Ethical human rights could well be many children's and freedom's last hope in New Zealand
Anthony Ravlich | 02.26.2012
Ethical human rights likely to be many children’s and freedom’s last hope in New Zealand.
Professor Paul Hunt, a New Zealander now at Essex University (UK), who was guest speaker at the AGM of the Human Rights Foundation last Wednesday, said that while he personally would like to see children’s rights included in New Zealand’s law that this is unlikely to occur in the near future.
The culture of our parliament and public bodies also certainly seems to devalue the children (see below). In fact, in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 children are not even entitled to a ‘name’.
While New Zealanders, very often, fail to see the significance of the bill of rights which all public bodies are required to follow while ignoring the omissions and therefore the human rights of many, including the children.
Yet the bottom-up uprisings taking place against top-down control overseas often include demands by the discontented for Constitutional Reform which often includes human rights.
And women and minority racial groups fought for many years before having their human rights recognized – but surely we can not expect this from children.
Professor Hunt, who was the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur (expert) on Health for six years and formerly a member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, was giving a talk on ‘Poverty in New Zealand: A Human Rights Imperative’ at the Auckland University Law School.
New Zealand human rights law, which omits children’s rights, contains less than half the human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, largely, in my view, to ensure compatibility with top-down, bureaucratically-driven, neo liberalism i.e. State ideology.
The inclusion of children’s rights in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 was not included for discussion in the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children launched in July 2011 (see below) despite the inclusion of these rights being recommended by the NZ Human Rights Commission (Human Rights in New Zealand 2010, New Zealand Human Rights Commission, http://www.hrc.co.nz/human-rights-environment/human-rights-in-new-zealand-2010/ ).
The UN Human Rights Committee has told New Zealand on three occasions since 1993 to include all the human rights in the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including children’s rights, which have been omitted from the bill of rights but our governments have ignored this.
A more full account is in our council’s submission to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ‘New Zealanders must speak out about human rights omissions or be reduced to mere numbers’, on our website, www.hrc2001.org.nz . This submission also gives a more full description of the ethical approach to human rights, development and globalization.
Professor Hunt in his talk, largely on economic, social and cultural rights which have also been omitted from the bill of rights, described how poverty was getting worse in New Zealand and he provided three indicators of this:
1) He pointed to a 2008 study by the NZ Ministry of Social Development which showed that 19 percent of children (0-17) have relatively high hardship rates (see 2008 New Zealand Living Standards Survey, NZ Ministry of Social Development, https://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/monitoring/living-standards/living-standards-2008.html );
2) Professor Hunt said that in relation to child health levels, rheumatic fever in New Zealand was amongst the worst in the world (see research by Professor Innes Asher, Starship Hospital, November, 2010, http://www.cpag.org.nz/assets/Health/MIAsherPorrittLecture3Nov2010.pdf );
3) He also pointed to the considerable growth in the use of food banks. He may have been referring to statistics released in December 2010 which showed that the Salvation Army distributed 67,000 during the year compared to 30,000 in 2008 (‘New Poor stretching food bank resources’, Press release: New Zealand Labour Party, 22 December 2011, http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1112/S00169/new-poor-stretching-food-bank-resources.htm ).
However, Professor Hunt was only talking about economic, social and cultural rights
but many omissions of civil and political rights in New Zealand’s human rights law have, in my view, also had tragic results for children, see NZ Statistics- ‘too toxic for the children’, Guerilla Media, http://www.guerillamedia.co.nz/content/nz-social-statistics-too-toxic-young ).
Economic, social and cultural rights i.e. rights to employment, housing, fair wages, health, education, adequate standard of living etc. are gaining considerably in prominence domestically and globally having, for example, been included in the NZ Human Rights Commission’s National Plan of Action.
Also, the United Nations has now devised a complaints procedure for these rights (the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights).
However, my book shows how economic, social and cultural rights have also been interpreted at the UN, by failing to include certain human rights, to ensure compatibility with neo liberalism (See chapter 5 of my book, ‘Freedom from our social prisons: the rise of economic, social and cultural rights’ (Lexington Books, 2008) which was recommended on the UN website for about two years and recently reviewed by NZ Indian Newslink, http://www.indiannewslink.co.nz/index.php/archives2012/feb_1_2012_issue/neoliberalism-undermines-human-rights.html ).
