Human Rights Amendment Bill fundamentally flawed

Some significant flaws have been uncovered in recent days in the Government’s Human Rights amendment Bill.

During Select Committee hearings, one high profile and hugely experienced human rights campaigner even urged for bill to be withdrawn altogether.

A key concern among critics is that the Bill could jeopardise the UN’s accreditation of our Human Rights Commission, because it will leave New Zealand in breach of what’s known as the Paris Principles.

The Paris Principles are international guidelines that set out the minimum standards required for national human rights institutions to be credible and effective. A key requirement is that these institutions are independent from the Government of the day.

The problem with this Bill is that it contains two clauses that state that New Zealand’s chief human rights commissioner will allocate spheres of responsibility, determine the extent of work and designate priority areas only after consultation with the Minister.

This would violate the principle of independence set out in the Paris Principles and essentially require the Minister to co-manage the Commission’s work.

The effect of this would be chilling. The Government regularly passes bills that breach human rights. In the last three years, 11 bills have been enacted which are considered to breach the Bill of Rights. Of these, eight have related to prisoners and offenders.

Remember that the Minister responsible for prisoners is also the….Minister responsible for human rights – Judith Collins.

This bill opens the door to the absurd situation of Judith Collins being able to urge against the Commission focussing on the rights of prisoners and other groups who’ve had their rights breached by government legislation.

You can see why submitters are so concerned.

The Green Party opposed the Bill at first reading because it would lead to generalist commissioners being appointed to lead the priority areas of equal employment opportunities, race relations and disability rights, rather than specialist commissioners.

Moreover, it does not explicitly specify the specific skills and functions of a Disability Rights Commissioner.  We do not need a Disability Rights commissioner with no prior understanding or experience of the issues.

Giving the Minister for Justice such direct influence over the work of the Commission is another reason for opposing it.

An independent human rights commission is essential to speak out on behalf of vulnerable groups.

We cannot allow a Bill to pass that so blatantly undermines that independence.

 

 

14 thoughts on “Human Rights Amendment Bill fundamentally flawed

  1. What utter twaddle.
    Consult with is not the same as “take instruction from”.

    I also have a problem with someone who has permenantly removed the human rights of a human being then being afforded rights which are an affront to most people, but that’s another topic for another day.

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  2. We do not need a Disability Rights commissioner with no prior understanding or experience of the issues.

    But but, we could get an internationally recognised sports person to do it. What the prob?

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  3. I also have a problem with someone who has permenantly removed the human rights of a human being then being afforded rights…

    That’s the thing about human rights Dave, and the way in which the differ from most other rights or restrictions one has in society. Human Rights apply to everyone who is alive, full stop. If they didn’t then they would be no different than any other enactment of law, and thus there would be no point in having human rights, because we can absolutely trust our governments to always do the right thing.

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  4. The development of our understanding of human rights has progressed from time a man could literally own another man as regarded as sound law, to being own his wife was regarded in the same way, to parent’s owning their children.
    It is more than the words on the various declarations such as the fairly recent one for disabled peoples and indigenous peoples. I believe NZ has not yet ratified the later but ensuring our laws and attitudes reflect a genuine commitment
    Yes consultation does not mean take instruction, but why should a Minister need to be “consulted” at all about the work program.
    As for having people undertaking the role with special responsibilities, it would make sense they have an understanding and experience of the issues….and perhaps a double amputee Olympic athlete from South Africa would be appropriate should he be available.

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  5. Remember that the Minister responsible for prisoners is also the….Minister responsible for human rights – Judith Collins.

    Nope. The Minister of Corrections is Anne Tolley. The Associate Minister is Peter Sharples.

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  6. Oh dbuckly
    how i love it when someone offers to square a circle!

    As a human do I have the right not to be murdered?

    (remember I have a close association with Sri Lanka)

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  7. As a human do I have the right not to be murdered?

    I think the short answer is “no”.

    Longer answer: This is my non-lawyer-ist understanding of how “Human Rights” (as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) works.

    You have, Article 3, the right to life. However, that right may be violated (and terminated), either by a citizen killing a citizen, or the state killing a citizen.

    Citizen on citizen actions (such as a murder, where A kills B) are evaluated in accordance the law of the country having jurisdiction, and there must be a just process or determination of guilt (Articles 10 and 11), and not result in cruel or unusual punishment (Article 5).

    Thus local law should (ha!) refelct the intent of the UDHR, and as long as it does so there is no quesion of an action being in violation of the UDHR.

    The real purpose of UDHR is to control the actions of the state. Historically, a ruling body (be it a king, a dictator, a mob, or a democratic process) could do pretty much what they like, with their only fear being that of a citizens uprising, a coup, or some other method of them being replaced. It was clear after WW2 that states did not always behave in a reasonable manner, and thus the winners of WW2 started the process leading to UDHR.

    So the UDHR defines how a state should behave and how its laws should be crafted. But the only place “thou shall not kill” appears is in the bible, not in UDHR.

