|Citizens and the law:
All societies are based ...
Universal rights and New Zealanders:The international law of human rights ...
Department of Corrections: The Department of Corrections manages ...
Holding the balance: New Zealand's laws are ...
Delivering justice: The law is a set of rules to enable our society to ...
Reforming the law: In 1985, the Law Commission Act established ...
Checks and balances: Officers of Parliament help ensure accountability ...
Investment watchdog: Investment is very important for New ...
Fair dealing: Banks and insurance companies look after a lot of money that ...
Healing the past, building a future: The Office of Treaty Settlements (OTS) provides the Minister ...
Who looks after your rights? Civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are important in ...
Rights of the child: The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which ...
The laws we live by: Past DecisionMaker Guides focused on the law and justice - helping ...
Advocates for health and disability service users: Advocacy service posters and brochures are ...
A new human rights institution
Civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are important in underpinning a free, democratic and cohesive society that respects and values diversity among the population.
The Human Rights Commission is a statutory body whose mission is to “champion
fundamental human rights as a framework for a fair and just society for
all the people of New Zealand.”
Amendments to the Human Rights Act (HRA) in 2001 introduced significant changes to New Zealand’s human rights law, and called for the establishment of a national human rights institution that provides a focal point for existing rights agencies, and leadership for constructive discussions within community institutions.
The over-arching objective was to create a national environment that makes it possible for people to reach their individual and collective potential regardless of their personal characteristics, and one in which human rights considerations are at the heart of public and international policy development.
Among other things, the Act:
(a) combined the Office of the Race Relations Conciliator with the Human Rights Commission
(b) established primary functions for the Commission
(c) added three new functions for the Commission:
(d) incorporated the anti-discrimination standard of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (NZBORA) into the Human Rights Act 1993 (HRA) for all government activity (except employment and associated racial and sexual harassment where the activities of government remain accountable under the existing human rights standard)
(e) provided that all problems relating to both government and non-government human rights compliance be dealt with by the Commission through a publicly funded problem-solving/disputes resolutions process
(f) replaced the Commission's power to investigate complaints and form opinions about whether there had been a breach of the HRA with an disputes resolution process
(g) provided for the operational independence of the Office of Human Rights Proceedings.
In January 2002, the Human Rights Commission and the Race Relations Office merged, creating a new organisation and replacing the role of Race Relations Conciliator with a Race Relations Commissioner who provides advice and leadership to the Race and Ethnic Relations Team (RERT). The RERT is divided into two main groups:
The education, communication and liaison group establishes links between
the HRC and the major ethnic communities in New Zealand. The team provides
educational material on human rights, the Treaty of Waitangi and other
National Plan of Action on Human Rights
The Commission’s National Plan of Action is a concrete reflection of a deliberate policy to promote and protect human rights and coordinate activities between government departments and authorities in this area.
The National Plan of Action will take place over two years and involve wide public participation.
The Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) Commissioner role was established to provide advice and leadership on matters relating to EEO, to evaluate EEO measures and promote their best practice, and to monitor progress in improving EEO in New Zealand. The first EEO Commissioner, Dr Judy McGregor, was appointed in February, 2003.
The Office of Human Rights Proceedings (OHRP) was established by the
2001 amendments to the Human Rights Act as an independent component of
the Human Rights Commission, and is headed by the Director of Human Rights
The 2001 amendments to the HRA provided the Commission with the function
of promoting a better understanding of the human rights dimensions of
the Treaty of Waitangi through research, education and discussion. A specific
project to facilitate public dialogue around human rights and the Treaty
of Waitangi is currently under way.
The Human Rights Review Tribunal is independent of the Commission and
is administered by the Department for Courts. It has the power of a court
to hear disputes and make decisions. If the decision is in the complainant’s
favour, the Tribunal can award damages and order other remedies.
The HRA may be seen as an important part of the fulfilment of the government’s obligations to protect citizens from discrimination. whether perpetrated by the government, bodies performing public functions, the private sector or fellow citizens.
The HRA makes it unlawful to publish, distribute or broadcast material
that is threatening, abusive or insulting, or likely to excite hostility
against, or bring into contempt any group of persons in (or who may be
coming to) New Zealand on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national
Additional material on discrimination is available from the Commission, rights organisations, the Internet, and New Zealand legal sources.
Racial harassment does not need to be intentional - the most important aspect is how the person at whom the behaviour is directed is affected.
The HRA stipulates that racial harassment can occur in any of the areas
of life to which the Act applies including employment, education, access
to public places, access to goods and services, access to land, accommodation
Racial harassment can also be addressed under the Employment Relations
Act 2000. Cases can be taken as a personal grievance against an employer
within 90 days of the incident.
The Human Rights Commission defines sexual harassment as:
In both cases, the harassment must take place in one of the areas to
which the HRA applies (employment, education, access to public places,
access to goods and services, access to land, accommodation or housing).
Sexual harassment can be dealt with under the Employment Relations Act
2000 as a personal grievance against an employer within 90 days of the
incident, or under the HRA as a complaint against an employer or another
individual. In some cases the matter may be referred to the Police.
The Cabinet Office requires all policy submissions to include a statement about whether there are any inconsistencies between the proposal and the HRA.
If there are inconsistencies, submissions must provide a summary of the
implications and comment on whether and how the issues may be addressed
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which New Zealand is a signatory, can be summarised under three headings:
Legally based responsibilities of the State to protect children from:
These are what children can expect from society; either from parents or, where they cannot provide it, from the State. They are entitled to:
Children have the right to think, decide and act with the same freedom as adults, taking into account the maturity of the child and the kind of action involved. They should have:
Past DecisionMaker Guides have focused on the law and justice – helping
people identify law that affects you at times of conflict. But there are other
types of domestic and international law, such as company, tax, employment,
consumer, family, environmental, local government. These provide frameworks
within which people and organisations manage their relationships with other
people and organisations. Indeed, they are the laws we live by the laws that
govern the activities of everyday life.
Find out more!
Human Rights Commissioner Merimeri Penfold greets a member of a Scottish parliamentary delegation with a hongi.
Members of the Human Rights Commission staff at an information stall for Human Rights Day 2002.