UN report: government's performance on economic, social and cultural rights
Monitoring body raises concerns about constitutional matters, social welfare reform, the rights of persons with disabilities, workers' rights, the right to housing and other economic and social rights, and recommends that the government adopt a human rights approach to the reconstruction of Christchurch
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the body of independent human rights experts that monitors state party compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), released its Concluding Observations on New Zealand overnight. The Committee has been examining the government's implementation of, and commitment to, the ICESCR which New Zealand ratified in 1978.
The Concluding Observations (E/C.12/NZL/CO/3) - available at http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/cescr48th.htm - follow the standard format of reports of UN human rights monitoring bodies with three main parts: an introductory section; a five paragraph section on 'Positive aspects'; and a section on 'Principle subjects of concern and recommendations' which comprises twenty-five paragraphs covering a range of economic, social and cultural rights; and a concluding paragraph requesting the government to submit its next report to the Committee in May 2017.
Among the 'Positive aspects', the Committee welcomed the ratification of several human rights instruments, and the government's endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It welcomed a range of measures to promote the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights - including the recognition of sign language as an official language, the Civil Union Act, the introduction of paid parental leave, and the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act.
The section on 'Principle subjects of concern and recommendations' begins with three paragraphs outlining concerns around constitutional matters: that the provisions of the ICESCR have not been fully incorporated into the domestic legal order, that the Bill of Rights Act does not include economic and social rights, and that legislative and policy-making processes do not allow for a review of the compatibility of draft laws, regulations and policies with the rights enshrined in the ICESCR. Among other things, the Committee has called on the government to take steps to ensure that legislative and policy-making processes are reviewed to ensure their compatibility with the ICESCR, and to "make additional efforts to raise awareness of economic, social and cultural rights among parliamentarians and policy-makers".
The third area of concern relating to constitutional matters is the lack of sufficient protection of the inalienable rights of indigenous people to their lands, territories, waters and maritime areas, and other resources, and that the right of free, prior and informed consent on the use and exploitation of these resources has not always been respected.
The Committee has called on the government: "to ensure that the inalienable rights of Maori to their lands, territories, waters and marine areas and other resources as well as the respect of the free, prior and informed consent of Maori on any decisions affecting their use are firmly incorporated in the State party's legislation and duly implemented". (paragraph 11).
Further recommendations relating to Maori include a guaranteed right of redress for violations of rights relating to land, territories, waters and other resources; implementation of Waitangi Tribunal recommendations (paragraphs 11 and 26); and that Maori receive proper compensation and enjoy tangible benefits from any exploitation of their resources (paragraph 11).
On the right to social security, the Committee has expressed concern "about the retrogressive nature and the possible discriminatory impact of welfare reforms, including those currently before the Parliament".
"urges the State party to meet its obligations under the Covenant by ensuring that welfare reforms, including those aimed at reducing long-term welfare dependency, protect the right to social security and to an adequate standard of living in respect of disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups. The Committee calls on the State party, in particular, to reconsider the work-test requirements being introduced and also to ensure that income management is applied on an individual basis and according to need. The Committee draws the attention of the State party to its general comment No. 19 (2009) on the right to social security, and its open letter on economic, social and cultural rights, and economic and financial crisis, dated 16 May 2012".
The open letter referred to in the recommendation above sets out criteria for state parties to protect economic, social and cultural rights in times of economic austerity, and is available at http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/cescr0512.pdf
Among the other issues raised in the 'Principle subjects of concern and recommendations' are: the continued disadvantage by Maori and Pacific communities in relation to economic, social and cultural rights; the rights of persons with disabilities in relation to employment and access to health services; the gender pay gap; the level of youth unemployment; worker's rights; the level of family and sexual violence, and bullying in schools; the shortage of accessible affordable childcare; the government's approach to housing and the restriction of eligibility for state housing; the right to affordable and safe water (particularly in the context of privatisation); the level of tobacco consumption; and the level of spending on overseas development assistance.
In addition, the Committee specifically recommends that the government adopt a human rights approach to the reconstruction of Christchurch, in particular with regard to the availability, affordability and adequacy of housing; and encouraged the government "to seize the opportunity of the reconstruction efforts to apply designs which enable persons with disabilities' access on an equal basis with others to the physical environment, facilities and services provided to the public". (paragraph 21)
The Committee also encouraged the government to ratify the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR, which would allow individuals to take complaints about violations of economic, social and cultural rights to the Committee this is particularly important because of the lack of protection for such rights under the current constitutional arrangements.
Where you can get more information
Background information - on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR); the NZ government and the ICESCR; the government's third Periodic Report under the ICESCR; preliminary NGO reports to the CESCR 46th Pre-Sessional Working Group; the Committee's List of Issues and the government's response; NGO reports to the 48th session; and useful resources and links - is available at http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/cescr3rd.htm
Information on the 48th session - who said what in Geneva, the Concluding Observations on New Zealand, and media reports - is available at http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/cescr48th.htm