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Anxious wait for Human Rights Review Report

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a mechanism of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The Council uses the UPR process to examine the human rights performance of all its 193 UN members, including New Zealand.

Each country submits a national report to the HRC, which is then measured against the various international human rights treaties to which it is a party, as well as the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Humanitarian Law and any voluntary commitments made by the country.

The UPR is designed to ensure that the HRC treats every country equally when assessing the domestic human rights situation.

National Dialogue

The UPR process takes place once every four and half years, and is intended to initiate a national dialogue on the human rights situation in the country under review.

New Zealand’s first review was completed in 2009.

The ultimate goal of the UPR process is to improve the domestic human rights situation of every UN member country through a constructive and meaningful dialogue with the international community.

The UPR provides an important opportunity for all UN member countries, non-governmental organisations and relevant bodies of the UN to raise any concerns about the human rights situation in the country under review.

It is also an opportunity to share knowledge and the best practices on human rights issues. Equally, it offers governments the chance to take stock of their own human rights situation, gain feedback from the public, report any progress made including the on-going challenges faced since their last review (as per the New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry)

The Government’s draft UPR is now closed for public consultation and a draft report will be submitted to the Cabinet, which will finalise the report.

Public submissions

I have made brief written comments to the draft UPR before the submission closed. I commended New Zealand for its good work and the tremendous progress achieved in some areas, but said that a lot needs to be done on major International instruments such as (a) Protection of the Rights of all migrant workers and members of their families (ICRMW) (b) International covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ICESCR) (c) Covenant on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) (d) International covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and (e) The Bill of Rights, Privacy laws and the Human Rights in general including the International covenant on economic, social and cultural rights.

Key priorities

The Key priorities of the New Zealand Government as noted in the present report are:

Strengthening the partnership between Government and Maori by continuing to support Maori to realise their potential and continuing the momentum on achieving fair, just and durable settlements of historical claims under the Treaty of Waitangi; Improving the protection of children against abuse and neglect; Reducing violence within families and its impact on women and children; The ongoing implementation of the convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities (including accession to the Optional protocol and the New Zealand Disability Strategy; Advancing the constitutional review process; and Ensuring the human rights impacts of the Canterbury Earthquake are mitigated and accounted for in the on-going decisions around the rebuild.

I had raised some specific issues in my written comments.

The Treaty of Waitangi should be entrenched to redress the historic grievances and to give it a real meaning.

Celebrating plurality

It praised New Zealand for allowing its people and diverse cultures to thrive and flourish, but criticised New Zealand for not ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The multicultural make up of New Zealand and the contribution of $2 billion to the economy by the migrants each year, makes it all the more imperative that these rights are ratified.

The recommendations relating to Equality and non-discrimination (recommendations 25-28) are intertwined with these rights. Therefore, any policy development and legislation should not be limited to Maori welfare, but include wider and diverse ethnic communities.

Bill of Rights

The other area of real concern is the Bill of Rights, Privacy laws and the Civil and Political rights. New Zealand has shied away from entrenching these rights, resulting in many legislations being passed in the immediate past, ignoring these rights and in spite of Section 7 of NZBORA, under the garb of national security and urgency and on a razor thin majority in parliament.

The argument of supremacy of Parliament raised by New Zealand to support its position is totally misplaced. The entrenching of these basic rights will not in any way erode the supremacy of parliament because Parliament can always override and legislate any entrenched law with two third majority.

We look forward to the final report approved by the Cabinet for submission to the UN.

Gurbrinder Aulakh is Barrister & Solicitor at George Bogiatto. He is also the Deputy Chairman of Auckland Regional Migrant Services and a Member on the boards of several social and community organisations.

The views expressed in the above article are his own and do not necessarily represent those of his law firm or other organisations with which he is connected.

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