REPORT 2019: Summary of the state of human rights in New Zealand

While a generation of young advocates led the fight against worsening repression in Asia, issues closer to home show New Zealand had a mixed record relating to counter-terrorism, detention facilities, the rights of Indigenous peoples and children’s rights.

That’s the summary of rights for New Zealand from the ‘Human Rights in Asia-Pacific: A review of 2019’. The review is Amnesty International’s annual monitor on what human rights issues have been prominent in the Asia-Pacific region for 2019.

Amnesty International Advocacy and Policy Manager Annaliese Johnston says it’s no surprise that the Christchurch Terror Attacks dominated New Zealand’s year in review.

“It is significant that New Zealand’s Parliament successfully advanced important gun legislation following the horrific Mosque Terror attacks in March. This will better protect people’s Right to Life and this move has been applauded the world over. We do however have existing concerns for the rushed Terrorism Suppression (control orders) Bill which enables the High Court to restrict an individual’s human rights on a lower burden of proof, and in a high degree of intrusion normally only imposed following a criminal conviction. Counter-terrorism responses should be designed carefully and have human rights at their centre.”

Johnston says the justice system was also an area of continuing concern.

“In June the independent review of the criminal justice system confirmed that the number of Māori in the system was at “crisis” levels and noted the detrimental impact of colonisation and racism affecting Māori at every point in the criminal justice system. It remains evident that much, much more work needs to be done to untangle the wrongs of our colonial past. We believe the will to do this exists across sectors of society but now is the time to see action.”

The justice system was an additional issue for children’s rights in New Zealand.

“Seventeen-year-olds will now be tried through the youth justice system instead of the adult criminal justice system. This provides better consideration of the intricacies that lead to youth offending, however, children under the age of 18 can still be held on remand in police cells, with some being held in police custody for several nights. We were very concerned at reports of children engaging in self-harm while in such custody. We want to see the Government fully commit to the Children’s Convention and ensure that we are adequately investing in alternative facilities that won’t further traumatise a vulnerable population and their right to be secure and safe, especially when their freedom is restricted.”

A mixed bag was also observed on New Zealand’s responsibility to people seeking refuge and asylum-seekers.

“While legislation such as the discriminatory Family-Link policy has been scrapped and the Government’s Refugee Quota programme increased to 1,500 people a year, we could be doing more. Per capita, even Australia is accepting more than double what New Zealand is. We would love to see the Government’s successful pilot of the Community Sponsorship of Refugees programme be made permanent.”

She says looking to 2020, the human rights issues facing our wider Asia Pacific region will also continue to be complex.

“We have a plethora of diaspora communities in New Zealand that make it such a beautiful and interesting place to live. It also means New Zealand is intimately connected to human rights concerns with its neighbours, many of whom are fighting for a better future. We look forward to continuing to work alongside experts and brave activists in South East Asia and the Pacific to monitor the human rights developments and advocate for the rights of all.