What is the state of human rights in New Zealand? Can we be proud of our human rights record? These may seem strange questions to many for the following reasons, we don't torture people, there is no death penalty, there is freedom of expression and assembly and so on. We therefore seem to be a lot better than many other countries with respect to human rights.
To examine how New Zealand really stands on human rights issues I decided to take a look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This United Nations Resolution was passed unanimously by the General Assembly on 10 December 1948. New Zealand was among those voting for it. The question is: have we stuck by this document or not?
New Zealand was looking good until I got to Article 23. This relates to the right to protection from unemployment, the right to equal pay for equal work, the right to form and join trade unions, and the right to earn a living wage. Many unemployed, women battling for equal pay, ex-unionists and the thousand struggling on low pay confirm that this right has not been upheld.
How about Article 25? This says that, "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care..." If this right were being maintained no-one in New Zealand should be in want of housing, health care or food. Yet as student Toby Rushbrook (who has more guts than the whole parliamentary press gallery put together) pointed out to Mr Bolger last year, there are hungry people in New Zealand.
It is Article 26 which will interest the reader of Salient. It states, "Everyone has the right to education... Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit." It comes as no surprise that we have been let down here too.
The conclusion to draw from this quick look at human rights in New Zealand is all too plain. The government wants human rights on its own terms. The government should be held accountable to its adoption of this UN resolution and our rights must be upheld. The government would do well to read the preamble to the Declaration which reads, "it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression that human rights should be protected by law".