U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - New Zealand

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.


New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy, with executive authority vested in a 20-member cabinet led by a prime minister. Five seats in the 120-member Parliament are reserved for the native Maori minority population. The judiciary is independent. The Cook Islands and Niue are self-governing states in free association with New Zealand. Tokelau is a New Zealand territory. Their local laws are compatible with New Zealand and British common law. The police and defense forces are responsible to and firmly controlled by civilian officials. New Zealand is a highly efficient producer of agricultural products. The mainstay of its market-based economy is the export of wool, meat, and dairy products. An expanding manufacturing sector is engaged primarily in food processing, metal fabrication, and the production of wood and paper products. Tourism is also a significant sector of the economy, and niche industries are developing in such high technology sectors as software production. Disparities in wealth are small but increasing. Most citizens enjoy a comfortable standard of living. The Government respects the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with instances of abuse. The Government has taken steps to address the problems of overcrowded prisons, violence against women, and societal discrimination against indigenous people.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits torture and other forms of mistreatment, and the Government respects these prohibitions in practice. Prison conditions generally meet minimum international standards. Many prisons are old and in need of extensive refurbishment. The burgeoning inmate population outpaced capacity, causing overcrowding again in 1997. Dunedin police cells designed for overnight use held inmates for extended periods without natural light or sufficient opportunities for exercise. The Department of Corrections acknowledged this problem as an unavoidable temporary measure and planned to introduce 80 new inmate bed units, but it had not done so by year's end. The Department began investigating new sites for additional prison construction to address long-term inmate population totals, which are projected to reach almost 6,700 by the year 2007. Prison capacity was 5,354 inmates as of September, while the inmate population was 5,459. Due to a higher suicide rate among Maori inmates, the Department of Corrections began to institute a series of 39 recommendations from the 1996 government report entitled Reducing Suicide by Maori Inmates. The Government permits prison visits by human rights monitors.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and the Government observes these prohibitions.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government respects this provision in practice. The judiciary provides citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process. There is a three-tiered impartial judiciary in place, with the right of appeal to the Privy Council in London, though this privilege is rarely invoked. The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary implements this provision. There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such practices, government authorities respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to effective legal sanction.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government respects these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press. Academic freedom is not limited.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The law provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. The Government cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. Under its own refugee quota, the Government accepts up to 750 UNHCR-approved refugees per year. Due to a dramatic increase in spontaneous first asylum applications in the last 2 years, the Government began reviewing its laws and procedures with a view to curtailing the growth in this area. There were no reports of forced expulsion of persons with a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. A new electoral system, mixed-member proportional representation, was used in the October 12 general election with 27 political parties participating. Women and minorities are accorded full opportunity to participate in political life. In the 120-member Parliament, 35 seats are held by women; 15 by Maori; 2 members are of Pacific Island origin; and 1 is of Asian heritage. The current Executive Council (cabinet) has 20 ministers including 3 Maori and 1 woman (the Prime Minister). There are also four ministers outside the Cabinet, two of whom are women.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating allegations and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials are cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of all the above listed factors, and the Government effectively enforces it.


Violence against women is a major problem that cuts across all socioeconomic groups. A government-sponsored academic survey released in August indicated that 1 woman in 16 was likely to be sexually assaulted each year. The report found that Maori and Pacific Islander women were particularly at risk and that multiple, violent victimization in these communities was common. The Government determined through a policy review of counseling services that gaps in service delivery were more likely to impact on Maori women and girls than non-Maori. The law penalizes spousal rape. The Government convicted individuals on this charge in 1997. However, a national rape crisis group claims that the overwhelming majority of rape cases go unreported and that, of the cases that go to the police, only 12 percent end in convictions. The group indicated that husbands, partners, and boyfriends commit 23 percent of all sexual assaults reported to the organization. The Domestic Violence Act, which came into effect in 1996, broadened the definition of violence to include psychological abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment, and allowing children to witness psychological abuse. It expanded intervention measures, such as the use of protection orders; education programs for men, women, and children; stronger police powers to arrest and detain offenders; improved access to legal services for women eligible for legal aid; and tougher penalties for breach of a protection order. The Government's strategy to prevent family violence included a range of objectives such as providing victim support, incorporating successful innovations and proven methods from family violence centers into the national family violence programs (that is, the promotion of best practice), ensuring safety from violence, and implementing Maori-designed and delivered programs. The police developed an internal 5-year strategic plan focusing on family violence. The Government partially funded women's refuges, rape crisis centers, sexual abuse counseling, family violence networks, and violence prevention services. While the law prohibits discrimination in employment and in rates of pay for equal or similar work, government documents acknowledge that in practice a gender earnings gap persists. Many statistics show that women earn 81 percent of men's average ordinary hourly wage, a rate that has been fairly static over the last decade. The Ministry of Women's Affairs initiated a research program to review policy options and good practice models for addressing this gender pay gap. There are effective legal remedies available for women who experience discrimination.


The law provides specific safeguards for children's rights and protection. The Government demonstrates its commitment to children's rights and welfare through its well-funded systems of public education and medical care. While female genital mutilation (FGM) is not known to be practiced in New Zealand, the Government recognizes that the procedure is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health. It is expressly illegal to perform FGM or to make arrangements for a child to be removed from New Zealand in order to have the procedure. A May report of the Auckland Healthcare FGM Pilot Education Program emphasized the rise in the number of African refugees settling in New Zealand (more than 800 Somalis received residency in 1997) and the necessity for health care professionals to face the special needs of genitally mutilated women and the growing risk of the practice in the country. The report recommended the establishment of guidelines for the obstetric care of genitally mutilated women; the development of national child protection guidelines and strategies; the development of FGM education modules for New Zealand medical, midwifery, and nursing schools; and the appointment of a national coordinator to train regional coordinators and assist with the establishment of regional educational programs. However, these programs confront strongly held beliefs; the report found that 77 percent of the genitally mutilated women living in the Auckland area supported FGM. While no societal pattern of abuse of children exists, the Government recognizes the problem of violence within the family. Both government-sponsored and charitable organizations work to prevent child abuse in the home.

