World / Asia-Pacific

UN group puts New Zealand human rights image in doubt

By Xinhua in Wellington (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-09 07:15

New Zealand's reputation for human rights has taken a battering after a United Nations working group took the government to task on its justice and prison systems, human rights groups said on Tuesday.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concern on Monday over specific areas of incarceration in New Zealand, particularly the wide use of preventive detention and the disproportionate representation of indigenous Maori in the prison population.

At the end of their first official visit to the country, the UN experts issued a statement that said overall legislation and policy concerning deprivation of liberty in New Zealand was well-developed and generally consistent with international human rights law.

But they urged the authorities to address their concerns about issues such as "civil preventive detention", which allows for a prisoner to be held beyond the end of his sentence if he is still deemed to be a danger to society.

"The overrepresentation of Maori also poses a significant challenge," human rights expert Mads Andenas said in the statement, noting that Maori made up more than 50 percent of the prison population but only 15 percent of the population of New Zealand.

They also paid particular attention to the situation of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants who could be locked up in prisons or police stations if they arrived "in an irregular situation", as well as the situations of the mentally ill, minors and the elderly.

"New Zealand's reputation in the international human rights community has taken a serious battering," Kim Workman, spokesman for the Rethinking Crime and Punishment penal reform group, said in a statement.

"While Mr Andenas was careful to point out that New Zealand was seen as a standard bearer in the treatment of offenders and prisoners in comparison to other nations, it became quickly clear we did not deserve that reputation. Representatives of civil society who were present at the conference felt ashamed that we failed to measure up on basic human rights issues."

The final report of the visit will be presented to the Human Rights Council in September 2015.

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