Summary by Bryce Lyall
The Government recently released a draft report on New Zealand’s performance under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) for public comment.
The ICCPR covers rights like freedom of religion, speech and assembly, the right to a fair trial and electoral rights. Each country that is a party to the ICCPR provides regular reports to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which reviews countries’ compliance with the ICCPR; however it is not binding on the Government. The draft report responds to specific issues raised by the Committee, and outlines significant developments in recent years related to civil and political rights.
The Human Rights Lawyers Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (HRLA) chose to make a submission on the draft report, focussing on the Waitangi Tribunal, Treaty Settlements, Private Prisons, and the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 (TSA). Rebecca Thomson, Cameron Walker and I drafted it on behalf of the HRLA.
The HRLA has concerns over the way that the Waitangi Tribunal is funded. We see that there is a backlog of claims, some of which have waited decades to be heard by the Tribunal. This is not a criticism of the Tribunal, but rather of the funding for it. We also expressed concern over the allocation of resources for future hearings, contemporary claims, and urgent hearings of the Tribunal. Insufficient funding undermines access to justice for Maori, and this must be addressed.
We also raised the issue of Crown treatment of decisions of the Tribunal, stating that the Government should adopt a framework to ensure that Tribunal recommendations are only overridden with sufficient justification, and that steps are taken to mitigate the harm to Maori caused by such actions.
We also raised issues associated with Treaty Settlements. While we note that there is nothing wrong with settlement per se, the figure of settled claims does not reflect the number of claims settled voluntarily. The large number of settlement bills that have gone before Parliament in recent years is regarded by some with a great deal of pride; however many of these settlements have been achieved not with settling grievances in mind, but for political expediency. We are also concerned that the Crown has developed its own settlement policy without meaningful consultation with the groups it seeks to settle with.
We noted that the HRLA is concerned with the proliferation of Private Prisons. We submitted that outsourcing key state powers over our most vulnerable citizens to private, profit-driven companies is a concerning trend. Overseas experiences show that private prisons tend to have lower staffing levels and higher incidences of violence than public prisons.
Finally we set out or concerns with ambiguity over which actions by designated groups are criminalised and the provisions of the TSA.
The finalised report will be submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in April 2015.