25 November 2005


The following statement was issued today in Wellington by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights:

Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous People of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, visited New Zealand from 16 to 25 November 2005 at the invitation of the Government.

During his conversations with the relevant Government departments, Maori communities and specialized agencies in the country, the Special Rapporteur obtained information on human rights issues related to treaty settlements, the Foreshore and Seabed Act, and economic, social and cultural rights in general. In relation to the latter, he focused on the provision of basic social services such as education, housing and health care, paying special attention to the problems faced by women, youth and children.

The country’s past, present and future are closely tied to the way the society in New Zealand has dealt over time with its two major demographic components: the original indigenous Maori inhabitants and the European Pakeha. Both peoples are closely intertwined and both are an essential component of the nation’s development. As in all colonial situations, relations between the two have not always been easy, and despite progress achieved in many aspects over recent decades they continue to pose a number of challenges at the present time. Tensions arising over unresolved and newly arising issues need to be addressed with political will and good faith by both sides.

Maori people participate significantly in the economic development of the country and during the last few decades many have reaped some of the benefits thereof. Through specific arrangements concerning the settlement of land claims and the management of resources, including access to capital and technology as well as the careful use of organizational skills and expertise, a number of Maori enterprises have been uniquely successful in putting assets to efficient use and in developing new productive activities.

While there is agreement that in general the standard of living of the Maori has improved and is more satisfactory than that of indigenous peoples in poorer countries, there is also widespread concern that the gap in social and economic conditions is actually growing larger and that an increasing proportion of Maori are being left behind. Despite positive developments over the past years, there are in fact significant disparities between Maori and Pakeha in regard to social and human development indicators, especially in the fields of health, housing, income, education and social services.

There is concern regarding the surprising differential of ten years in life expectancy between Maori and Pakeha, the lower health levels of Maori, the situation of Maori children in poverty, the problems facing sole parent households, family disorganization, domestic violence against Maori women and girls; increasing use of drugs and alcohol by youngsters; and high suicide rates. Moreover, Maori are grossly over-represented in the criminal justice system. All these issues are considered by Maori the result of a transgenerational backlog of broken promises, economic marginalization, social exclusion and cultural discrimination.

Ever since the great land grabs by the Crown and white settlers during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Maori have been actively seeking restitution and redress through legal and institutional means, but they have been only partially successful. Currently, Maori possess only about 20 per cent of the land they once owned. Recent developments have heightened Maori’s sense that their customary rights are being threatened.

Particularly troubling to Maori at the present time is the Foreshore and Seabed Act, which according to numerous legal scholars and practitioners, would extinguish the customary rights of Maori communities that have traditionally used coastal resources for subsistence. The United Nations committee which monitors how countries implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, to which New Zealand is a party, has expressed concern over the way the Act is framed, the undue haste by which it was enacted and the insufficient prior consultations with Maori themselves, all of which may have discriminatory impact on Maori. It is hoped that these concerns will be addressed in New Zealand’s forthcoming report to the committee, which is due at the end of this year.

The recuperation of Maori language and culture has been a particular aim of Maori communities in recent decades, and the fact that Maori is now recognized as an official language in New Zealand has favored the establishment and development of Maori schools, with Maori teachers and a Maori curriculum. Nonetheless, the resources and funding for such schools is considered to be quite inadequate. There is need to carefully analyse the current mainstreaming of the education system so as to better take advantage of the cultural possibilities of an increasingly pluralistic society.
On other fronts, Maori and the Crown have been able to negotiate numerous contentious issues over the years to reach agreements that are satisfactory for both sides, and New Zealand society is well aware that only such peaceful understanding in the solution of pressing human rights issues such as discrimination, land claims, sovereignty, poverty and social services will ensure the endurance of a democratic and plural polity.

The Special Rapporteur will elaborate upon these findings in a report to the Commission on Human Rights in April 2006. The report will also include recommendations and proposals intended to strengthen the full enjoyment of all their human rights by the indigenous peoples of New Zealand.

During the visit, the Special Rapporteur met, among others, with the Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Dr. Michael Cullen; the Minister of Maori Affairs, Hon. Pareruka Horomia; the Minister of Customs and Youth Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta, and with a number of Executive Directors. He also held talks with senior officials of the Ministry of Maori Affairs, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Treasury, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Housing, the State Service Commission, the Office of Treaty Settlements and the Crown Law Department.

He also met with the Human Rights Commission, as well as with members of the Waitangi Tribunal and the Maori Land Court; the leadership of the Maori Party, and academic researchers.

In his visit to various provinces, the Special Rapporteur was hosted, among others, by Paramount Chief Tumu Te Heu Heu of Ngati Tuwharetoa at Lake Taupo. In Parihaka, Taranaki, he attended a national hui with leaders and representatives from all over the country. In Christchurch, he met with representatives of tribes in the South Island including Kai Tahu, who hosted him at the Tuahiwi Marae. In Hauraki he participated in a regional hui at the Ngahutoitoi Marae, ending his regional visits in Rotorua at a hui hosted by the Te Arawa people at Tamatekapua Marae.

He also met with the Maori Studies Department at the University of Auckland and with the Maori Women’s Development Corporation. At the Ngati Whatua Corporation he was briefed on Maori economic development activities.

Mr. Stavenhagen has been the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people since the position was created by the Commission on Human Rights in 2001. This was the first official visit of the Special Rapporteur to New Zealand.

For further information, contact Pablo Espiniella, at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva: tel. +41 22 917 94

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