Sir Geoffrey Palmer was made Prime Minister for two years, from August 1989 until September 1990, primarily to enact the bill of rights.
He stated that ‘a Bill of Rights provides a set of navigation lights for the whole process
of Government to observe’ (15 Years of the NZ Bill of Rights: Time to celebrate, Time to Reflect, Time to Work., Petra Butler, p2, (http://www.docstoc.com/docs/40709134/RS%C2%A0OF%C2%A0THE%C2%A0NZ%C2%A0BILL-OF-RIGHTS-IME%C2%A0TO%C2%A0CELEBRATE).
This indicates that the culture of the NZ parliament is strongly influenced by the bill of rights e.g. Part 1(7) of the bill of rights requiring the Attorney-General to report to Parliament where the bill appears to be inconsistent with the bill of rights but, obviously, she does not report on those rights omitted.
And the omissions mean the ‘navigation lights’ have been turned off for a large number of New Zealanders, including many children, depriving them of their human rights.
Our council’s submission to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights shows that those worst affected by the omissions include, in particular, the children, as well as the family, and also ‘the best and brightest’, some of whom could have provided the most articulate voices of dissent and been potential leaders of any bottom-up challenge.
Also, worst affected have been the beneficiaries and the under class, including small economic and social entrepreneurs, who, in my view, if given the opportunity would best employ the latter.
My work also describes a major tragedy which I witnessed lower on the social scale – many, in my experience, ‘crushed and isolated’ – with the Auckland High Court Judge believing my first-hand account which I gave during my court appearance in June 2010 after making a stand on principle (see our council’s submission to the court, ‘freedom is not an impossible dream’, www.hrc2001.org.nz ).
It seems that human rights omissions, such as children’s and family rights, allows Parliament to avoid discussion on these issues perhaps largely due to the lack of human rights accountability.
The former Minister of Justice Simon Power in his valedictory speech last October 2010 described how Parliament is reluctant to discuss many issues such as ‘abortion, adoption law, children's rights, and sexual violence issues’ (continued below).
Continuing from the above, the former Minister of Justice, Simon Power, in his valedictory speech to parliament last October, describes how some debates are avoided.
He states: “There are many debates that Parliament does not want to have for fear of losing votes or not staying on message: abortion, adoption law, children's rights, and sexual violence issues. I don't share this timid view”.
And he added: “The truth is, if we don't have those debates here, where will we have them?”.
The former Minister of Justice, who also said that ‘I always told myself I would leave politics before the idealism left me’, expressed much concern regarding the treatment of children and family (human rights of both omitted).
He stated that ‘…the way our court system deals with children is unacceptable – long delays, barbaric practices – all in the name of tradition and precedent. All abject nonsense’.
Also he added: “What the hell is it about the psyche of this country that we feel the need to go home and hit someone, be it a partner, a child, or another family member?
“This is totally unjustifiable, wrong, and an indictment on us as a society. Our legal system needs to protect these people and I hope I have made a small contribution to remedying these despicable acts of injustice and cowardice” (‘Speech: Simon Power – Valedictory statement’, Voxy News Engine, 5 October, 2011, http://www.voxy.co.nz/politics/speech-simon-power-valedictory-statement/5/103401).
Domestic violence in New Zealand is reported as being amongst the worst in the OECD (developed) countries (see the UN statistics at the end of this article)
Before leaving Simon Power initiated a review of the N.Z. Family Court. Kerry Bevin, an activist for 20 years including leader of the Republic of New Zealand Party and member of the Father Coalition in his submission to the N.Z. Family Court Review describes the neglect of children’s rights and inadequate treatment of parental rights as a ‘perplexing ignorance’ and a ‘serious constitutional default’.
He regards the resignation of the Minister of Justice ‘suggests a lack of political will to resolve rights and constitutional difficulties’.
Mr Bevin, amongst other recommendations, wants to see the ‘enactment of Equal parenting in Constitutional Law as a human right’ and to have the Family Court replaced by a Family Disputes Tribunal (submission available upon request).
