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New Zealand human rights breach international treaties

Posted by te2ataria on April 13, 2009

New Zealand law allows significant human rights failings and breaches of international treaties

Civil rights lawyers to the United Nations

NZ found wanting on human rights


New Zealand law allows significant human rights failings and breaches of international treaties, a report by civil rights lawyers to the United Nations says.

The shadow report written by former Council for Civil Liberties chairman Tony Ellis and a team of lawyers was submitted to the United Nations last week.

It said New Zealand could do better in many areas of human rights law and that there were several deficiencies in respect of New Zealand’s international human rights obligations.

The report called for:

The elimination of extended supervision orders (ESO);

The Government to repeal the preventive detention laws;

The Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act 2005 to be repealed.

The report said ESOs, which monitor and restrict the movements of sex offenders, were inconsistent with the Bill of Rights due to issues of double jeopardy and unreasonable search and seizure.

Two weeks ago, the Government sparked by possible lawsuits from high-risk sex offenders on ESOs rushed through a law change to patch a loophole in parole laws.

The law was passed despite a report from the attorney-general that warned the law change could not be justified under the Bill of Rights.

“These prisoners have already served their prison sentence, they have done their time and in some cases are then retrospectively sentenced again,” Ellis said.

The report also took issue with the sentence of preventive detention, saying it amounted to arbitrary detention.

It also condemned the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act, which was passed to restrict prisoners gaining compensation for ill-treatment while behind bars unless the money was used as redress for victims.

The law denied people who had been ill-treated a remedy, adequate or otherwise, the report said.

“This legislation is a disgrace in any democratic society and plainly a breach of the covenant and numerous other international instruments.”

Ellis said while treating prisoners decently may not be popular, to do so was the mark of a civilised society.

The report also called for:

The Parole Board to be independent and impartial;

An independent prisons’ inspectorate be set up;

The Bill of Rights to be given supreme law status, and section 4 of the act (which allows the Government to pass laws contrary to the Bill of Rights) to be repealed;

Improving the care of mentally ill prisoners and addressing the over-representation of Maori in prisons.

New Zealand is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and as such supplies the United Nations Human Rights Committee with a periodic report on the country’s human rights status.

The most recent report, delivered in December 2007, is due for consideration by the UN in Geneva in July.

It reports considerable advances in human rights, including key judgments by the Supreme Court, the passing of the Civil Unions act, the creation of an action plan for human rights and the creation of the Families Commission.

Shadow reports are commonly filed by civil rights organisations from other countries, but it has been rarely done by New Zealand groups.

Ellis said that was partly due to funding his report was prepared pro bono and partly due to ignorance that such reports could be written.

Justice Minister Simon Power said New Zealand was presenting its report under the UN’s convention against torture this month, and then the ICCPR report in July.

Both included many positive developments in the protection of human rights in New Zealand, he said, including the establishment of the Supreme Court, the repeal of seditious offences, and reviews of laws governing policing and corrections.

Power noted the Human Rights Commission’s 2004 review found New Zealand met international human rights standards in many respects and often surpassed them.

However, he acknowledged there were issues to be addressed such as the vulnerability of children and young people in detention. Copyright author/news agency.

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