The Human Rights Foundation has told the Justice and Electoral Select Committee that it strongly opposes changes to the Human Rights Act that would require the Chief Commissioner to consult the Minister of Justice about its priorities. “It should be entirely for the Commission or the Chief Commissioner to decide whether a particular human rights issue or thematic area warrants prioritising by the Commission”, said spokesperson Ced Simpson.
“Human Rights Commissions are independent of Government and it is completely inconsistent with this concept to require the Commission to consult with a government minister about what human rights issues to focus on,” he said.
Women’s Rights Commissioner
The HRF has also told the Select Committee that the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner’s title should be changed to Women’s Rights Commissioner. The HRF noted that ongoing discrimination means that women’s potential in New Zealand remains restricted, not just in the area of equal employment opportunities, but also in virtually every other sphere of life. The rising rate of reported violence against women is the most egregious concern, occurring at a time when other reported crime is dropping. This enduring discrimination needs a specific focus – which is diluted by the reference in the Commissioners title to “equal employment opportunities”.
Commissioner Appointment Process
The HRF noted that recent appointments of Human Rights Commissioners have been controversial, undermining both the ability of these Commissioners to fulfil their responsibilities and the credibility of the Commission itself. These appointments should involve the Parliamentary Opposition to ensure to more transparency and a broader scrutiny of the skills, qualifications and experience of the candidates and can be expected to reduce the likelihood of controversial appointments.
The HRF has therefore recommended that the Bill be amended to include a Human Rights Commissioner appointment process that provides for the involvement of Parliament, possibility as one responsibility of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Human Rights (a committee that was recommended to New Zealand during its Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council – the UPR is a stocktake of New Zealand’s human rights situation undertaken by the UN every 4.5 years). ‘At the very least”, said Ced Simpson, “the law should provide for consultation with the Parliamentary Opposition before an appointment is recommended to the Governor-General.”
Ced Simpson 021371205
or Peter Hosking 021660275