Also, as stated above, the Green Paper on vulnerable children makes no mention of the human rights omissions and consequently seems to want to improve the treatment of children by way of redistribution of the wealth which may simply transfer many social problems elsewhere.
Without employment and with many incapacitated and on benefits the same parents, many of whom I told the Auckland High Court as having been ‘crushed and isolated’ over a 20 year period (see above), are likely to be created so it is wondered how the State intends to deal with this.
A far better approach, in my view, is to include of omitted rights as the individual and collective rights to economic and social development (including holistic development) in the bill of rights to enable greater bottom-up progress to take place.
This ethical, more balanced approach to development would likely increase employment and grow the wealth and human rights of all as it has done throughout history.
The Christchurch rebuild, with many residents no doubt wanting a better life for their children than what they have at present, could lead the way in such progress.
In a recent article I expressed concern that top-down, bureaucratic-driven, neo liberalism might serious slow any progress in Christchurch and considered there is a need to adopt an ethical approach bottom-up approach to development (see ‘Ethical approach to human rights regarding the Chch rebuild’, Scoop, 24 February 2012, http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1202/S00210/ethical-approach-to-human-rights-regarding-chch-rebuild.htm ).
Last October the Irish Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, when answering questions about Ireland’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva recognized that ordinary law proved insufficient to protect children’s rights.
Mr Shatter reaffirmed an "absolute commitment" to hold a referendum next year to enshrine children's rights in the constitution. "We accept that the HSE [Health Service Executive] has failed to deliver adequately their statutory obligation to ensure children's protection," he said, adding that a proposed single new agency would improve the situation (‘State questioned on human rights’, Ruadhan MacCormack, in Geneva, Michelle Stein, October 6, 2011, (see description of the HSE at the end of the article), http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2011/1006/breaking11.html ).
While the ethical approach to human rights requires the inclusion of all the human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, neo liberalism requires many omissions to ensure compatibility.
The ethical approach to human rights is principled but also realistic. It considers that the only realistic way of interpreting the aspirational Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is to require the fulfillment, at the very least, of the core minimum of each of these rights for people.
The ethical approach could be described as the ‘good path’ because it reflects the UDHR whereas neo liberalism omits many human rights in elite interests.
The ethical approach has an absolute ‘bottom line’ (at least, as best we can) with the core minimums to be fulfilled within an ‘immediate timeframe’.
The ethical approach promotes world unity and fair competition because all countries are expected to adhere to its ‘human rights bottom-line’.
A one world government and/or regionalization (the new global agenda) is not necessary. It is just more layers of bureaucracy – greater social control and less freedom – to further the global dominance (hegemony) of the bureaucratic elites (bi-cultural in New Zealand’s case).
Because the ethical approach addresses extreme violence i.e. those without their core minimum rights (i.e. without freedom), it strongly promotes world peace by decreasing the likelihood of an Adolf Hitler emerging from any severely down-trodden, ‘them versus us’, population which now, in my view, applies to a significant section of New Zealanders.
By way of contrast, neo liberalism has no bottom-line and the human rights omissions ensure few opportunities for ‘self-help’ although, in my view, those who execute State policy can be greatly rewarded for their silence e.g. not talking about the human rights omission.
Consequently neo liberalism keeps people in a perpetual state of dependency on bare survival benefits although providing a good health and education system and often housing and medication sufficient to enable individuals to keep their anger and discontent from overflowing….but not always.
I consider whether the human rights omissions are included should involve a free choice by New Zealanders, both Pakeha and Maori.
This is particularly as some of the omissions involve culturally ingrained social class sensitivities (largely sentimental attachments, in my opinion) and also likely to apply to Maori with respect to Whakapapa (with non-discrimination on the basis of birth, i.e. descent including family lineage, also an excluded human right).
That the UDHR considers children are not responsible for who their parents is evident in Article One which states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.
Also, recently University of Auckland constitutional law Professor Bill Hodge (often interviewed on New Zealand television) said special privilege for one group went against ‘a basic principle that accident of birth should not mean privilege’ (‘Collins dismisses call to establish Islamic tourism’, Michael Field, 13 February 2012, http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/politics/6406555/Collins-dismisses-call-to-establish-Islamic-tourism ).
