Human rights

New Zealand has a strong history of protecting and promoting human rights at home and internationally.

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New Zealand’s International Human Rights Action Plan 2019-2023

Our International Human Rights Action Plan identifies where we will show global leadership and make a positive difference on global human rights issues.

The Action Plan was developed following nationwide consultation, including eight public hui and discussions with over 200 high school students to determine the human rights issues that matter most to New Zealanders. We also consulted over 12 government agencies to ensure the Action Plan aligned with domestic priorities.

International treaties

Atrocities committed during World War II drew the world's attention to the need for collective action on human rights. When the UN Charter was drafted in 1945, New Zealand was one of a small number of countries that successfully lobbied for human rights to be included. This led to the first comprehensive international agreement on human rights – the Universal Declaration on Human Rights – adopted in 1948. The Declaration stated:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

From Article 1 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, 1948.

The Universal Declaration has formed the basis for nine core human rights treaties.  New Zealand played an important role in creating many of these treaties including chairing negotiations for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).

New Zealand is a party to seven of the nine treaties:

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966
  • International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1979
  • Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984
  • UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989
  • International Convention on Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers, 1990 (NZ is not yet party to this convention)
  • UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006
  • International Convention for the Protection of Persons from Enforced Disappearance, 2010 (NZ is not yet party to this convention)

United Nations Treaty Bodies

For each human rights treaty, there is a ‘Treaty Body’ of independent experts that monitor the progress of countries in complying with the treaty. For example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has a Treaty Body called the Human Rights Committee(external link). New Zealand is regularly reviewed by these Treaty Bodies, usually every four to five years. 

New Zealand has also accepted a number of procedures to allow individuals to make complaints to Treaty Bodies about New Zealand’s compliance. A recent example is the decision of the Committee Against Torture about treatment at the Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital(external link). You can review the UN database for other decisions and reports(external link) by Treaty Bodies about New Zealand. 

MFAT’s role in human rights

We provide advice to the Government on international human rights issues.

New Zealand is an active participant in the two main human rights bodies of the UN – the Human Rights Council in Geneva and the General Assembly’s Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee in New York (known as the Third Committee).

We also provide funding for human rights related projects through our international development cooperation programme.

Human rights in development

Human rights are a priority area for Aotearoa New Zealand’s development agenda, and play an important role in Aotearoa New Zealand’s vision and commitment to partnering for a long-term resilient and prosperous Pacific, and to building a safer, more prosperous and more sustainable future for New Zealanders and the world. In its international development cooperation, Aotearoa New Zealand seeks to contribute to the realisation of human rights for all.

Aotearoa New Zealand’s Human Rights Strategic Action Plan for International Development Cooperation 2021 – 2025 sets out priorities for targeting and mainstreaming human rights within Aotearoa New Zealand’s international development cooperation programming, particularly focusing on people and groups most at risk of being left behind, and establishes the framework for Aotearoa New Zealand’s Human Rights Based Approach to development.

Human rights in our region

We support countries in the Asia-Pacific region as they build their capacity to uphold human rights. This is often done by contributing to the work of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) through the New Zealand International Development Cooperation Programme. The Office encourages and supports countries to develop human rights institutions, adopt national plans of action to advance human rights, and increase human rights education and awareness. MFAT monitors human rights developments in the region, advocates for the protection of human rights, and liaises with the OHCHR on progress.

Human rights issues within New Zealand are the responsibility of other government agencies. We work with these agencies to produce New Zealand's reports on progress against each treaty, including our Universal Periodic Review report into human rights.

Universal Periodic Review

Every five years UN member countries report to the UN Human Rights Council on their human rights situation, and progress since the previous review. This is known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The government has two main roles. First, a national report is drafted, submitted to the UN ahead of the review, and uploaded to the UN’s website. When drafting the report, the government consults the public for its views on the human rights situation in New Zealand.

Other members of the New Zealand public can also make their own submissions to the UN, which compiles them into a summary report. More than 100 public submissions were made to the UN ahead of New Zealand’s review in 2019.

The government’s second role is to send a delegation to the Human Rights Council in Geneva for the hearing. That delegation is usually led by the Minister of Justice, and comprises representatives from a number of government agencies.

Read more on our dedicated page about Aotearoa New Zealand's Universal Periodic Review

Or read more on the website of the UN Human Rights Council(external link).

Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)-related rights

Aotearoa New Zealand is committed to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)-related rights, and demonstrating leadership on the global stage is a top priority under our International Human Rights Action Plan.

To highlight the way in which people of diverse SOGIESC have always had a place in indigenous culture in our region, the editors of this booklet have produced this glossary of reo Māori terminology for people of diverse SOGIESC. In this way, we celebrate the place of rainbow communities in Aotearoa New Zealand as part of the diversity of the peoples of Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa.


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