by Jan Logie
A cliché is an expression or idea that has lost its originality or force through overuse. My supposition is that as this Government continues to introduce legislation that prima facie breach human rights, they are in effect obliging the Green party, Human Rights Commission and a wide range of NGOs to point out these breaches. The problem is the more we do this, the more the significance of human rights, get lost. The more human rights becomes a phrase without force or depth of meaning.
I have noticed a disturbing trend from members of the National party to dismiss human rights. In response to my question to the Minister of Corrections about the rape of transgender prisoners one National Party MP yelled out – “well they shouldn’t have committed the crime.” In response to concerns about breaches of human rights I have also heard several national Party MP’s ask well what about their obligations? In the six months I’ve been in parliament I’ve had responsibility for the Green party response to four bills: the Immigration Amendment Bill, Privacy Information Sharing Bill, Social Security and the Child Support Amendment Bill. All of these bills raise human rights concerns.
Yesterday the U.N Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the body of independent human rights experts released their observations on the state of economic and social rights in New Zealand.
They had a big list of concerns:
- The lack of integration of human rights into our laws and processes; including the fact that International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) have not been fully incorporated into the domestic legal order, the Bill of Rights Act does not include economic and social rights, and the legislative and policy making processes do not allow for a review of the compatibility of draft laws, regulations and policies with the rights enshrined in the ICESCR
- The continued disadvantage by Māori and Pacific communities in relation to economic, social and cultural rights
- The rights of people with disabilities in relation to employment and health services
- The gender pay gap
- The level of youth unemployment
- Worker’s rights
- The level of family and sexual violence
- Bullying in schools
- The shortage of accessible childcare
- The government’s approach to housing and the restriction of eligibility to state housing
- The right to affordable and safe water
- The level of tobacco consumption
- The level of spending on overseas development
- Work testing provision of the welfare reforms and blanket provision of income management measures for young people
As yet the Government hasn’t responded directly to these concerns except the Minister of Social Development responding to my media release regarding the welfare reforms.
The Minister of Social Development gave her assurance that the welfare reforms won’t breach human rights. However the Ministry of Justice noted that these reforms do breach rights but that these breaches were justifiable.
It has been noted that the proposed welfare reforms will breach ICESCR articles 2,3,4,6,9,10,11 and 12 and concerns have been raised by the Human Rights Commission and many others noting breaches to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention of Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
The underlying problem is, as outlined in the first concern listed by the ICESCR committee, our Bill of Rights Act can be fairly easily overridden and doesn’t even include economic, social and Cultural rights.
The Human Rights Commission increasingly seem to be treated as just another commentator rather than the experts and protectors of our rights that they are.
The Green Party believes human rights are fundamental to a safe and sustainable society.
Our policy is to amend human rights legislation, including the Bill of Rights to ensure that government is bound by such legislation.
Develop a set of indicators for sensing the extent of discrimination and the status of human rights.
Ensure our legislation and practices are in accordance with our international obligations.
Develop a coordinated framework for human rights.