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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review

7 May 2009 (morning)

For use of information media; not an official record

· The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by the New Zealand this morning, during which 36 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

· This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on Belize, following the review of the country on Tuesday, 5 May.

· Presenting the national report of New Zealand was SIMON POWER, Minister of Justice of New Zealand, who, while noting that New Zealand had a peaceful population made up of 4 million people who identified as being of Maori, European, Asian, and Pacific descent, said the Government was committed to equal rights and equal opportunities for all those living in the country. In New Zealand, this was referred to as a "fair go". A fair go meant that any person’s future in New Zealand should be determined by their motivation, hard work and capabilities. Integral to the national identity of New Zealand were the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, who represented about 15 percent of the population. A very significant part of indigenous rights in New Zealand was the Treaty of Waitangi. The Treaty, signed in 1840, was one of the founding documents of modern New Zealand and remained the basis for the continuing partnership between Maori and the Government. New Zealand had a long history of promoting and protecting human rights. For over a century New Zealand had ensured universal, free and compulsory primary education; recognized the right of women to vote; and provided a state-funded retirement pension. In modern times, New Zealand had adopted a system of "Mixed Member Proportional Representation" in national elections. This had resulted in a more diverse and representative Parliament. New Zealand was also party to almost all major international human rights instruments.

In an historic arrangement with the Maori Party, the new government entered into a formal agreement with the Maori Party, the Minister added. The agreement saw the Maori Party two co-leaders holding Ministerial Office as part of the Executive, represented in the Cabinet committee structure and consulted across the Government’s legislative programme. As part of that agreement with the Maori Party, the current Government has established an expert and independent Ministerial panel to review the Foreshore and Seabed Act. The Government was also concerned about the social, economic and cultural position of Maori in New Zealand. Despite recent socio-economic improvements, disparities still persisted for Maori in education, health, employment, crime statistics and income. The Government sought to remedy these inequalities even in the face of global economic problems, and throughout the public sector was committed to the achievement of Maori potential. Human rights were a central feature of New Zealand's international aid and development programmes, including in areas such as education, health and policing. As soon as the new Government came to office in November 2008, it took a number of steps to counter the impact of the global economic crisis, including the implementation of a three-year economic plan, including a small business relief package to help lighten the load on the small and medium sized businesses which employed many New Zealanders.

As regards women, the head of delegation noted that in recent years New Zealand women have occupied the senior constitutional positions of Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Speaker of the House, Chief Justice, Attorney-General and Governor-General. It was also recalled that New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote, which happened in 1893. In the State sector, 42 percent of people in governance roles were women. The Ministry of Women's Affairs had made "Women in Leadership" a priority of their work programme. As regards children, the recently enacted Sentencing (Offences against Children) Amendment Bill listed the factors a court must take into account when sentencing adults for violence or neglect, including whether the victim was a child. The Government’s Youth Guarantee addressed the issue of large numbers of young New Zealanders leaving school without any qualifications. Turning to crime and victims, the speaker recalled a recent national meeting on the "drivers of crime" which focused on how to stop crime occurring in New Zealand and at which participants noted that people most likely to be victims of crime tended to be those who were already disadvantaged members of society. The Government was committed to reviewing the outcomes from the meeting and incorporating its perspectives into a new policy approach to reducing crime. With respect to UN treaties, New Zealand was committed to working towards progressively withdrawing its few reservations to human rights treaties over time and was committed to maintaining the integrity of the treaty system. It was also recalled that New Zealand was up-to-date with all its treaty body reporting requirements.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the accession to most of the main international human rights instruments; efforts to protect and uphold the rights of the Maori population and economic and social improvements for Maori and Pacific peoples; New Zealand’s commitment to overcome the challenges that many multicultural societies faced today; to enhance the rights of the child; advancements in the area of women’s rights and gender parity; the State’s Domestic Violence immigration policy, Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence and the establishment of Family Courts; the active role of New Zealand in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities; the standing invitation extended to United Nations Special Procedures; the comprehensive scheme of social security and social safety nets; the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and the Human Rights Act; policies to reduce poverty and to improve access to primary health; and the establishment of the Human Rights Commission of New Zealand.

· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to, among other things, the number of claims settled and those outstanding under the Waitangi Tribunal; policies being implemented to reduce social disparities between the Maori population and non-indigenous; to what extent discriminatory stereotyping in the media exacerbated inequalities faced by the Maori population; the measures adopted to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; steps to address the inferior and negative stereotyping and portrayal of minority women by the media; measures intended to respond to concerns raised by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; support provided to victims of human trafficking; efforts to reducing domestic violence rates and, in particular, to address the over-representation of Maoris as victims of domestic violence; plans to raise the low conviction rates as regards acts of violence against women; steps planned to address the concerns raised in the Leitner Centre report on domestic violence; and whether New Zealand foresaw any difficulties in implementing the Domestic Violence Bill.

