International Law 101 Dr Myra Williamson

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In May 2009, New Zealand is scheduled to provide its first report to the UN Human Rights Council. A 27-page draft report dated 16 February 2009 is currently available from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website. The report is divided into four sec- tions: methodology and consultation pro- cess; background of country; promotion and protection of human rights; and identifica- tion of achievements, best practices, chal- lenges and constraints. There is also a short annex on Tokelau (a non-self-governing ter- ritory administered by New Zealand since 1926) which outlines the relationship between Tokelau and New Zealand as well as Tokelau’s commitment to human rights.

Public submissions on New Zealand’s draft report closed on 17 March. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website, the final report “will be available in due course” and is due to be presented to the Human Rights Council between 4 and 15 May. Fifteen other states will also be under review in that session.

The Human Rights Council is a body within the UN system made up of 47 States responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe. The Council was created by the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006 by GA 60/251. The main purpose of the Council is to address situations of human rights viola- tions and make recommendations on them. The Periodic Review Process is one of the means of achieving that objective.

Section 4 of New Zealand’s draft report, which identifies achievements as well as chal- lenges and constraints, is particularly inter- esting. The draft report claims that since the development of the New Zealand Action Plan for Human Rights in 2005, New Zealand has “made significant progress in improving human rights in most areas”. The draft report refers to New Zealand’s refugee quota, increased resources for child health, New Zealand sign language, Maori language and broadcast- ing, the Civil Union Act 2004, prostitution law reform, freedom of expression and reli- gious diversity and the open invitation to all UN Special Procedures Mandate Holders.

The draft report raises several points, two of which are discussed briefly. First, in rela- tion to violence within families, it mentions at p 17 that in June 2007, s 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 was repealed and substituted with a new provision that there is no justification for the use of force for the purpose of disciplining children. It claims that this legislative amend- ment made New Zealand the eighteenth coun- try in the world to ban the physical punishment of children. The report does not mention, as could have been acknowledged in section 4.2 regarding challenges and constraints, that the anti-smacking debate is far from over and that a group has attempted to force a referen- dum on the repeal of s 59. The second point of interest relates to the open invitation to UN Special Procedures Mandate Holders, dis- cussed on p 21.

Whilst the draft report acknowledges the official visit to New Zealand in November 2005 by Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights and Fundamental Free- doms of Indigenous Peoples, there is no recog- nition of the fact that Stavenhagen’s report (see E/CN.4/2006/78/Add.3, 13 March 2006) was critical of the foreshore and seabed legis- lation and that Stavenhagen made a number of recommendations that have not been imple- mented.

The draft report is a worthwhile read for any student interested in human rights. Com- parison of the draft and final reports may provide further insight into the way New Zealand views its human rights commit- ments…

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