Human Rights submissions released

  • Margaret Wilson
Justice

The Associate Minister of Justice, Margaret Wilson has released the summary of submissions received on proposals for revamped Human Rights protections in New Zealand.

105 substantive submissions were received and Margaret Wilson says they are the first stage in a series of steps which will lead to legislation for improved human rights later in the year.

The proposals include the establishment of a new Human Rights Institution. The new organisation would take over the work of the existing Human Rights Commission and Race Relations Office, with the later possibility of the work of the Health and Disability Commissioner and Children's Commissioner also becoming part of the new body's responsibilities.

Margaret Wilson says the substantive submissions are helping the government identify not only the best form of institution to protect and promote human rights but the best way to integrate human rights into policy and law-making, and into New Zealand's culture.

" We are identifying the best anti-discrimination standard or standards to be applied in government activities. This will be the standard the government uses when setting policy and making law and against which citizens can hold the government accountable. For example, the paper discusses the relationship between the Bill of Rights and the Human Rights Act, and the way in which they protect citizens' rights.

"And the paper proposed a new way of working through a national plan of action to promote human rights".

In addition to the 105 substantive submissions, a further 1280 identical form letters, mainly from members of Auckland and Wellington Asian communities expressing concern about the status and presence of race relations and multicultural issues in any new NHRI.

"New Zealand has had human rights legislation for almost 30 years and it is now an appropriate time for a re-evaluation. The government wants to create and sustain a human rights environment that enables people to reach their individual and collective potential regardless of their characteristics. In this environment human rights principles will be essential considerations in public and international policy development".

Background

The Re-evaluation report was produced for the Associate Minister of Justice Margaret Wilson by an independent team, in response to Government’s decision in April 2000 to review New Zealand’s human rights law.

The report was released in October 2000, with a deadline for submissions of 20 December 2000. The deadline was extended to 9 February 2001, as a result of public requests for more time. In November and December 2000, Margaret Wilson attended three meetings (Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington) sponsored by the New Zealand Human Rights Network to discuss the Re-evaluation report’s key proposals.

The independent team responsible for the paper - Peter Cooper, Paul Hunt, Janet McLean and Bill Mansfield —found that:

· Existing domestic human rights organisations are fragmented
· There is a need for greater public education and debate regarding New Zealand’s human rights obligations
· The relationship between the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993 is not well understood.