143 countries have already signed the declaration, New Zealand is one of the last remaining UN member states (NZ, Canada and USA) to reverse their opposition to the declaration.
The declaration is a non-binding text and sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.
Prime Minister, John Key, has already said the signing will have no practical effect, according to the New Zealand Herald:
“A United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous people that New Zealand signed up to overnight will have no practical effect, Prime Minister John Key said this morning.”
The leader of the opposition, Phil Goff, was quoted as saying he saw no reason for the government signing up to something they had no intention of fulfilling:
“Why would you sign up to something you never intended to act on and you don’t actually believe in… They are signing up to something they don’t believe in and never intend to implement. The Maori Party has been duped again.”
Mr Key said for a long time the Government had made it clear it wanted to affirm the declaration and there had been “no secret” about that
Dr Sharples, also a Maori Party co-leader, said after negotiation his party and the Government had come to a position they could both accept. He previously expressed concerns about the number of caveats the Government wanted to attach but today seemed happy with the final outcome and was pleased with the standing ovation his speech received at the UN…
…Mr Key said the idea of including Treaty into a written constitution was something the government was “a long way away” from considering.”
A month ago the UN Human Rights Committee finished their consideration and published their 5th NZ Rights Report.
The committee expressed its concerns about possible breaches of the rights of Maori people, expressed its alarm that the country’s age for criminal responsibility was 10 and that a militarization of juvenile offenders wasn’t a great way for a country to treat its youth!
From a UN press release:
“Several experts took exception to the New Zealand delegation’s claim that consideration of the Waitangi Treaty of 1840 was built into the country’s law-making process, underlining that the Treaty’s translations – and, thus, its very meaning — remained unsettled, even contentious. To that end, Hellen Keller, expert from Switzerland, stressed that a “consultation process” regarding land and water rights legislation was not the same as seriously integrating the views and concerns of the Maori in the decision-making process.
A few experts expressed concern that the age of criminal responsibility — which was set at 10 for murder and manslaughter — was quite low. Saying “this was a knife that cuts both ways”, Rajsoomer Lallah, expert from Mauritius, suggested that if — as the delegation indicated — there were so few young offenders, the age could be raised. While he understood its consideration of the seriousness of the offence compelled New Zealand to set the age at 10, he believed the maturity of the person should be the primary factor in making such a determination.
On a related note, he expressed concern over reports from non-governmental organizations in New Zealand that there was a “militarization” of juvenile offenders, suggesting this was not a “salutary” way for a country to treat its youth.”
The report then went on to criticise New Zealand’s treatment of asylum seekers, the victims of human trafficking and prostitution.
We have the impression that New Zealand was backed into a corner by the committee’s report, released on 18 March 2010. Within a month NZ had signed on the dotted line (in secret) and announced its acquiescence
It remains to be seen if Key will be challenged by both the Maori Party and the UN on his assertion that his government has no intention of implementing the agreement, which was made without any of the caveats the government had tried to introduce. If that’s the case the UN must continue to pressure New Zealand into living up to it’s claims that it is a country with a strong commitment to human rights, by insisting on hard evidence not weasel words.
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