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

Atrocities committed during World War II drew the world's attention to the need for action on human rights. When the UN Charter was being drafted in 1945, New Zealand was one of a small number of countries that successfully lobbied for human rights to be included.

This sowed the seeds for 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.

International treaties

Since 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 one of the most recent – the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006). 

We're a party to seven of the nine treaties and obliged to report regularly to the relevant UN treaty body on our progress in implementing the provisions of each convention. 

  • 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
  • UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006
  • International Convention for the Protection of Persons from Enforced Disappearance, 2010

Our most recent human rights reports (external link)

Read about each human rights treaty body (external link) 

MFAT’s role in human rights

MFAT’s United Nations, Human Rights and Commonwealth Division provides advice to the New Zealand Government on international human rights issues and represents us at the UN. 

Our work in human rights is focused mainly on actively participating in meetings run by 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).

Human rights in our region

Within our own region the work we do involves supporting neighbouring countries 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 Aid Programme. The Office is working to encourage and support countries to develop human rights institutions, adopt national plans of action, and increase human rights education and awareness. MFAT also monitors human rights developments in the region and liaises with the OHCHR on progress. 

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

Universal Periodic Review

Every four years New Zealand, along with all other UN member countries, must report to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) on our human rights situation, and progress on making improvements. This is known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

In New Zealand, the process is led by the Ministry of Justice and the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, with support from MFAT.  The public must be consulted when drafting the report and any interested person or organisation can make submissions and participate in the process. 

Read more about the Universal Periodic Review process (external link)

Find out more about the UPR on the UN OHCHR website (external link)

New Zealand Handbook on International Human Rights

MFAT has produced a reference guide to the international human rights framework, the New Zealand Handbook on International Human Rights (2008). Hard copies of this publication are currently unavailable.