New Zealand’s Indigenous Rights Record To Face Global Spotlight

Published: Wed 20 Mar 2024 06:36 AM
A UN expert on Indigenous Peoples’ rights is conducting an academic visit to Aotearoa New Zealand next month to participate in a conference on constitutional design at Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Francisco Calí Tzay, will meet with Māori organisations, iwi and hapū leaders, Indigenous legal experts, and Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission in early April.
Events and discussions with Mr Calí Tzay will focus on the state of Indigenous rights in Aotearoa, and the foundational role of te Tiriti o Waitangi in the country’s constitution.
Mr Calí Tzay will visit the sites of long-running legal cases against the Crown, including Nelson to meet with representatives of the customary Māori owners of the Nelson Tenths Reserves, and Wairarapa Moana. In both cases, iwi or hapū have won High Court or Supreme Court cases against the Crown, but instead of accepting the legal decision and working towards a resolution, the Crown is either baulking at the provision of redress or has created legislation to override the court ruling.
Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland’s Director of Te Puna Rangahau o Wai Ariki, Centre for Indigenous Peoples and the Law, Professor Claire Charters says the cases are a serious miscarriage of justice.
“These modern-day experiences of iwi, hapū, and whānau highlight how readily Parliament can override human rights, and especially the rights of Indigenous peoples.
“It’s a serious flaw in the current system of government in Aotearoa. It is something we are asking the Special Rapporteur and other UN bodies to continue to engage with our Government about.”
The Special Rapporteur will participate in the Designing our Constitution conference between 2 – 4 April, jointly hosted by Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission, National Iwi Chairs Forum, and Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland. The conference is part of a series of hui inspired by the landmark report Matike Mai, and in the memory of Dr Moana Jackson.
The Commission’s Tino Rangatiratanga Shared Leader Julia Whaipooti says, “The conference will discuss proposals for a constitution that can create a place of belonging for everyone in Aotearoa, while recognising the authority and tino rangatiratanga of Tangata Whenua, on an equal footing with the Government.”
The conference will hear from Mr Calí Tzay about his experiences with countries like Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Sweden, Finland, and Canada, where constitutional arrangements recognise and empower Indigenous governance alongside that of the government.
Mr. Francisco Calí Tzay is Maya Kaqchikel from Guatemala, with experience in defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples, both in Guatemala and at the United Nations.
The public can hear from Special Rapporteur Calí Tzay at an evening public lecture on Thursday 4 April at 6pm, at the University of Auckland.
Mr Calí Tzay's visit is an academic visit, coming at the request of local groups, Wairarapa Moana Incorporation and Wakatū Incorporation, the National Iwi Chairs Forum and Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission. In such a visit, UN protocols mean the Special Rapporteur cannot have direct contact with media or publish reports about their visit.
The visit and conference come as New Zealand’s human rights record will be scrutinised before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for its 5-yearly review on 29 April.
Whaipooti says, “States involved in the UN review are engaging with the Commission and community groups about key human rights issues in Aotearoa New Zealand that include racism, detention, incarceration, the rights of children, abuse in state care, housing, and the government response to the Mosque attacks in 2019.”
“I think a lot of countries are concerned that the Government has reneged on its commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“At the end of the day, Indigenous rights are human rights, and we must work together to protect them”, says Whaipooti.Notes about the Special Rapporteur’s visit
The Special Rapporteur’s visit is being supported by the National Iwi Chairs Forum, Wakatū Incorporation, which is supporting the Nelson Tenths Reserves litigation, Wairarapa Moana Incorporation, the University of Auckland’s Centre for Indigenous Peoples and the Law, and Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission. The conference is being organised by Te Kāhui Tika Tangata Human Rights Commission in collaboration with the National Iwi Chairs Forum and University of Auckland’s Centre for Indigenous Peoples and the Law.
The Special Rapporteur will present at the Designing our Constitution conference (April 2-4). Further information about the conference is available here:
The Special Rapporteur will be giving a public lecture on Thursday 4th April at 6pm.
For information about the Universal Periodic Review of New Zealand’s human rights record: about the Nelson Tenths Reserves & Wairarapa Moana kaupapa
About the Nelson Tenths Reserves
The Nelson Tenths is believed to be the largest litigation against the Crown, and longest-running property dispute, in New Zealand's history.
In 1841, Māori landowners in Nelson, Tasman and Mohua sold 151,000 acres of land to the New Zealand Company on the condition that 10 percent of their land would be reserved for Māori in perpetuity.
Rather than setting aside the 10 percent, which should have been 15,100 acres, the Crown set aside less than 3,000 acres. The customary Māori landowners have been fighting, in some form, to have the land returned for more than 180 years.
The case was originally filed with the Waitangi Tribunal as Wai 56. But due to a change in Government policy in 2008, the Crown refused to continue dealing with the claimant group.
This decision led to the pursuit of a private law claim to fight for justice for the customary Māori owners of the Nelson Tenths Reserves.
The government fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 2017 in a landmark decision found in favour of the owners of the Nelson Tenths.
However, since then, attempts at commencing out of court negotiations with the Crown have been unsuccessful: No land has been returned, nor compensation paid.
In 2023, the case returned to the High Court to determine the extent of the Crown's breaches, defences, and remedies. The decision is expected in the coming months.
For further information, visit:
About Wairarapa Moana Incorporation
Wairarapa Moana Incorporation (WMI) journey to have our lands returned dates back to events in the 1850s - 170 years ago.
The formation of WMI and the ownership of some 30,486 acres of the Pouakani 2 Block in Mangakino, South Waikato has its origins in the colonisation of the Wairarapa after 1840. Wairarapa Moana hapū had valuable landholdings and customary fishing rights for tuna in and around Lake Wairarapa, however by the late 1800s continual pressure from farmer settlers and Crown coercion ultimately led to the hapū gifting the lake to the Crown in 1896 in exchange for other lands in the Wairarapa.
The Crown did not honour the original agreement and were not prepared to source lands locally in Wairarapa, so in 1915 with great reluctance the hapū leaders at that time accepted the land known as the Pouakani 2 Block in Mangakino.
Access to the land was only made available in 1946 as a result of the building of the Maraetai dam by the Ministry of Works, who had commenced major works without seeking the consent of the WMI landowners. The crown also acquired 2,000 acres of the Pouakani 2 Block under the Public Works Act for the dam infrastructure.
In February 2017 WMI lodged a resumption application with the Waitangi Tribunal under the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 for the return of some of the lands, taken under the Public Works Act in the 1940s.
In December 2022, the Supreme Court ruled that WMI had rights and interests in the Maraetai dam land, and that the application before the Waitangi Tribunal should proceed. Rather than allow this process to reach a conclusion, the New Zealand Parliament passed legislation which brought an abrupt end to our legal proceedings, and the return of our lands by the Waitangi Tribunal.
This action was a breach of our human rights, and te Tiriti o Waitangi.

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