asylum seekers and migrants
- 4 recommendations relating to the inclusion of economic, social and cultural rights in the Bill of Rights Act
- 3 recommendations relating to the Canterbury earthquakes
- One recommendation on surveillance
- One recommendation on counter terrorism measures
- Numerous recommendations relating to ratification of international human rights instruments, such as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
How did the process work? And how did they reach their findings? New Zealand NGOs, the Human Rights Commission and the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees all made submissions – I counted 248 in total, many containing serious concerns about how we treat our people.
The New Zealand government then responded, and final recommendations were made.
There has been some suggestion that we shouldn’t take the UN’s review seriously because countries like Sri Lanka made recommendations.I understand that it might not sit well if you’re a Tamil refugee reading Sri Lankan recommendations that the New Zealand Government intensify its efforts to combat discrimination against migrants here, when Sri Lanka is systematically displacing and targeting its own people back home. But this doesn’t change the discrimination they’re likely to be experiencing in NZ.
Human rights principals are universal. This is not a comparative exercise. It assesses our progress not our ranking.
Certain beliefs and cultural constructions affect what different countries see as important, and as a consequence affect their recommendations. This may explain why there weren’t any recommendations relating to LGBTI rights. While this is disappointing, it doesn’t discount the recommendations that were made. Overall, the review highlights the growing level of global awareness around inequality, indigenous rights and women’s rights. But it’s also a good reminder of the additional work we need to do to get LGBTI and disability issues better understood internationally.