As “troubling” inequalities persist between Maori and non-Maori, New Zealand must press ahead with efforts to improve the human rights of its indigenous people, a United Nations independent expert said today.
The country has made efforts to address ongoing challenges on the issue, but “I cannot help but note the extreme disadvantage in the social and economic conditions of Maori people, which are dramatically manifested in the continued and persistent high levels of incarceration of Maori individuals,” said James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on indigenous people, in a statement.
“These troubling conditions undoubted result from the historical and ongoing denial of the human rights of Maori, which must continue to be addressed as a matter of utmost priority,” he added.
Mr. Anaya wrapped up a six-day visit today to New Zealand, where he met with Government and Maori representatives, as well as with civil society.
He welcomed the country’s recent endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In April, New Zealand, which was one of four countries – the others being Australia, Canada and the United States – which voted against the Declaration in 2007, reversed its decision, joining Australia which took a similar move last year.
The landmark document outlines the rights of the world’s estimated 370 million indigenous people and outlaws discrimination against them.
“This declaration, far from affirming rights that place indigenous people in a privileged position, aims at repairing the ongoing consequences of the historical denial of the right to self-determination and other basic human rights,” Mr. Anaya said.
He spotlighted the process for settling historical and contemporary claims based on the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, whose principles provide a foundation for Maori self-determination based on a real partnership between Maori and the State within a framework of respect for cross-cultural understanding and the human rights of all citizens.
The expert called the treaty settlement process “one of the most important examples in the world of an effort to address historical and ongoing grievances of indigenous peoples.”
But he said that during his visit to New Zealand, he heard complaints about the process similar to those reported by his predecessor, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, including the lack of Maori bargaining powering settlement negotiations and policies restricting transference of Maori lands back into their ownership or control.
On the 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act, he took note of authorities’ efforts to repeal and reform the law, calling for adequate dialogue with the Maori and new legislation that “avoids any discriminatory effects and establishes measures to recognize and protect rights” of Maori over the foreshore and seabed.
Mr. Anaya, who reports in an independent and unpaid capacity to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, urged the Government to provide constitutional security to the principles enshrined in the Treaty of Waitangi and related to internationally-protected rights. “From what I have observed, the treaty’s principles appear to be vulnerable to political discretion, resulting in their perpetual insecurity and instability,” he said.