19 Jan 2019

NZ human rights to come under scrutiny from UN

3:24 pm on 19 January 2019

Incarceration rates and violence against women will be covered in Andrew Little's presentation to the United Nations on Monday, as New Zealand's human rights record comes up for scrutiny.

Andrew Little announcing that re-entry to the Pike River Mine drift will go ahead.

Justice Minister Andrew Little will make a presentation on Monday as part of a United Nations review of New Zealand human rights. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Justice Minister Mr Little will lead the country's delegation for the review at the United Nation's Human Right's Council in Geneva.

Mr Little will present a report to delegates from around the world, who will then make recommendations on where New Zealand can improve.

Christine McCarthy from the National Coalition of Howard Leagues for Penal Reform travelled to Geneva for the hearings last December.

She said it was an important way to address the country's human rights problems.

"New Zealand will spend an hour or an hour and a half presenting their report and then the countries get to make recommendations and ask questions.

"They might say 'last time we recommended this, why haven't you done anything about it?' or they might say 'we recommend you allow prisoners to vote'," Ms McCarthy said.

Violence against women

Last month, 50 influential New Zealand women signed an open letter calling for more to be done to stop violence against women.

Read the open letter.

Dame Jenny Shipley became the leader of the National Party and prime minister in 1997. She helped recruit John Key as an MP in 2001.

Dame Jenny Shipley says the public need to have more open conversations about consent and healthy relationships in a bit to prevent violence against women. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The open letter, addressed to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, calls for a cross-party plan to stop violence against women, better services for women who have been attacked, and more public awareness campaigns.

Former prime ministers Helen Clark and Dame Jenny Shipley are among those who signed the letter.

Dame Jenny said the government must ensure support was available when people faced violence, but the public also needed to have more open conversations about consent and healthy relationships.

"We all have to speak up and find our voice; take action where we see it necessary," she said. "We also need to make a personal commitment, women and men together, that where we see violence or are in situations where we need to say no or stop, that that's understood properly and respected."

The Undersecretary for Domestic and Sexual Violence Jan Logie said addressing violence against women and other forms of family and sexual violence was a priority for the government.

Ms Logie said she was "very pleased" with the letter.

"People making this call gives us clear partners in this effort and we're grateful for it," she said.

Jan Logie on the Justice and Electoral Committee hears submissions on the Family and Whanau Violence Legislation Bill.

Undersecretary for Domestic and Sexual Violence Jan Logie says addressing violence against women is a priority. Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The government is urgently working towards stopping the violence, she said, and added that she "absolutely" supports a cross-party approach.

Within the last year the government has passed laws protecting victims of domestic violence, including making strangulation a specific criminal offence, and making victims of violence eligible for up to 10 days' paid leave. It has also boosted baseline funding to all family violence services at a $70 million cost.

The justice minister was also reviewing changes made to the Family Court to ensure they were working to keep people safe, she said.

Next year the government is developing a national strategy to end family sexual violence, she said, adding that it would be an action plan "for all of us".

Ms Logie said she wanted the public to know the government was listening and doing everything it could to eradicate violence in the home.

"It will take some time to rebuild the capacity of a sector that has been seriously neglected under the previous government but we're working on it."

Prison rates

Statistics from the Corrections department from September last year showed the total prison population in New Zealand was at 10,052.

Minister of Police, Stuart Nash. The Government is responding to increased drug-related deaths by cracking down on the suppliers of synthetic drugs.

Police Minister Stuart Nash says having more police will mean more prevention, less crime and fewer people in prison. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The government had set a target of reducing the prison population by 30 percent over 15 years.

The amount spent on prisons has doubled since 2005 and tripled since 1996, a report released by the prime minister's chief science advisor Peter Gluckman last year stated.

New Zealand's prison population is being forecast to rise by more than 4000 over the next decade, according to a Ministry of Justice report released last year. That would take the number of inmates to about 14,400 by 2027.

According to StatsNZ, more than three-quarters of OECD countries have prison population rates below 140 per 100,000 population. New Zealand's rate of 155 places it seventh-highest in the OECD, just below Mexico.

The Criminal Justice Summit was launched in August last year, with hopes that it would bring together experts from across different fields to submit feedback on how to effectively reform the justice system.

In June last year, Mr Little said if the prison population continued to spiral, the government would need to build a new prison every two or three years.

Mr Little told Newshub Nation that the policy followed over the past 30 years could not continue.

"On the current trajectory on prison populational growth, if we did nothing we would be building an extra prison every two to three years. That's how bad it is."

Mr Little said he wanted to start a public conversation about ways to reduce re-offending as 60 percent of prison inmates re-offended within two years of being released from jail.

Under Labour's coalition deal with New Zealand First, the party pledged to boost the number of sworn officers by 1800 over three years.

More police would mean more prevention, less crime and fewer people in prison, Police Minister Stuart Nash said.

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