HRLA gives feedback on draft Fifth Periodic Report for New Zealand under UNCROC  

Summary by Rebecca Thomson

The Aotearoa Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA) has made submissions to the Ministry of Social Development on its draft Fifth Periodic Report for New Zealand under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC).

UNCROC confirms the rights owed to children and young people (aged 17 and younger) by their countries. As a state party to UNCROC New Zealand is required to make reports every five years to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding its achievement of the rights set out in UNCROC. New Zealand’s fifth report is due to be filed this year.

The HRLA submission focussed on eight key areas of concern;

  1. New Zealand continues to allow parents to physically discipline their children, despite the Committee recommending an explicit ban on all forms of violence against children.
  2. The Family Dispute Resolution service which has been implemented as a mandatory step before a dispute may be taken to the Family Court does not appear to be working as intended nor funded to the extent necessary, to the detriment of families who are already suffering through a stressful period in their lives.
  3. Children of offenders sentenced to imprisonment are often separated from their parents due to prison bed allocations, and unable to keep in contact with them through skype (for example). All children separated by state law from their parents have the right to maintain their relationship through direct contact with their parents on a regular basis.
  4. Unmarried same-sex couples remain unable to adopt children under the Adoption Act 1955, an unjustified breach of the right against discrimination on the basis of marital status and sexual orientation.
  5. As with the Family Dispute Resolution service, Family Violence Courts and the social services which surround them must be adequately funded. At present there are delays in returning children to their offending parent’s care after sentencing, in cases where their continued separation is not necessary.
  6. Children and young people subject to the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 are not afforded the same rights as adults subject to the Act, because of a practical lack of resources available for their care.
  7. Similarly, the rights of young people who are incarcerated are often breached because of a lack of resourcing. For example, young people may be held in custodial units with adults (particularly young female offenders, for whom there is no specialist Youth Unit in the country).
  8. Raising the jurisdiction of the Youth Court to include 17 year olds would be consistent with New Zealand’s obligations under UNCROC, and likely to save costs in the long-term by dealing with young offenders in a way which recognises their vulnerabilities and developing psychology.

The HRLA’s conclusion is that many positive steps have been taken under the aegis of UNCROC, but that there is certainly room for New Zealand as a country to improve outcomes for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. Their  voices must not be lost.

Full submission: HRLA Feedback on draft fifth report for New Zealand under UNCROC

 

Feedback on draft report on New Zealand’s performance under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

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.

 Full submission: HRLA Feedback on draft report on NZ performance under the ICCPR