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NZ Human Rights Record Under Scrutiny At UN

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Simon Power
Simon Power

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, March 17 NZPA - New Zealand's record on human rights and challenges it faced were highlighted today as Justice Minister Simon Power spoke at the United Nations.

Early today -- noon Tuesday in New York -- Mr Power presented a report to the UN human rights committee under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The covenant is the main international human rights treaty stating civil and political rights and New Zealand was required to report periodically on how its obligations were being implemented domestically.

New Zealand submitted its report in December 2007 and the committee then considered it and submitted written questions which New Zealand responded to.

Mr Power today answered further questions in person.

He told NZPA the questions ranged across a number of areas including the police use of tasers, over-representation of Maori in the justice system and prisons, electoral reform, representation of women in leadership roles in the private and public sectors, Bill of Rights issues, and the so-called Urewera terror raids.

The committee was made up of experts such as academics and judges, rather than country representatives.

"We'll wait and see what their report says, but what I can say is by and large the comments about New Zealand's record overall were very favourable, and I think we were well received by the committee, but that doesn't mean there weren't areas we could improve and they were very keen to discuss some of those areas."

Mr Power told the committee about safeguards around taser use and said members were concerned there should be complaint paths people who felt their human rights had been affected could take.

"I was able to say that the Human Rights Commission and the Independent Police Conduct Authority were involved so realistically the institutions we have in place were doing what they are supposed to do, reacting the way they were supposed to act, if those concerns were raised."

Mr Power said the committee seemed impressed with how New Zealand was handling its reform of electoral finances.

"I was able to explain that the process we'd been involved in was cross-party, very public...and that we wanted it to be transparent and enduring."

Mr Power headed a delegation which included New Zealand's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Jim McLay, as well as officials from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Crown Law Office, Department of Corrections, and Department of Labour.

The Human Rights Commission's equal employment opportunities commissioner Judy McGregor appeared before the committee earlier this month.

She said New Zealand had made positive achievements around reducing violence against children and young people, electoral finance reform and the implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT).

However, she raised concerns about the high levels of imprisonment of Maori; discrimination against children and their right to education because of their immigration status; the extent of child abuse and high levels of relative poverty and stalled progress on pay equity.

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