People With Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, education, and the provision of other state services. Compliance with access laws, mandated by the Disabled Persons Community Welfare Act, varies as business owners and others strive to make necessary adaptations.

Indigenous People

Approximately 13 percent of the population claim at least one ancestor from the country's indigenous Maori or Moriori minorities. The law prohibits discrimination against the indigenous population, yet a disproportionate number of Maori continue to be included in the unemployment and welfare rolls, the prison population, school dropouts, infant mortality statistics, and single-parent households. Government policy recognizes a special role for indigenous people and their traditional values and customs, including cultural and environmental issues that have an effect on commercial development. The Ministry of Maori Development, in cooperation with several Maori nongovernmental organizations, seeks to improve the status of indigenous people. A special tribunal continues to hear Maori tribal claims to land and other natural resources stemming from the Treaty of Waitangi.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Pacific Islanders, who make up 5 percent of the population, are not an indigenous people, but they experience difficulties similar to Maori.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers have unrestricted rights to establish and join organizations of their own choosing and to affiliate these organizations with other unions and international organizations. The principal labor organization, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions. A second, smaller national labor federation, the New Zealand Trade Union Federation, was established in 1993. There are also a number of independent labor unions. Labor organization is rudimentary in the territory of Tokelau (population 1,800) and in the Freely Associated State of Niue (population 2,000). In the more developed Associated State of the Cook Islands (population 18,000), most workers in the public sector, the major employer, belong to independent local unions inspired by New Zealand models. Industrial relations in the Cooks are governed by a simplified version of older national legislation. The law protects unions from governmental interference, suspension, and dissolution. Unions, in fact, influence legislation and government policy. Some unions are affiliated with the Labour Party; others operate independently of political parties; all are free to support parties whose policies they favor. They freely exercise the right to strike. The law prohibits strikes designed to force an employer to become party to a multicompany contract. Under the Police Act of 1958 and amendments, sworn police officers, i.e., all uniformed and plainclothes police but excluding clerical and support staff, are barred from striking or taking any form of industrial action. Police, however, have freedom of association and the right to organize and to bargain collectively. Issues which cannot be settled by negotiation between the Police Association and management are subject to compulsory, final-offer arbitration.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively, and this is observed in practice in the country and its dependencies. The law prohibits uniformed members of the armed forces from organizing unions and bargaining collectively. Unions now represent fewer than half of all wage earners. Under the Employment Contracts Act, employment relationships are based on contracts. Individual employees and employers may choose to conduct negotiations for employment contracts on their own behalf, or they may authorize any other person or organization to do so on their behalf. Although choosing a union is entirely voluntary, unions have remained the most common agent used by workers to negotiate with employers. Employers must recognize a representative authorized by an employee or employees. Neither employers or employees, however, are required to negotiate or to agree to a contract. The Government does not control mediation and arbitration procedures. The employment court hears cases arising from disputes over the interpretation of labor laws. A less formal body, the employment tribunal, is available to handle wage disputes and assist in maintaining effective labor relations. Firing an employee for union activities is grounds for a finding of unjustified dismissal and may result in reinstatement and financial compensation. There are no export processing zones in New Zealand, the Cook Islands, Niue, or Tokelau.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including forced and bonded labor by children. Inspection and legal penalties ensure respect for the provisions.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The Government prohibits forced and bonded child labor and enforces this prohibition effectively (see Section 6.c.). Department of Labour inspectors effectively enforce a ban on the employment of children under the age of 15 years in manufacturing, mining, and forestry. Children under the age of 16 may not work between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. In addition to explicit restrictions on the employment of children, compulsory education ensures that children under the minimum age for leaving school (now 16 years) are not employed during school hours. By law children enrolled in school may not be employed, even outside school hours, if such employment would interfere with their education.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a 40-hour workweek, with a minimum 3­week annual paid vacation, and 11 paid public holidays. Under the Employment Contracts Act, however, employers and employees may agree to longer hours than the 40 hours per week standard. While the law does not specifically provide for a 24-hour rest period weekly, the practice is accepted by management and labor, and it is the norm. The government-mandated hourly minimum wage of approximately $4.13 ($NZ 7.00) applies to workers 20 years of age and older. Combined with other regularly provided entitlements and welfare benefits for low-income earners, this wage is adequate to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. In 1994 a minimum wage for younger workers was introduced at 60 percent of the adult minimum. A majority of the work force earns more than the minimum wage. An extensive body of law and regulations govern health and safety issues, notably the Health and Safety in Employment Act of 1992. Under this legislation, employers are obliged to provide a safe and healthy work environment, and employees are responsible for their own safety and health as well as ensuring that their actions do not harm others. The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions has criticized the act, however, for not providing sufficient employee involvement in workplace decisions affecting health and safety. Under the Employment Contracts Act, workers have the legal right to strike over health and safety issues. Unions and members of the general public may file safety complaints on behalf of workers. Department of Labour inspectors enforce safety and health rules, and they have the power to shut down equipment if necessary. The Department of Labour standard is to investigate reports of unsafe or unhealthy working conditions within 24 hours of notification. Workers have the right to withdraw from a dangerous work situation without jeopardy to continued employment.

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