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Select Committee hearings, one high profile and hugely experienced human rights campaigner even urged for bill to be withdrawn altogether.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