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NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTIONS TREATY BODY WORKSHOPS

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					          National Human Rights Institutions and the UN Treaty Bodies System
    The NZ Human Rights Commission and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial
                                   Discrimination

         Presentation to the National Human Rights Institutions/Treaty Body Workshop
                                 Geneva, 26-28 November 2007.

                                       Joris de Bres
            Race Relations Commissioner, New Zealand Human Rights Commission

The Paris Principles

The Paris Principles relating to the status of National Human Rights Institutions, adopted by
the UN General Assembly in December 1993, specifically refer to the responsibility of
National Human Rights Institutions to “contribute to the reports which States are required to
submit to United Nations bodies and committees, and to regional institutions, pursuant to their
treaty obligations and, where necessary, to express an opinion on the subject, with due respect
for their independence”.

International Round Table on the Role of NHRI’s in the Treaty Body Process: 2006

An International Round Table on the Role of National Human Rights Institutions in the
Treaty Body Process was hosted by the German Institute for Human Rights, the Danish
Institute for Human Rights and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Human Rights in Berlin in November 2006. The Round Table developed a Draft Harmonised
Approach to National Human Rights Institutions Engagement with Treaty Body Processes,
which included, inter alia:

        Recognition by treaty bodies of the independent standing of National Human Rights
         Institutions in their consideration of State Party reports, distinct from Government
         and Civil Society.
        Involvement of National Human Rights Institutions in the preparation of State party
         reports, input into pre-sessional working groups, provision of information for the
         drafting of the list of issues to be addressed by the State party, involvement in petition
         and enquiry procedures, and a harmonised procedure for all treaty bodies ensuring
         formal interaction with National Human Rights Institutions during the examination of
         the State party report.
        Involvement of National Human Rights institutions in promoting and monitoring
         implementation of treaty bodies’ concluding observations and recommendations.

National Human Rights Institutions at the Round Table themselves resolved to undertake
actions within their own respective mandates with regard to treaty body reporting, petition
and enquiry procedures, and follow up procedures. The outcomes of the Round Table were
reported to the sixth inter-committee meeting of the human rights treaty bodies in Geneva on
18-20 June 2007, and to the nineteenth meeting of chairpersons of the human rights treaty
bodies in Geneva on 21-22 June 2007.

CERD Committee

The CERD Committee actively seeks to involve National Human Rights Institutions in the
process of its consideration of States parties’ periodic reports.1 This is an evolving process,

1
  The Committee first addressed the issue of National Human Rights Institutions’ involvement in 1993
in its General Recommendation XVII on the establishment of national institutions to facilitate
implementation of the Convention. The Committee recommended that NHRI’s should be promote


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but includes a specific invitation to provide information to assist in the Committee’s
preparation prior to the formal session, including preliminary information when the country
rapporteur is drafting the list of issues, provision of a full report if desired, and attendance at
the formal session. The Committee allocates specific space in the room for the NHRI
representative, separate from both the State Party and the Civil Society observers, and,
provided the State party agrees, permits the representative to take the floor in plenary for a
maximum of 10 minutes on the second (final) day of the session.

New Zealand Periodic Report to the CERD Committee

New Zealand was required to provide its periodic report for 2001-2006 to the CERD
Committee by December 2006. The report was prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
and Trade in consultation with other government departments. The Human Rights
Commission engaged with the Ministry at the beginning of the process by providing
information and encouraging an appropriate process of consultation with civil society. The
information provided included:

       A copy of the Commission’s major status report on human rights, Human Rights in
        New Zealand Today, completed in 2004, which considered New Zealand’s
        compliance with international human rights treaties.
       A copy of the New Zealand Action Plan for Human Rights, developed by the
        Commission as required by the Human Rights Act, and published in 2005.
       A brief assessment of priorities for implementation of the Durban Programme of
        Action in New Zealand, prepared in 2003
       Copies of the annual reviews of race relations published by the Commission for 2004
        and 2005.

The Commission did not seek to participate in the development of the report itself. When it
was invited to comment on the draft report as part of the wider public consultation process, it
restricted itself mainly to matters of accuracy and significant gaps. This was in order to
maintain the Commission’s independence. The Government did however provide copies of
the Status Report, the Action Plan for Human Rights, the Commission’s Annual Reports for
the period, and the annual reviews of race relations for 2004 and 2005 to the CERD
Committee as appendices to the New Zealand Government report.

