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New Zealand: more to be done to improve indigenous people’s rights, says UN Expert

AUCKLAND (23 July 2010) – The UN Special Rapporteur on indigenous people, James Anaya, called on the New Zealand Government to keep on moving forward to find adequate solutions to the challenges still faced by the Maori population.

“I have observed several positive aspects of New Zealand’s legal and policy landscape, as well as ongoing challenges, in relation to Maori issues,” Mr. Anaya said at the end of a follow-up visit to the country to monitor issues related to human rights of the Maori, including strategies to reduce inequalities between Maori and non-Maori.

“I cannot help but note the extreme disadvantage in the social and economic conditions of Maori people, which are dramatically manifested in the continued and persistent high levels of incarceration of Maori individuals,” the human rights expert stressed. “These troubling conditions undoubtedly result from the historical and ongoing denial of the human rights of Maori, which must continue to be addressed as a matter of upmost priority.”

Mr. Anaya welcomed New Zealand’s recent endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and described a number of initiatives underway in the country as “important steps” towards advancing its purpose and objectives. “This Declaration, far from affirming rights that place indigenous peoples in a privileged position, aims at repairing the ongoing consequences of the historical denial of the right to self-determination and other basic human rights.”

The Special Rapporteur drew special attention to the process for settling historical and contemporary claims based on the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840, one of the country’s founding instruments. The principles of the Treaty provide a foundation for Maori self-determination based on a real partnership between Maori and the New Zealand State, within a framework of respect for cross cultural understanding and the human rights of all citizens.

“The treaty settlement process is clearly one of the most important examples in the world of an effort to address historical and ongoing grievances of indigenous peoples, and that settlements already achieved have provided significant benefits in several cases,” Mr. Anaya said.

“However, during my visit I have heard complaints about the treaty settlement process that are similar to those reported by my predecessor*. These include complaints about the inherent lack of bargaining power on the part of Maori in the settlement negotiations, the resulting lack of settlement outcomes that provide full and adequate redress to Maori grievances, and policies that restrict the transference of lands back into Maori ownership or control,” the independent expert said.

Mr. Anaya also followed up on his predecessor recommendations regarding the Foreshore and Seabed Act of 2004. Noting the authorities’ efforts to repeal and reform this act, he called for an adequate dialogue with Maori people, as well as a new legislative arrangement that “avoids any discriminatory effects and establishes measures to recognize and protect rights of iwi over the foreshore and seabed.”

Finally, the UN Human Rights Council envoy urged the New Zealand Government to provide constitutional security to the principles enshrined in the Treaty of Waitangi and related internationally-protected human rights. “From what I have observed, the Treaty’s principles appear to be vulnerable to political discretion, resulting in their perpetual insecurity and instability.”

On 26 March 2008, the Human Rights Council appointed Professor S. James Anaya as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, for an initial period of three years. Professor Anaya is the James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of Arizona (USA).

(*) Check the 2005 report on New Zealand by Rodolfo Stavenhagen: http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G06/118/36/PDF/G0611836.pdf?OpenElement

OHCHR Country Page – New Zealand: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/NZIndex.aspx