Sunday, March 21, 2010

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

Following on from my previous post, the UN Human Rights Committee issued a press release following its meeting last week to consider New Zealand’s report on human rights protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  As was evident from their prior written questions, members of the Committee were interested in a number of specific areas of New Zealand’s performance in relation to human rights matters.  In particular, the Committee raised questions about criminal justice, domestic violence, asylum seekers and immigration issues, counter-terrorism measures, and issues relating to the Treaty of Waitangi and the status of Māori.  Though many of these areas have implications for Māori, it is this last set of issues that I would like to address in this post.

The Committee’s press release notes:

Several experts [that is, members of the Committee] took exception to the New Zealand delegation’s claim that consideration of the Waitangi Treaty of 1840 was built into the country’s law-making process, underlining that the Treaty’s translations – and, thus its very meaning – remained unsettled, even contentious.  To that end, Helen Keller, expert from Switzerland, stressed that a “consultation process” regarding land and water rights legislation was not the same as seriously integrating the views and concerns of the Māori in the decision-making process.

Ms Keller also asked whether New Zealand intended to accept the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Simon Power, responding on behalf of the New Zealand delegation indicated that work was ongoing on the issue of the Declaration and the New Zealand Government’s possible support for it.  He also noted that the rights recognized in the Declaration had been supported in New Zealand for many years.  If that is the case, one might wonder why the New Zealand Government has such difficulty with the idea of supporting the Declaration (as mentioned in my previous post, Claire Charters has provided a very useful consideration of the Government’s position).

Picking up on the question of uncertainty, another Committee member suggested that the divergent views on translations of the Treaty of Waitangi indicated that the Government might merely be paying “lip-service” to the participation of Māori in public decision-making.  This issue of certainty in relation to the meaning of the Treaty is a central concern of Matthew Palmer’s recent book, The Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand’s Law and Constitution, which provides a very helpful analysis of the problems associated with different forms of uncertainty associated with the legal status and effect of the Treaty.

Another Committee member noted that, while he was encouraged by the Government’s attitude to the Treaty of Waitangi, he had some concerns about the Treaty settlement process.  These concerns appear to relate to the issue of agreeing settlements without sufficient regard to the claims of dissenting or opposing groups (aspects of which I have touched on in previous posts, here, here, and here).  The Committee member urged the Government to aim for truly negotiated solutions rather than merely “clinching the deal”.

The New Zealand delegation was also asked whether any of their ten members were themselves Māori.  I’m not sure what the response to that was, but that in itself might provide an interesting indication of how important the Government perceives the participation of Māori in public processes!