NZ Human Rights Commission input into the CERD Committee

In response to the invitation to provide prior input into the CERD Committee’s consideration
of the New Zealand periodic report, the Commission decided it would address these issues in
the introduction to its annual review of race relations published in early March 2007. The
Commission considered this to be an appropriate way to both raise public awareness of the
treaty body process and identify for the CERD Committee the key achievements and
challenges in race relations. The review included developments in race relations since 2000,
and key challenges for the future. It concluded:



respect for the enjoyment of human rights without discrimination as set out in section 5 of the
Convention, review government policy towards protection against racial discrimination, monitor
legislative compliance with the Convention, educate the public about the obligations of States parties,
and assist the Government in the preparation of reports submitted to the CERD Committee. It also
recommended that NHRI’s “should be associated with the preparation of reports and possibly included
in government delegations in order to intensify the dialogue between the Committee and the State party
concerned”.




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        “The CERD Committee will consider the New Zealand report in August 2007. The
        Committee will review what has been achieved and make recommendations for future
        action to comply with the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It
        is to be hoped that the Committee and the New Zealand Government will be able to
        find agreement on recommendations arising from consideration of the report and that
        the Government will therefore be able to accept and implement those
        recommendations. The report also provides a basis for a discussion within New
        Zealand on these issues.”

 An advance copy of the review was provided to the CERD Committee in February for its
information. The achievements and issues identified in the review were significantly
reflected in the engagement between the Committee and the State party at the formal session,
and also in the Committee’s concluding observations. The annual reviews of race relations
thus provide not only a substantial resource for developing the State party’s periodic report,
but also a means of providing input into the CERD Committee’s consideration of the report.
The publication of the annual review of race relations resulted in significant media publicity
for the process.

New Zealand Government Delegation

The Commission strongly advocated that the New Zealand Government delegation should
comprise senior officials representing a range of government agencies. In the event the
delegation included not only the Ambassador in Geneva, but also high level representatives
from the Ministry of Maori Development, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Pacific Island
Affairs, the Office of Ethnic Affairs and the Crown Law Office. The Commission
participated in meetings of the delegation with an understanding that the delegation would
respect the Commission’s independence, and that the Commission would in turn respect the
confidence of the proceedings. An important part of the Commission’s advocacy was that the
delegation should take an open and constructive rather than a defensive approach to the
proceedings, which was accepted. This was viewed as particularly important because of a
degree of Government dismissal of the CERD Committee’s recommendations on an urgent
application relating to the Foreshore and Seabed Act in 2004.

Attendance at the CERD Committee

The Commission had reservations about attending the CERD Committee’s formal
consideration of New Zealand’s periodic report, but decided to do so relatively late in the
piece. Its reservations related particularly to the costs involved for a small organisation at the
other end of the world, and the possible implications in relation to doing the same when other
treaty bodies considered New Zealand’s periodic reports. In the event, because of the
Commission’s particular statutory responsibilities for race relations, as well as the
Government’s earlier negative response to the Committee’s recommendation on the
Foreshore and Seabed Act, it was decided that the Commission would attend and be
represented by the Race Relations Commissioner, who also attended the government
delegation meetings as outlined above. The Commissioner was able to meet separately with
two members of the CERD Committee outside the formal proceedings. The Government
delegation consented to the Commission making a presentation, as requested by the
Committee, and the Commissioner did so at the start of the second day of the formal session,
having been able to take account of the dialogue that occurred on the first day. The
Commission’s presentation was tabled as a written report which was subsequently posted on
the Committee’s website along with the other papers relating to New Zealand. The
Commission’s submission was significantly reflected in the Committee’s concluding
observations and recommendations.




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Civil Society Participation

There was active interest by some sectors of civil society in the proceedings, as demonstrated
by the number and substance of the shadow reports submitted by civil society groups.
Reports were submitted by seven organisations, including one from an indigenous political
party represented in Parliament. Some had previously commented on the Government’s draft
report. A number of civil society representatives travelled to Geneva for the session, which
they attended as observers. They were able to have a private meeting with members of the
Committee prior to the formal session.

