New human rights data show ongoing harm to Māori

A person holds a sign that reads "Te Tiriti is good for everyone, connect, protect"



Thursday 20 June 2024

New human rights data show ongoing harm to Māori

The Human Rights Measurement Initiative has released its latest data on the state of human rights in Aotearoa New Zealand and around the world. Criminal justice advocacy groupJustSpeak and human rights movement Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand are raising alarm bells about thesocial justice issues highlighted in this year’s data.

“According to the latest data, Māori are among those most at risk of human rights violations fornearly all the rights measured, including the rights to health, housing, food and education. This has obvious implications for the criminal justice system, where tangata whenua are also at greatest risk of arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment. Policies such as the re-introduction of the Three Strikes law and army-styled boot camps for youth offenders fly in the face of established evidence of what an effective criminal justice system should look like,” says Charles Harvey, JustSpeak Board member and spokesperson.

“Most New Zealanders want to live in a society that gives everyone what they need while caring for each other and the planet. The Government needs to address all signs of social inequality to make this vision a reality. Together, this year’s data highlight an urgent need for ourgovernment to uphold its obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights, and to address the root causes of inequity within our society,” says Harvey.

Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand’s Campaigns Director Lisa Woods says the organisation is seeing an ongoing pattern of serious human rights issues being raised by international experts each year in the HRMI data.

“This year’s data suggests that freedom from torture and ill-treatment is still on a downwards trajectory here in Aotearoa. This should be a major concern for the Government, because violating these human rights can cause enormous harm to individuals, whānau and communities,” says Woods.

Last year, Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand and JustSpeak made a joint submission to the UN Committee Against Torture, which monitors the commitments made by States like Aotearoa, which have ratified the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The submission highlighted various concerns for human rights in New Zealand’s prisons, including the denial of adequate time out of cell, access to a lawyer, and the use of restraint, separation and isolation for people in prison. A 2023 report by the Office of the Inspectorate found that many people in prison are likely to have been subjected to solitary confinement, and that an unknown number may have experienced a violation of human rights standards which could amount to torture or ill-treatment.

When asked to provide more context about who was especially vulnerable to torture and ill-treatment by government agents in 2023, expert respondents to the HRMI survey noted that “institutional racism is prevalent throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, especially towards Indigenous people and people of particular ethnicities.”

Together with a range of social justice experts and organisations, JustSpeak and Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand are calling for transformational across the prison system and in wider society. 

“Clearly the Government needs to work with Māori to design a justice system that fully upholds Te Tiritio Waitangi and protects the fundamental human rights of all those in the system,” says Harvey.

“There is awealth of evidence showing that people across the motuareexperiencing threats to their rights to everyday necessities like food and decent housing. As well as transforming the criminal justice system, action is needed now to address the social issues which sweep so many people in this system in the first place,” Woods says.