Civil and Political Rights
All people enjoy civil and political rights. Mechanisms to regulate and
arbitrate people’s rights in respect of each other are trustworthy.
The enjoyment of civil and political rights is crucial to people’s ability
to participate in society, make choices about their lives and live with dignity.
Civil and political rights fall into two broad categories. The first requires
that people are protected from interference or abuse of power by others. The
second requires that society is organised in a way that enables all people
to develop to their full potential.62
Rights are defined in various international treaties and in domestic legislation.
The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 sets out many rights New Zealanders
enjoy. These include rights to life and security, voting rights, and rights
to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, thought, conscience,
religion and belief. They also include rights to freedom from discrimination,
and various rights relating to justice and criminal procedures. Other laws,
such as the Privacy Act 1993, also provide protection for specific rights.
The relationship between Māori and the Crown is guided by the Treaty of
New Zealand has also signed six core United Nations treaties, covering:
civil and political rights; economic, social and cultural rights; the elimination
of racial discrimination; the elimination of discrimination against women;
the rights of children; and protection against torture and other cruel, inhuman
or degrading treatment and punishment.
Civil and political rights are important for wellbeing in many ways. At
a fundamental level, they protect people’s lives and their physical wellbeing
(for example, by recognising rights to freedom from torture and arbitrary arrest).
Wellbeing depends on people having a sense of choice or control over their
lives, and on being reasonably able to do things they value, all of which are
impossible without the exercise of the many rights referred to above.63 People’s
ability to take part in society, and their senses of belonging and identity,
also depend on the exercise of these rights.
New Zealand is internationally recognised as having an excellent human
rights record.64 The court system is independent and courts can enforce the
rights affirmed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, although there is no
power to strike down legislation inconsistent with the Act. Other institutions
exist to protect people from government power (examples include the Privacy
Commissioner and the Ombudsmen) or to prevent and deal with instances of discrimination
(such as the Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Review Tribunal).
New Zealand regularly reports to the United Nations on its record of protecting
However, direct measurement of civil and political rights is not a simple
This chapter uses four indicators to provide some picture of how New Zealand's
formal commitments to civil and political rights are reflected in reality.
They are: voter turnout, the representation of women in government, perceived
discrimination and the absence of perceived corruption.
A fundamental right in any democracy is the right to vote. The inclusion
of voter turnout figures provides an indication of the confidence the population
has in, and the importance the population attaches to, the nation’s political
institutions. High voluntary voter turnout rates are an indication people see
these institutions as relevant and meaningful to them, and they believe their
individual vote is important.
An effective and relevant political system should broadly reflect the
society it represents. The second indicator measures the proportion of women
in elected positions in government.
Equality before the law and freedom from unlawful discrimination are fundamental
principles of democratic societies. According to the Human Rights Commission,
discrimination occurs when a person is treated differently from another person
in the same or similar circumstances, though not all forms of discrimination
are unlawful.65 Measuring the extent to which New Zealanders actually experience
discrimination is problematic. Research suggests that a significant proportion
of people who experience discrimination will not make a complaint.66 Perceived
discrimination is a subjective measure of people’s views about the level of
discrimination against different groups in New Zealand society.
Corruption undermines the democratic process and the rule of law. It is
difficult to measure levels of corruption by reference to the number of prosecutions
or court cases as this will, to some extent, be driven by the efficient functioning
of the justice system. The fourth indicator measures the level of perceived
corruption among politicians and public officials.