Māori, disabled people, prisoners, and people in poverty suffer human rights violations in New Zealand

Jun 7, 2019

All images taken from our data portal, and freely available for use. To explore the data in full, go to the HRMI website.

2019 HRMI Human Rights Country Report: Executive Summary on New Zealand

The Human Rights Measurement Initiative is the first global project to track the human rights performance of countries. Its 2019 Human Rights Country Reports give human rights scores on up to 12 different human rights contained in United Nations treaties, for over 170 countries.

The 2019 Country Report on New Zealand contains many positive scores, but also some strikingly poor results, particularly in terms of who is most at risk of rights abuses.

The 12 rights are summarised by three category scores:

New Zealand scored 7.3 out of 10 for Empowerment rights, which measure:

  • the right to participate in government
  • the right to opinion and expression
  • the right to assembly and association

New Zealand’s Empowerment score of 7.3, based on a detailed survey of human rights experts, tells us that a significant number people in New Zealand are not enjoying their civil rights and political freedoms.

New Zealand scored 8.4 out of 10 for Safety from the State rights, which measure:

  • freedom from torture
  • freedom from execution
  • freedom from disappearance
  • freedom from arbitrary or political arrest and detention

New Zealand’s Safety from the State score of 8.4, based on a detailed survey of human rights experts, suggests that while most people are not safe from arbitrary arrest, torture, disappearance, execution or extrajudicial killing, some are not.

The Quality of Life score is a measure of how well a country uses its wealth to ensure people’s rights to food, education, health, housing and work are met. The score is produced by using data from international databases, and measuring outcomes against a country’s income level.

Unfortunately New Zealand has not supplied enough data to these international databases for HRMI to calculate an overall Quality of Life score. There is, however, enough information to produce scores for four of the five Quality of Life rights, as shown in this graph.Quality of Life2

New Zealand Story Leads: Themes from the data

Human rights experts identified prisoners and Māori as being particularly at risk of violations of the right to participate in government, because many people serving prison sentences are barred from voting in elections.

Having suffered the effects of colonisation and oppression for centuries, Māori are still in the position of suffering widespread human rights abuses. Māori were identified by experts we surveyed as being particularly vulnerable to abuses of nearly every one of the rights we measure.

New Zealand is a signatory of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which includes a commitment to ensuring access to adequate housing. The right to housing score of 76.7% shows that New Zealand is only achieving 76.7% of what should be feasible given its income level, a score which falls in the bottom third of high income countries.

Experts pointed to the affordability of adequate housing as a significant factor in these rights violations, with people with low social or economic status being particularly likely not to enjoy the right to adequate housing. 

Our human rights experts identified disabled people as being at particular risk of violations of most of the rights we measure, especially: 

  • the right to freedom from torture
  • the right to education
  • the right to housing
  • the right to health
  • the right to have a job
  • the right to just and favourable working conditions

Concerning levels of torture and ill-treatment in New Zealand 

While New Zealand’s Safety from the State score was one of the highest in the sample of 19 countries we collected data for, its score of 7.7 out of 10 for the right to freedom from torture is concerning. Māori, disabled people, and detainees (such as prisoners) were particularly affected.