New Zealand

Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Michael Hardie Boys
Head of government: Helen Clark (replaced Jenny Shipley in November)
Capital: Wellington
Population: 3.7 million
Official language: English
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes

There was considerable public debate about human rights, particularly in the context of new legislation to detain asylum-seekers and New Zealand's hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in September, which coincided with calls for UN intervention in East Timor. In elections in November, a Labour Party-Alliance minority government under Prime Minister Helen Clark replaced a National Party-led government.

Human rights law

In October, amendments to the Human Rights Act 1993 came into effect which gave the government until December 2001 to resolve inconsistencies between certain grounds of discrimination prohibited by the Act and existing legislation, policies and administrative practices. According to a policy statement, this period "is intended to provide a reasonable amount of time in which to consider the complex issues relating to the extent and scope of Government compliance with the Act". The amendment requires the Minister of Justice to report to Parliament at six-monthly intervals on progress in remedying significant areas of inconsistency, and on relevant comments by the national Human Rights Commission. The government had undertaken to ensure that all new regulations, policies and practices complied with the provisions of the Human Rights Act from 1 January 2000, unless an exemption had been authorized by legislation.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

In October a comprehensive reform package of laws, policies and regulations on refugees came into force. It allowed for the indefinite detention in prisons of people arriving in the country without proper travel documents, including asylum-seekers.

  • In September, at least 12 asylum-seekers who arrived without proper travel documents were detained on the grounds of security requirements during the APEC summit in Auckland. Most of them were not released until December after they successfully appealed to the High Court and District Court against their continuing detention.
  • A group of 16 asylum-seekers held for several months at Mount Eden Prison, Auckland, were routinely detained alongside criminal suspects. The asylum-seekers claimed they were harassed and assaulted by other prisoners. The 16 were not released until December after the New Zealand High Court ordered the government to reconsider its refusal to grant them conditional bail. An appeal by the government against the Court's decision was still pending at the end of 1999.

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