3 May 2018

NZ economist creates world first human rights tracker

From Nine To Noon, 9:27 am on 3 May 2018

A world-first human rights tracker, developed by a Wellington economist, has shown Australia is ranking worse than New Zealand in certain human rights performances.

Manus Island refugees protest at West Lorengau Haus.

 Manus Island refugees protest at West Lorengau Haus.  Photo: supplied

The Human Rights Measurement Initiative found the freedoms most at-risk of being violated in Australia were the rights to opinion and expression, freedom from torture, and freedom from arbitrary arrest.

While the tracker is in its early stages, Human Rights Measurement Initiative's co-founder Anne-Marie Brook told Nine to Noon the project shed light on Australia's track record on abuse and the right to freedom of expression. 

"When I first saw these results I was a little surprised about how much worse than New Zealand and the United Kingdom, which are the two other high-income countries," Ms Brook said. 

Ms Brook said the results were revealing of Australia's current state of affairs as the tracker also showed which ethnic groups were vulnerable to having rights violated.

For example refugees, asylum seekers and indigenous people were the most at-risk groups for being tortured, the survey results showed.

"When we did our feedback sessions with the Australian experts they said [the results] made perfect sense," Ms Brook said.

Recent reports of abuse in Australia's offshore detention centers has put the nation in the spotlight for violation of human rights, particularly with the UN.  

The complete survey results for Australia were incomplete in other areas such as food and education, but Ms Brook said the current report could still be compared with similar countries.

"In time we want to be able to compare Australia with its own historical performance so we can see whether it's on the right track or not. For now, we've only got one data point for Australia but we can compare it with the other countries in our sample."

In comparison, one of the biggest issues New Zealand faced was human rights were not evenly spread across ethnic groups.

"The right to education and health is not being enjoyed to the same extent among the Māori and Pacific Island population as they are among the Pākehā population," Ms Brook said.

However, the right to opinion and expression (6.7 out of 10), freedom from torture (six out of 10), and freedom from arbitrary arrest (5.8 out of 10) - the lowest-ranked human rights in Australia - were higher in New Zealand's report.

The right to opinion and expression rated 7.6 out of 10, freedom from torture 8.4 out 10, and freedom from arbitrary arrest 8.7 out of 10 in New Zealand.

Ms Brook said the tool was developed to cover serious gaps in the way human rights performance of countries was tracked around the world and to hold governments accountable.

"We are hoping it will make people pay more attention to [human rights] at least and perhaps encourage some more conversations about it," she said.

"Governments find it relatively easy to ignore human rights advocates, they do find it a lot harder to ignore the impact of the bottom line."

Ms Brook said the UN was supportive of their project and the initiative looked forward for more funding to expand their research.