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  8. And there you have it.

    I have rights as long as I am alive, but none of them is the right to continue to live my natural life, which would appear at first heartbeat to be the most basic of them all.

    In fact, there are people who believe that the only people who have A RIGHT NOT TO BE KILLED are those whom themselves have killed and been sentenced to die for the act.

    a nice circle – not quite squared

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  9. Thats a gross misstatement of what I said.

    I have rights as long as I am alive, but none of them is the right to continue to live my natural life…

    You (and every other living person) have the right to life, and that right exists while you are alive.

    the only people who have A RIGHT NOT TO BE KILLED are those whom themselves have killed and been sentenced to die for the act [of murder]

    If someone has been sentenced, then it is (presumably) by means of a “just process or determination of guilt (Articles 10 and 11)”.

    The next question is where it gets murky. Is sentencing someone to death sentencing them to a “cruel or unusual punishment” as outlawed by Article 5.

    “Cruel or unusual punishment” isn’t actually defined, so it is allowed to be a matter of judgement by individual nation states. The European view is that a death sentence is simply unacceptable, though that is a compartively recent view, they were executing people a few decades back. The American view (being from a country with only a couple of hundered years on the clock) is to hang ‘em high and there is nothing cruel, or unusual about that.

    I wasn’t around at the time, but my suspicion is that had the UDHR outlawed state killing then it would not have been signed up to by many countries.

    So, it is entirely reasonable for people to believe that convicted killers should not be killed, it is a matter of judgement. However, what is beyond doubt is that the killer still enjoys all the Human Rights that his victim once had, and that he indeed deprived them of.

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  10. oh silly parser of sillier sentences… if there is already a LAW against murder the “human rights” aspect of that crime are irrelevant. They become important only when there is distortion of the law or its application.

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  11. While I agree with the fact NZ does not have capital punishment, I suspect Mojo was not exactly wanting to debate the return of it. Rather the frogblog was about changes in how the Human Rights commission works, and that ONLY after consultation with a governemt minister shall spheres of responsibility be allocated, determine the extent of work and determine priorities. This risks placing the commission at the feet of a party-political process.
    What next, the removal of judges who deem goverment operations unlawful.

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  12. “The problem with this Bill is that it contains two clauses that state that New Zealand’s chief human rights commissioner will allocate spheres of responsibility, determine the extent of work and designate priority areas only after consultation with the Minister.”

    Well, I would not trust this present government on any such reforms, like this bill, as their track record is appalling enough. Human rights simply do not count for much in their eyes.

    Allowing the Minister such input to set priorities for a chief human rights commissioner, that is a further hollowing out of the role of that commissioner.

    The situation we have is already appalling enough, where all these commissioners are given so much discretionary powers to take action or no action, some commissioner’s have become a farce, I must say.

    Just look at the Health and Disability Commissioner, for instance. They had over 1,600 complaints filed with their office last year, about breaches of the Code. Yet of all those complaints only about 60 were formally investigated, and of those about 42 were about “established” breaches.

    Most decisions that Commissioner or his Deputy have made, are simply stuff like expressing verbal warnings, recommendations to bring in improvements, and in only very few cases do the often rather serious complaints end in matters being referred to the Director of Proceedings, who can refer them on to the Human Rights Tribunal.

    So we have the vast majority of complaints end up with next to no significant action being taken. “Education” is what the present HDC Commissioner considers a higher priority, than disciplinary action or whatever else.

    This government wants to “save” costs, to “streamline” the public service, and apparently also the various Commissioner Offices, as is rather evident.

    They are not interested in giving Commissioners more power, they want the opposite.

    By the way most these “commissioner” roles were introduced only, to serve as a measure, to keep cases going to the courts, and thus save costs for the Ministry of Justice and so.

    Prepare for yet less rights, and more to be swept under the ever larger carpet in future.

    Good on for Mojo and the Greens to take a clear stand on this!

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  13. Yes i agree.

    . the human rights commissioner should be independant from any interference.

    Last year John Key threatened to cut the funding of the HRC, due to the commissioner stating the GCSB bill, breached human and civil rights.

    I am a human rights campainger, or at least i am now, due to my partner and i having our lives devistated by a system designed to cover-up serious complaints.

    I have provided full documented proof of serious collusion and negligence that occured after i lodged a complaint with the Nationwide health and disability advocacy service, this documented proof was supplied to th Ombudsmens office, i also provided the same documents to the, OHRP, Office of human rights proceedings.

    I was informed that no human rights had been breached, the Ombudsmen office has only confirmed reciet of documents September 2013, i have not been kept informed about the status of my complaint.

    I have made OIA , requests via http://www.fyi.org.nz

    There has been no accountability or transpearancy.

    Two lives have been ruined by a “legal primary health and disability complaints mechanism” this i believe highlights the degredation/erosion of human and civil rights in New Zealand today.

    Paul Riddler

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