Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2018, 09:04 GMT

Amnesty International Report 2003 - New Zealand

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 28 May 2003
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2003 - New Zealand , 28 May 2003, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Covering events from January - December 2002

Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Michael Hardie Boys
Head of government: Helen Clark
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
International Criminal Court: ratified

A police officer who faced murder charges for a fatal police shooting in 2000 was acquitted in December. The High Court ruled that the detention of nearly all asylum-seekers since September 2001 breached national and international human rights safeguards. New human rights legislation came into effect.


In January, the Human Rights Amendment Act 2001 came into effect. This restructured the Human Rights Commission and introduced additional safeguards against discrimination on grounds such as age, disability or sexual orientation in the policies and practices of government agencies. The government increased funding for the Commission, including for the development of a National Plan of Action to identify priorities for the implementation of human rights protection measures under the Act.

In July, the UN Human Rights Committee commended New Zealand courts for taking account of the country's international human rights obligations and the Committee's General Comments in cases heard by the courts. However, the Committee expressed concern that there appeared to be no "effective day to day monitoring" of the treatment of prisoners and of compliance with international law within a commercially managed prison and prisoner escort service. It found that a new detention policy for asylum-seekers may have been introduced without full consideration of New Zealand's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In July, elections resulted in Prime Minister Helen Clark forming a new coalition government.

Police shooting – court proceedings

In February, two Justices of the Peace sitting in a District Court dismissed murder charges against a police officer who had shot and killed Steven Wallace at Waitara in 2000. Evidence presented to the court by police indicated that the officer had not followed proper police procedure, but the court found that he had acted in self-defence. However, in June the Chief Justice ruled that the murder charges should be heard by a jury at the High Court. The police officer was acquitted in December.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

The government resettled scores of refugees processed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) who were seeking entry to Australia, from detention facilities in the Pacific funded by the Australian authorities.

In May, a joint report by the Refugee Council of New Zealand and the Human Rights Foundation of Aotearoa New Zealand found that government officials dealing with asylum-seekers lacked knowledge of relevant national and international law on the detention of asylum-seekers. The report examined the impact of a policy change in September 2001 under which virtually all asylum-seekers arriving in New Zealand were detained. During the previous two years, only five per cent of asylum-seekers had been detained. The report criticized the lack of human rights safeguards in detention procedures and recommended that children and vulnerable people – such as torture and trauma victims – not be detained and that any detention of others should be exceptional and in accordance with UNHCR guidelines.

In two subsequent judgments relating to the report's findings, the High Court made important rulings on the application of national and international refugee law in relation to the detention of asylum-seekers in New Zealand. In May, the Court ruled that asylum-seekers retained a right to seek bail from detention, and that their "invariable automatic detention cannot be 'necessary'" in almost all cases as practised under the new government policy. In June, the Court found that an Operating Instruction on the detention of asylum-seekers, issued under this policy by the New Zealand Immigration Service in September 2001, was unlawful because it failed to comply with national and international refugee law.

During the months following the ruling, the authorities continued to detain nearly all newly arrived asylum-seekers, reportedly on the grounds that their identity was unconfirmed and that therefore the risk that they might commit an offence or abscond could not be assessed.

The government filed an appeal against the High Court ruling. Appeal hearings began in November and were continuing at the end of the year.

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