Human rights and freedoms
Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms we’re all entitled to, no matter what our age, ethnicity, culture, religion or sex.
What are your rights?
What are human rights?
Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled. They are expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and through international treaties adopted since then.
Human rights deal with how people live together. In particular they set out the basis for the relationship between the governed and those who govern.
Examples of human rights include civil and political rights such as the right to life and liberty, freedom of expression, equality before the law and the right to be free from discrimination. Social, cultural and economic rights include the right to participate in culture, the right to work, the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to education.
Everyone is equally entitled to human rights without discrimination.
With human rights come duties and responsibilities.
There are two main pieces of law in New Zealand that specifically promote and protect human rights. One is the Human Rights Act 1993, and the other is the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.
The Human Rights Act sets out the primary functions of the Human Rights Commission. These are to advocate and promote respect for and appreciation of human rights in New Zealand society; and to encourage the maintenance and development of harmonious relations between individuals and the diverse groups in New Zealand society.
The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act sets out a range of civil and political rights, which arise from the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Act includes, among other things, the right to freedom of expression, the right to religious belief, and the right to freedom of movement, and the right to be free from discrimination.
New Zealand has signed up to a number of international human rights covenants, conventions and protocols. This means that New Zealand has obligations to enforce these international standards through its laws.
What is the human rights approach?
- linking of decision-making at every level to human rights standards set out in the relevant human rights covenants and convention
- identification of all relevant human rights involved, and a balancing of rights, where necessary, prioritising those of the most vulnerable people, to maximise respect for all rights and rights-holders
- an emphasis on the participation of individuals and groups in decision-making that affects them
- non-discrimination among individuals and groups through equal enjoyment of rights and obligations by all
- empowerment of individuals and groups by allowing them to use rights as leverage for action and to legitimise their voice in decision-making, and
- accountability for actions and decisions, which allows individuals and groups to complain about decisions that affect them adversely.
The Human Rights Act protects people in New Zealand from discrimination.
Unlawful discrimination is when you’re treated unfairly or less favourably than another person because of your:
- employment status
- ethical belief
- ethnic or national origin
- family status
- marital status
- political opinion
- religious belief
- sexual orientation.
Basic rights and freedoms
The Act includes areas of public life where it’s unlawful to discriminate against anyone. You can’t be denied access to things like:
- government services
- public places
- housing and accommodation.
Children's rights cover things like:
- what children should and shouldn’t be allowed to do
- how children should be treated
- how they should be protected.
New Zealand and international law
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has another document within, called Protocols, which was accepted on 13 December 2006 at the UN’s headquarters in New York City. On 30 March 2007, the Convention then became available for countries to sign. Twenty countries had signed the Convention by 30 May 2008.
Why are there two separate documents, with one focusing on disabled people’s rights? In 1948 the UN set up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which explains what human rights are. Article One states “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” In a perfect world, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would be strong enough to protect all people. But there are groups such as women, children, and refugees who experience inequality. So international treaties have been signed to protect the human rights, particularly those of the affected people and enable them to be treated equally.
There are 650 million disabled people, which is about 10% of the world’s population. These disabled people do not have full access to opportunities, experiencing barriers to education, employment and information for example. This is the underlying reason for the establishment of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to protect the human rights of disabled people. The aim of this Convention is to allow people with disabilities to be treated equally, have rights and freedom just like all other people.
The Convention sets out the Government’s responsibilities in regards to protecting the rights of disabled people. The Convention does not set out new rights for disabled people, instead explains to the government different ways they must promote disabled people’s rights and receive no discrimination. This is outlined in three different ways: implementing new laws to stop discrimination; any systems or rules that enable discrimination towards disabled people need to be abolished; and services are to be amended to become more accessible for disabled people.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is available for access in different formats: Easy read, Spoken English, Braille, and NZ Sign Language (NZSL). If you would like to view the NZSL version on DVD, Contact the Office for Disability Issues, by writing to them at PO Box 1556, Wellington, or emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, look at www.odi.govt.nz
NZ has signed up to a number of international human rights covenants, conventions and protocols.
What New Zealand law says about human rights.