Yet non-discrimination of the grounds of social class and non-discrimination on the grounds of birth have been left out of the bill of rights and this was, in my view, the major reason why Child Poverty Action (CPAG) has been unable to have the In Work Tax Credit extended to the poorest children.
The action group states: “The courts agree that the In Work Tax Credit which is a child-related family assistance payment discriminates against some of our poorest children but that it is justified…..So, the discrimination continues’.
It adds that this is ‘unacceptable’ and wants ‘a fair go for all kiwi kids’. The action group states that: (the) “CPAG is launching its 2012 Appeal Campaign on 4 March – National Children’s Day to raise funds to take our Human Rights case to the Court of Appeal and beyond if necessary. We need to raise $50,000 by the end of May 2012”
Essentially, in my view, the problem is one of ignorance extending even to the United Nations (see our submission to the UN cited above) and a big contributor to this is collectivism with a mass conformity required to enable a discriminatory human rights agenda to be executed.
Individual freedom of thought, conscience, expression, belief becomes collective thought, conscience, expression and belief and the ‘best and brightest’ do not fit in. Rather, in my view, is the more dependent, vulnerable groups, and those less likely to know what they are doing who are most suited to neo liberalism.
New Zealanders, both Pakeha and Maori, have not been given a choice with respect to the human rights omissions. The NZ Human Rights Commission has stated that Section 5(a) of the NZ Human Rights Act 1993, requiring human rights education, has never been funded by successive governments.
Often, the top-down, bureaucratically-driven, neo liberal States claim ‘there is no other way’ (TINA) however my work is increasingly showing that the ethical approach to human rights, development and globalization is not only far more principled but also realistic (see our council’s submission to the UN described above).
It seems incredulous that it has never been implemented. But in fact, the UDHR was politicized from the start because of the Cold War with the West promoting civil and political rights while the communists of Eastern Europe championed economic, social and cultural rights.
The collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989 was an opportunity for the West to adopt an ethical approach to human rights, by incorporating both sets of rights and emphasizing the worst off, but instead it sought the complete global dominance of a middle class, bureaucratic, neo liberalism.
Consequently because elites have been more concerned to ensure their dominance over the rest of humanity the ethical approach to human rights, development and globalization has been overlooked but remains as ‘freedom’s last hope’.
Also, as tragic as the Christchurch earthquakes were, it is as if the rebuilding has given New Zealand a second chance for individuals and the country to get back onto the brave path of individuals and the country seeking to reach full potential while also exercising ‘a duty to the community’.
And I believe the ethical human rights for all, which entails an ethical development and an ethical globalization, ensures a future for the children, and again become a country recognized for the ‘force of its beliefs’.
Domestic Violence Statistics in New Zealand.
A report by UN Women was released in Wellington on the 24th July, 2011, and canvassed 22 developed nations (OECD countries) about subjects including domestic violence and maternal mortality.
New Zealand was ranked either at or near the bottom of the countries in the study in both areas. The study found a third of the country's women had reported experiencing physical violence from a partner during the period 2000 to 2010.
That puts New Zealand as the worst affected of the 14 countries which responded to the question. Sexual violence from partners showed a similar trend, with New Zealand coming out worst of the 12 countries that responded to the question. The report follows a Ministry of Social Development study released last month which found more than a quarter of the country's children had witnessed family violence.
Meanwhile, the UN report also found New Zealand as among the world's leaders in providing skilled assistance at child delivery in 100 per cent of cases.
However, at 14 deaths per 100,000, New Zealand also we had one of the highest levels of maternal mortality within the OECD. It ranked 20th, with only the United States and Luxembourg lower (‘NZ worst for domestic violence – UN report’, Stuff.co.nz, NZPA, http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/5332717/NZ-worst-for-domestic-violence-UN-report ).
The Irish HSE is Ireland’s largest employer and is publically funded. It is responsible for the provision of healthcare providing health and personal social services for everyone living in Ireland. It was established by the Health Act, 2004, and is responsible to the Minister for Health and Children.
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