Other issues and questions pertained to the intentions of the Government to withdraw reservations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child; policies to respond to juvenile offences; efforts to improve child health outcomes; how the human rights perspective was introduced into national education curricula; plans and timelines for implementing recommendations set by New Zealand’s Human Rights Commission to adopt a national plan to combat poverty; specific measures taken to reverse the negative impact of the economic crisis; the referendum on the use of physical force for the purpose of correction; whether the courts of New Zealand had any jurisdiction to declare that a specific legislation was incompatible or inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act or a treaty obligation; steps taken to ensure that counter-terrorism legislation was in line with international standards; progress made in reviewing legislation relating to the security-risk certificate; and how the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and the Human Rights Act were implemented and what challenges the Government faced in that regard.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: to continue the public discussion over the status of the Treaty of Waitangi, with a view to its possible entrenchment as a constitutional norm; to consider ratifying ILO Convention 169 on indigenous peoples; to support the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; to continue the dialogue between the State and the Maori population on the Foreshore and Seabed Act of 2004 and to mitigate any negative effects; to consider further action to fully understand the causes of inequality faced by indigenous peoples and take steps to minimize the effects; to pursue efforts to settle territorial global land claims and find appropriate ways to provide adequate compensation for the Maori for the loss of land; to further strengthen actions to ensure that the economic and social rights of vulnerable persons were protected, especially Maori, people of Pacific background and people with disabilities, and that special attention was given to them to include them fully in society; to take further steps to restrict all acts of discrimination, racism and xenophobia; to implement the outcome of the Durban Review Conference; and to ratify the Convention of the Rights of Migrant Workers and All Members of Their Families.

Other recommendations included: To start discussions on introducing gender quotas on company boards of public limited companies; to promote active policies to speed up the number of women represented in public life; to establish targets for improving representation of women in senior management in the public service and set measurable targets toward realizing gender pay equality; to repeal legislation to close protection gaps in the protection of women against discrimination; to adopt a more comprehensive definition of trafficking; to record and document cases of trafficking in women and children as well as exploitation of migrant women and girls in prostitution and to share information with other countries in the region to facilitate greater cooperation in combating this problems; to undertake a public awareness raising campaign and to sensitize the police force about violence against women; to identify a more accurate measure of the extent of domestic violence in New Zealand; and to continue to strengthen efforts to combat all sorts of violence against women.

The Working Group also recommended that New Zealand ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography; commit more resources towards the provision of services for children with disabilities; effectively coordinate efforts at preventing child abuse as well as provide the needed assistance in that regard; continue integrating the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights into domestic legislation; take appropriate measures to bring domestic laws in full compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and consider adopting the National Plan of Action for Human Rights.

Additionally, New Zealand was encouraged to ratify the Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances; to take further measures to ensure full and consistent protection of human rights law in domestic law and policies; to drop the planned amendments to the Terrorism Suppression Act; to commit to combating institutional bias that could result in the over-representation of specific groups in the criminal justice system; to take further measures to ensure that people belonging to minority groups were not discriminated against in the criminal justice system; to raise the age of criminal responsibility so that it complied with the respective international standards; and to ensure that separate juvenile detention facilities were ensured for all juveniles in detention and that further measures were taken to ensure more effective protection of children against abuse or neglect.

· Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were India, the Netherlands, Argentina, the Republic of Korea, France, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Mexico, South Africa, Germany, Canada, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, the Russian Federation, Slovenia, Malaysia, China, Switzerland, Jordan, Japan and Angola.

· Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Norway, Iran, Nepal, Morocco, the United States, Austria, Australia, Sweden, Turkey, Maldives and the Czech Republic.

· The 11-person delegation of New Zealand consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Crown Law, the Department of Labour, the Department of Corrections, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Permanent Mission of New Zealand to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of New Zealand are the Philippines, Italy and Mauritius.

· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on New Zealand can be found here.

· Adoption of report on Belize: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on the Belize are the Russian Federation, Malaysia and Brazil. Introducing the report ALEXANDRE GUIDO LOPES PAROLA (Brazil) thanked the delegation of Belize for its sincere cooperation and to those States who participated in the review who expressed support to the State under review. Representing the State under review, JUDITH ALPUCHE, Chief Executive Officer at the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation, thanked the participating States for their interventions which were insightful, constructive and valuable. The UPR experience overall had been an educational experience for Belize. It was hoped that the review of Belize would help advance the human rights commitments it had already made. Belize agreed to the general thrust of the recommendations listed in the report. Belize was an open society influenced by the multiple cultures represented in the country and endeavoured to afford the highest standards of human rights for its people.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of New Zealand on Monday, 11 May.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon 2:30 p.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Afghanistan after which it is scheduled to adopt the report on Chad.

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