Human Rights Commission backs UN report for Treaty rights

By Mānia Clarke

The Human Rights Commission is backing a report by the United Nations committee and their concerns that recommendations by the Waitangi Tribunal is not legally binding. 

The report is calling on the government to take immediate steps to partner with Māori and implement recommendations by the Constitutional Advisory Panel and Tribunal.

The Minister of Treaty Settlements isn't fazed by the latest UN committee report but says there is room for improvement.

“We could do more to recognise the Treaty in statute,” says Andrew Little.

“We have legislation that refers to the Treaty principles that requires the spirit of the treaty to be observed”.

The Human Rights Commission agrees that the spirit of the Treaty of Waitangi should be observed and have advocated for a stronger constitutional framework for the Treaty.

However, the latest report from the United Nations says the legislation doesn't go far enough to protect Māori rights.

“The act of reaching an agreement between the British crown and the indigenous people of New Zealand stands on its own,” says Little, “But actually making it part of the constitution for example I think diminishes the Treaty”.

The findings of the report highlight that the recommendations of the Waitangi Tribunal are still not legally enforceable and are frequently ignored by the government.

The Office of Treaty Settlements Minister says patience is required as his priority is to address all treaty claims.

However, the question is- after 40 years of Treaty claims, how much longer do Māori have to wait?

“Until we get to the end of that process we won't be able to really start to forge the type of relationship that I think the Treaty partners contemplated at the time they were signing the Treaty,” says Little.

A Human Rights Commission submission to the UN Committee recommended a national strategy to align policy and legislation with the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.