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Mandatory training on Convention for lawyers and judges, says UN committee

24 July 2018

Mandatory training on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, jurisprudence under the Optional Protocol and its general recommendations for New Zealand's judiciary and lawyers has been recommended by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

The committee has released its concluding observations on the eighth periodic report of New Zealand. Reports on the Cook Islands,  and Australia have also been released.

The report notes progress in legislative and institutional and policy reforms made by New Zealand since the seventh periodic report in 2012.

It notes that the Ministry for Women, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade have information on the Convention available on their websites.

"The Committee further notes that both the Institute of Judicial Studies and the New Zealand Law Society have provided training on domestic human rights legislation and international human rights legislation and international human rights instruments to the judiciary and lawyers.

"However, the Committee notes that the Convention and the Optional Protocol have not been given the necessary visibility in the State party, as reflected by the absence of judgments directly referring to the Convention as well as the absence of cases brought to the Committee under the Optional Protocol.

"The Committee is also concerned about the apparent lack of awareness among women about their rights under the Convention. It is further concerned about the insufficient level of support provided to civil society organizations engaging with the Committee and the decrease in on-going engagement by the State party with women's civil society organisations."

In line with that concern, the committee recommends mandatory training on the Convention, the committee's jurisprudence under the Optional Protocol, as well as its general recommendations for the judiciary, law enforcement personnel, lawyers, social workers, medical personnel and other relevant professional groups.

Definition of equality and non-discrimination

The committee also notes that the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and Human Rights Act 1993 prohibit sex-based discrimination in the public and private spheres. However, it says it is concerned that New Zealand legislation on discrimination against women is not fully in line with articles 1 and 2 of the Convention.

The committee says it is also concerned about the lack of specific prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics. It recommends amendment of section 21(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act with a view to including specific prohibition of discrimination on these grounds.

Access to Justice

The committee says it also remains concerned about the persistence of multiple barriers impeding women and girls from obtaining access to justice and effective remedies "to claim violations of their rights, in particular for rural women, Māori, Pacific, Asian, migrant and refugee women, women with disabilities, as well as lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons."

It particularly notes the decrease in availability of legal aid, with the numbers of legal aid lawyers having declined steadily since 2011 and women's limited legal literacy and access to information on available remedies.

The committee says there is a lack of gender sensitivity within the judiciary, "particularly within the family courts, including negative attitudes among judges and law enforcement officials towards women claiming violations of their rights."

It recommends strengthening gender responsiveness and gender sensitivity within the judiciary, including by increasing the number of women judges "and strengthening systematic capacity-building for judges, prosecutors, lawyers, police officers and other law enforcement officials on the Convention."

Sexual harassment in the workplace

The committee says it is concerned about sexual harassment and other forms of sexual assault in New Zealand workplaces and the severe underreporting of such incidents.

"It notes with concern the high number of sexual harassment and bullying cases in the workplace, particularly within the police, the defence force, the legal professions and the health sector. In this regard, the Committee notes that in the course 2017, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission received 1577 complaints alleging unlawful discrimination, of which 123 alleged sexual harassment, showing a 43% increase in sexual harassment complaints over the previous 10 years."

Among its recommendations, the committee recommends that the New Zealand government examine the organisational culture in workplaces in order to address the root causes of sexual harassment and assault. It also recommends that New Zealand ensures that all workplaces have a sexual harassment policy and clear process in place for victims. New Zealand should also disseminate information on available reporting procedures and ensure that complaints about sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace are investigate and perpetrators brought to justice.

Looking forward

The New Zealand Government's Eighth Periodic Report was prepared and submitted in 2016. The UN committee has asked New Zealand to provide, within two years, written information on the steps taken to implement its recommendations. It has asked New Zealand to submit its next periodic report in July 2022.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019