WELLINGTON — New Zealand, a remote and picturesque island nation, is one of the world’s most highly developed countries. It is classified as a high-income country by the World Bank and boasts a strong, diverse economy.
In addition to its admirable economic success, New Zealand’s government is one of the most stable in the world. It is tied with Denmark as the least corrupt country in the world, with an incredible corruption perceptions score of 90 out of 100. In comparison, the U.S. score of 74 places it 17 spots behind New Zealand in terms of corruption perceptions.
With such a strong economy and an almost entirely transparent government, human rights in New Zealand do not suffer from many of the systemic and institutional problems that threaten human rights in the rest of the world. The U.S. State Department reports that issues regarding police misconduct, judicial procedures, voting and basic human freedoms are virtually absent in New Zealand.
Additionally, New Zealand even established a Human Rights Commission in 1977 that operates independently from the government. The commission preserves and protects the rights of citizens as recognized by the Human Rights Act of 1993, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, employment status and more.
However, despite the egalitarian institutions and perceived commitment to human rights in New Zealand, the country has not succeeded in providing many of the same benefits to the natives of the land indigenously known as Aotearoa. Unfortunately, the indigenous Maori of New Zealand lack many of the economic and social opportunities and rights that have been championed by the government.
After centuries of conquest and oppression at the hands of Europeans, the original New Zealanders have largely been relegated to a state of economic, social and political stagnation. Although the Maori people only constitute 15 percent of New Zealand’s population today, they bear more of the burden of poverty and its consequences than the rest of the population.
Because most Maori in New Zealand lack adequate economic and social support, Maori are often only able to work unskilled, low-wage jobs. Maori communities frequently suffer from poor living conditions, unemployment, and crime.
Since the domination of New Zealand by the British, the Maori have been politically disadvantaged. Legislation such as the 2004 Foreshore and Seabed Act, which designated historically Maori lands as state-owned, prove that the Maori people are not treated equally by the government even now.
As a response to the 2004 Act, Maori activists and politicians, led by former Labour Party minister Tariana Turia, formed the Maori Party. The Maori Party’s goals are to protect the “rights and interests” of New Zealand’s indigenous peoples through supporting and opposing legislation at the political level.
Human rights in New Zealand are better protected than human rights elsewhere, but only for the country’s non-Maori population. In order for New Zealand to maintain its image as one of the world’s premier exemplars of human development, it must address the grievances of the Maori people. New Zealand must work with Maori activists and the Maori Party in order to right the wrongs of the beautiful country’s paradoxically ugly past, and provide true economic and social as well as civil and political rights for all.
– Isidro Rafael Santa Maria