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New Zealand’s Indigenous rights record to face global spotlight

A UN expert on Indigenous Peoples’ rights is conducting an academic visit to Aotearoa New Zealand next month to participate in a conference on constitutional design at Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Francisco Calí Tzay, will meet with Māori organisations, iwi and hapū leaders, Indigenous legal experts, and Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission in early April.

Events and discussions with Mr Calí Tzay will focus on the state of Indigenous rights in Aotearoa, and the foundational role of te Tiriti o Waitangi in the country’s constitution.

Mr Calí Tzay will visit the sites of long-running legal cases against the Crown, including Nelson to meet with representatives of the customary Māori owners of the Nelson Tenths Reserves, and Wairarapa Moana. In both cases, iwi or hapū have won High Court or Supreme Court cases against the Crown, but instead of accepting the legal decision and working towards a resolution, the Crown is either baulking at the provision of redress or has created legislation to override the court ruling.

Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland’s Director of Te Puna Rangahau o Wai Ariki, Centre for Indigenous Peoples and the Law, Professor Claire Charters says the cases are a serious miscarriage of justice.

“These modern-day experiences of iwi, hapū, and whānau highlight how readily Parliament can override human rights, and especially the rights of Indigenous peoples.

“It’s a serious flaw in the current system of government in Aotearoa. It is something we are asking the Special Rapporteur and other UN bodies to continue to engage with our Government about.”

The Special Rapporteur will participate in the Designing our Constitution conference between 2 – 4 April, jointly hosted by Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission, National Iwi Chairs Forum, and Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland. The conference is part of a series of hui inspired by the landmark report Matike Mai, and in the memory of Dr Moana Jackson.

The Commission’s Tino Rangatiratanga Shared Leader Julia Whaipooti says, “The conference will discuss proposals for a constitution that can create a place of belonging for everyone in Aotearoa, while recognising the authority and tino rangatiratanga of Tangata Whenua, on an equal footing with the Government.”

The conference will hear from Mr Calí Tzay about his experiences with countries like Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Sweden, Finland, and Canada, where constitutional arrangements recognise and empower Indigenous governance alongside that of the government.

Mr. Francisco Calí Tzay is Maya Kaqchikel from Guatemala, with experience in defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples, both in Guatemala and at the United Nations.

The public can hear from Special Rapporteur Calí Tzay at an evening public lecture on Thursday 4 April at 6pm, at the University of Auckland.

Mr Calí Tzay’s visit is an academic visit, coming at the request of local groups, Wairarapa Moana Incorporation and Wakatū Incorporation, the National Iwi Chairs Forum and Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission. In such a visit, UN protocols mean the Special Rapporteur cannot have direct contact with media or publish reports about their visit.

The visit and conference come as New Zealand’s human rights record will be scrutinised before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for its 5-yearly review on 29 April.

Whaipooti says, “States involved in the UN review are engaging with the Commission and community groups about key human rights issues in Aotearoa New Zealand that include racism, detention, incarceration, the rights of children, abuse in state care, housing, and the government response to the Mosque attacks in 2019.”

“I think a lot of countries are concerned that the Government has reneged on its commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“At the end of the day, Indigenous rights are human rights, and we must work together to protect them”, says Whaipooti.


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