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UN Committee examines NZ government's
performance on economic, social and cultural rights

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - the independent body of human rights experts that monitors state party compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) - examined New Zealand's performance during its 63rd session which was held from 12 to 29 March 2018 in Geneva.

The advance unedited version of the Committee's Concluding Observations (E/C.12/NZL/CO/4) is available here, and 'NZ Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: UN Experts Recommendations', Peace Movement Aotearoa's summary of the Concluding Observations, is available on Facebook, on Scoop, and formatted for printing.

This page has five sections with information on the ICESCR and New Zealand the process leading to the 63rd session NGO reports to the Committee who said what during the 63rd session and media releases and coverage. Please scroll down this page if the internal page links do not work in your browser

The ICESCR and New Zealand

The ICESCR was adopted by the UN General Assembly and opened for signature in December 1966, and it entered into force in January 1976. New Zealand signed the ICESCR in November 1968, ratified it in December 1978 and it entered into force here in March 1979, with two reservations - one (on paid maternity level and leave with adequate social security) was withdrawn in September 2003, but the other, to Article 8 (rights around trade unions and the right to strike), remains as follows: "The Government of New Zealand reserves the right not [to] apply Article 8 to the extent that existing legislative measures, enacted to ensure effective trade union representation and encourage orderly industrial relations, may not be fully compatible with that article".

There is one Optional Protocol to the ICESCR, which provides for an individual complaints procedure for individuals whose economic, social or cultural rights have been breached, an optional inter-state complaints procedure, and an optional inquiry procedure. The Optional Protocol was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2008, opened for signature in September 2009, and entered into force in May 2013 - New Zealand has not signed or ratified the Optional Protocol.

New Zealand's voluntary ratification of the ICESCR in 1978 placed legally binding obligations on the government of the day which continue, even though the rights elaborated in the ICESCR, with the exception of the prohibition on discrimination, are not included in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (which partially incorporated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights into domestic law). Since New Zealand submitted its first ICESCR Periodic Report in 1990, the Committee has repeatedly expressed concern about this and has constantly urged successive governments to incorporate economic, social and cultural rights into the Bill of Rights Act.

The Committee last examined New Zealand in 2012 - the Concluding Observations on New Zealand's third Periodic Report are available here.

The process leading to the 63rd session

During its 57th session from 22 February to 4 March 2016, the Committee began New Zealand's fourth reporting round by putting together the List of Issues Prior to Reporting (LOIPR), assisted by information provided by two NGOs - Peace Movement Aotearoa, and the Human Rights Foundation. The LOIPR (E/C.12/NZL/QPR/4) - an overview of the main areas of concern the Committee has about the government's performance on economic, social and cultural rights, which includes questions and topics that the Committee requested the government to provide information on in its next Periodic Report - was released on 16 March 2016. The government's fourth Periodic Report (E/C.12/NZL/4) was sent to the Committee in August 2017.

NGO reports for the 63rd session

Twelve NGO reports and briefings were provided to the Committee for the 63rd session:

  • Action for Children & Youth Aotearoa and Child Poverty Action Group, February 2018
  • Canterbury Men's Centre, February 2018
  • He Kainga Oranga / Housing and Health Research and the New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities, February 2018
  • He Korowai Trust and Catherine Murupaenga-Ikenn, February 2018
  • Human Rights Foundation   January 2016   March 2018
  • IHC New Zealand, February 2018
  • Inclusive NZ, February 2018
  • Independent Monitoring Mechanism for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, February 2018
  • New Zealand Council of Trade Unions / Te Kauae Kaimahi, February 2018
  • Peace Movement Aotearoa   February 2016   March 2018 (briefing statement)
  • Tamaki Legal, February 2018
  • Combined report from Health Promotion Forum, Pukenga Consultancy Ltd, STIR: Stop Institutional Racism, SOUL: Save Our Unique Landscape, Tamaki Tiriti Workers, Auckland University of Technology, Te Runanga o Aotearoa - New Zealand Nurses Organisation, New Zealand Public Health Association and Waka Oranga, February 2018

Issues raised in the NGO reports include:

  • constitutional issues, such as Treaty-based constitutional arrangements, the Matike Mai Aotearoa report, the right of self-determination (ICESCR Article 1), free prior and informed consent, implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and justiciability of economic, social and cultural rights;

  • a range of economic, social and cultural rights, including worker's rights, rights to health, housing, water, social welfare, education and an adequate standard of living, children's rights, the rights of persons with disabilities, and the rights of older persons;

  • structural discrimination and institutional racism in the criminal justice system, health and education;

  • climate change, the TPPA / CPTPP, Ihumatao, extra-territorial obligations on New Zealand companies, and military spending;

  • functional independence of the NZ Human Rights Commission, and the process for appointing Commissioners; and

  • New Zealand's failure to ratify a range of international human rights instruments including the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR, the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and the core ILO Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise) and 138 (Minimum Age for Admission to Employment); and its reservation on Article 14 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Who said what during the 63rd session

On Friday, 23 March (NZ time), the Committee held two three-hour interactive dialogues with government representatives that were webcast live on UN Web TV, and are now available in the UN Web TV archive: the first dialogue at 3am NZ time (Thursday, 22 March at 3pm in Geneva) is available here, and the second at 10pm NZ time (Friday, 23 March, at 10am in Geneva) is available here soon.

The written summary record of the interactive dialogue on 22 March (E/C.12/2018/SR.18) is available here and the summary of the dialogue on 23 March (E/C.12/2018/SR.19) is available here.

The Minister of Justice's opening remarks at the start of the first interactive dialogue are available here.

Media releases and coverage

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