UN Report critical of Justice system’s treatment of Maori

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The UN Committee Against Tortures has released it’s five yearly report on how the country meets its obligations to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) to the UN in Geneva at the beginning of May.

The report welcomed the constructive dialogue with the New Zealand delegation and noted this country had made good progress in meeting its obligations under the Convention. The Committee noted a range of positive developments, including New Zealands ratification of the Conventions Optional Protocol, to provide for independent monitoring of all detention facilities.

However, the UN Committee Against Torture has singled out four critical issues which it requests progress reports within a year.

The issues are:

  • The roll out of tasers by the New Zealand Police
  • Conditions of detention in prisons
  • How the justice system deals with historic claims of abuse
  • New Zealands reservation about Article 14 of the Convention against Torture.

On Maori Incarceration Rates the report stated:

While taking note of the Maori Strategic Plan developed by the Department of Corrections, as well as the various initiatives undertaken by the Ministry of Justice to reduce Maori offending, the Committee is alarmed at the disproportionately high number of Maori and Pacific Islands people incarcerated, in particular women who, according to information available to the Committee represent 60% of the female prison population. The Committee is further concerned at the over-representation of Maoris at all levels of the criminal justice process, as well as at the insufficient safeguards in place to protect the rights of minorities from discrimination and marginalization, which put them at a higher risk of torture and ill-treatment.

On the use of Tasers the report suggests that NZ should consider relinquishing these weapons, saying:

While taking note of the assurances by the State party whereby tasers are only to be used by trained and certified staff and only when the officer has an honest belief that the subject is capable of carrying out the threat posed and that the use of the taser is warranted, the Committee is deeply concerned about the introduction of these weapons in the New Zealand police. The Committee is concerned that the use of these weapons causes severe pain constituting a form of torture, and that in some cases it may even cause death. In addition, the Committee is concerned at reports whereby during the trial period tasers were predominantly used on Maori and youths.

The report also points out the high rates of violence against Maori women and low conviction rates of their abusers.

On prison conditions, the UN Committee said the forecast overcrowding might lead to violence. It was concerned at the lack of mental health and legal services for mentally ill inmates and called for caution around the use of restraints.

It asked New Zealand to investigate properly the “historic” cases of abuse in childrens homes and psychiatric hospitals and ensure victims were able to claim compensation and rehabilitation.

The Committee was concerned that New Zealand still had a reservation to Article 14 of the Convention, which covers victims rights to compensation. It urged NZ to withdraw its proviso that awarding compensation for torture is at the discretion of the Attorney-General.

  • Download a copy of the UN report (PDF 44KB)

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