The CERD Committee’s Report

When the CERD Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations were released,
the Commission was able to discuss them with the Government and emphasise the importance
of an open and constructive response. The Commission released two press statements
summarising and commenting on the recommendations to inform the ensuing public debate.
Copies of all media coverage, which was extensive, were provided by the Commission to the
CERD Committee Secretariat. A further press release was issued in November when three of
the four urgent matters raised by the CERD Committee had been addressed. A process is now
being developed to continue to monitor consideration and implementation of the Committee’s
recommendations in consultation with both government and civil society organisations. A
summary of the Committee’s report and progress in addressing the recommendations will be
included in the annual review of race relations for 2007 to be published in March 2008.

Key Elements in the NZ Human Rights Commission’s Involvement

In summary, the key elements in the Commission’s involvement were as follows:

       Annual reviews of race relations and other documentation to inform the development
        of the Government report
       Early encouragement and support from the CERD Committee Secretariat
       Early independent input into the CERD Committee’s consideration of the New
        Zealand report, and raising of public awareness through the annual review of race
        relations
       Advocacy for a high level government delegation to the formal session of the CERD
        Committee and for an open and constructive approach
       Active engagement with the government delegation, while maintaining independence
       Attendance at the formal session, informal meeting with Committee members, and
        presentation of a written statement on the second day
       Advocacy for a constructive government response to the Committee’s concluding
        observations and recommendations, and public statements outlining and commenting
        on them
       Providing feedback on government and public responses to the CERD Committee
        Secretariat
       Establishing a process of monitoring consideration and implementation of the
        recommendations in consultation with government and civil society

Conclusions

Involvement in the CERD process has been an important learning process for the New
Zealand Human Rights Commission. Initially, the Commission saw its role as ensuring that
the Government developed a good process and a good report. It did not see itself as having
any further role other than to monitor the outcome, as it had done five years previously. It
encouraged the Government to engage with civil society in the preparation of the report, but


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did not itself do so independently. The invitation from the CERD Committee led to a more
active engagement with both the Government and the Committee, in order to seek an outcome
that would be a constructive contribution to the development of race relations in New
Zealand. Attendance at the formal session provided additional insights, and opportunities to
engage more intensively in the dialogue.

The Commission had expressed the hope “that the Committee and the New Zealand
Government would be able to find agreement on recommendations arising from consideration
of the report and that the Government would therefore be able to accept and implement those
recommendations”. The process was however primarily one of the Government and civil
society representatives presenting information and Committee members seeking clarification
and further information, rather than one of engaging on what might be useful
recommendations. The Commission, in its presentation, did seek to suggest what might
usefully be recommended, and this was listened to by the Committee and reflected in its
conclusions and recommendations. A greater focus on possible recommendations in the
dialogue itself would have been useful.

The Committee’s report was widely publicised in New Zealand. There was some
disappointment that the acknowledgement of positive achievements was very brief, and that
the focus of the recommendations did not address issues relating to racial equality more
widely, focusing mainly on indigenous issues. Some recommendations are highly unlikely to
be accepted by Government in their present form, but others have been accepted and in some
cases already implemented. The Commission sees its role as advocating in the short term for
those recommendations that it reasonably expects can be implemented, and to promote further
discussion on those that are more complex and difficult to achieve.

Recommendations

Possible recommendations to treaty bodies based on the New Zealand Human Rights
Commission’s recent experience would be that they:

      continue to develop their relationship with NHRI’s and encourage their involvement
       in the reporting process
      recognise that NHRI’s offer a voice in the process that is independent of both
       Government and Civil Society groups and can engage with both
      meet informally with the NHRI representative as well as providing an opportunity for
       the NHRI to address the formal session
      invite the State party and the NHRI to identify priorities for future action and focus
       the dialogue with the State party more on identifying recommendations that it will
       accept or commit to considering further
      give balanced recognition in their reports to positive achievements alongside
       recommendations for future action
      provide a sufficiently long term strategic focus to enable the recommendations to be
       used as a basis for public discussion and government action throughout the five year
       period until the next report.
      recognise the potential role of NHRI’s in raising awareness of the Committee’s report
       and promoting discussion and implementation of its recommendations




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