Monday, March 15, 2010

Māori and Treaty issues in NZ's report to the UN Human Rights Committee

As part of its monitoring role, the United Nations Human Rights Committee will this week be considering New Zealand’s performance in relation to the recognition of civil and political rights.  As a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, New Zealand submits periodic reports to the Committee, setting out how it is addressing its obligations under the Covenant.  This process is focused specifically on the rights identified in the Covenant and so is not as broad an inquiry as last year’s Universal Periodic Review. That is a relatively new process, which covers all international human rights obligations of participating countries.  This week’s meeting is therefore unlikely to raise wider issues such as New Zealand’s position in relation to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  That was canvassed as part of the Universal Periodic Review and has also been noted by the Aotearoa Indigenous Rights Trust in their submission to the Committee [for a discussion of the issues relating to the Declaration, see this video, and the resources collected here, and especially this article by international law scholar Claire Charters].  However, the Committee has asked New Zealand to respond to a number of specific issues, several of which directly relate to Māori and/or the Treaty of Waitangi, and which will no doubt be the subject of further discussion at this week’s meeting.

In relation to the principle of non-discrimination set out in Articles 2 and 26 of the Covenant, the Committee asked New Zealand to provide information about the measures that have been taken to mitigate the discriminatory effects of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004.  In particular, the Committee was interested to know whether a consultation mechanism with Māori had been established.  In response, New Zealand has submitted information about the review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act and the review panel’s recommendations, ultimately noting that “On 2 November 2009, the Government announced that it is likely that the Foreshore and Seabed Act would be repealed.  No decisions have been made about what will replace it.”

The Committee was also concerned about the high levels of Māori incarceration and asked what measures New Zealand was taking to address that issue. New Zealand’s response acknowledges that “at this stage no specific targets or timelines have been set for reducing the relatively high proportion of Māori in prison” but goes on to note that “the Drivers of Crime work programme will involve development of measures of effectiveness of interventions for Māori including reducing recidivism and the prison population”.  The response also notes that the Department of Corrections now has a Māori Services Team and “provides a number of programmes and services specifically aimed at reducing re-offending through the use of tikanga Māori (customary Māori) concepts and values”.
In relation to the Treaty of Waitangi, the Committee asked the following:

What measures does the State party envisage taking to incorporate the Treaty of Waitangi in domestic law? Please indicate whether a mechanism to settle comprehensively land claims of indigenous peoples, consistent with the Treaty of Waitangi and with the Covenant rights, has been created. Please also indicate whether the Waitangi Tribunal has been provided with increased financial resources.

The response to that set of questions notes the incorporation of Treaty principles into specific pieces of legislation (such as the Conservation Act 1987, the Resource Management Act 1991, the Education Act 1989, and the Crown Minerals Act 1991).  The response also points to the role of the Waitangi Tribunal and sets out information about the progress of the settlement of claims made under the Treaty of Waitangi.  In order to address the particular question about the resourcing of the Waitangi Tribunal, the response states “The Waitangi Tribunal received an increase in funding in 2007 and its current total operating expenditure is $12.15 million.  The Government is satisfied that the current level of funding is sufficient for the Tribunal to carry out its functions”.

It will be interesting to see what further comment the Human Rights Committee will choose to make on these and other issues.  In any case, unlike Professor Paul Moon, I think it is extremely beneficial for the Committee to bring attention to these issues and to expect New Zealand to implement measures that give full effect to internationally recognized human rights.