Experts of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Commend New Zealand on Establishing the Disability Ministry, Ask Questions on Forced Sterilisation and Assisted Death
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its consideration of the combined second and third periodic report of New Zealand on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Committee Experts commended the establishment of a dedicated Ministry for Disability Issues, while asking questions on forced sterilisation and assisted death.
Rosemary Kayess, Committee Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur, welcomed the establishment of a dedicated Ministry of Disability that sat in the Cabinet. Did New Zealand recognise disability as a cross-cutting issue that was included in all Government portfolios? Did it ensure the engagement and consultation of people with disabilities and their representative organizations in all areas of Government?
A Committee Expert asked about measures taken to eliminate non-consensual sterilisation practices and compensate victims.
Another Committee Expert asked for information on how the Government would ensure that persons with disabilities were not unethically coerced regarding assisted death.
The delegation said that the New Zealand disability strategy aimed to implement specialised support for persons with disabilities across all Government policies and portfolios. The new Ministry for Disability Issues was required to engage with persons with disabilities on all Cabinet papers and provide advice to other Government agencies.
Capacity issues in the health system had limited the Government’s response regarding sterilisation, the delegation explained. Under current legislation, non-consensual sterilisation was legal in cases where persons were unable to give consent and their health was at risk. The Government was making available safeguarding tools, improving training of practitioners, and looking into legislative options for banning non-therapeutic sterilisation.
Assisted dying, the delegation said, was only permitted if persons were able to make an informed decision on their death. Decisions by a guardian were not permitted. If medical practitioners suspected that pressure was being applied by any person, they would stop procedures. An evaluation of the legislation would investigate whether changes were required.
In concluding remarks, Poto Williams, Minister for Disability Issues of New Zealand and head of the delegation, said that the State party had made meaningful progress, but there was much more to do. The Government would continue to work with civil society to implement reform. Work to create enabling societies was important, and persons with disabilities were at the heart of this work.
In his concluding remarks, Samuel Kabue, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that there was good will in New Zealand to implement the Convention, and with combined effort, this would be achievable. The realisation of the rights of persons with disabilities was a continuous process. There were areas that needed urgent attention, including supporting persons with disabilities to live independently; making inclusive education a reality for all children; addressing the problem of minimum wage exemption; and taking seriously adequate standards of living for persons with disabilities.
The delegation of New Zealand consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Disabled People (Whaikaha); Ministry of Education; Ministry of Social Development; Te Puna Aonui (Joint Venture on Family and Sexual Violence); and the Permanent Mission of New Zealand to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations on the report of New Zealand at the end of its twenty-seventh session, which concludes on 9 September. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s twenty-seventh session and other documents related to the session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 24 August at 3 p.m. to review the combined second and third report of the Republic of Korea (CRPD/C/KOR/2-3).
Presentation of Report
POTO WILLIAMS, Minister for Disability Issues of New Zealand and head of the delegation, said that she was privileged to lead New Zealand’s first Ministry for Disability Issues. More than one million persons with disabilities lived in New Zealand and the New Zealand Government was working to ensure that they could fully enjoy their rights. New Zealand had a strong history of championing the rights of persons with disabilities. It had ratified the Convention because it believed that the rights of persons with disabilities should be protected locally and around the world. New Zealand co-led the Human Rights Council Working Group on Disability. It was working with partners in the Pacific to support persons with disabilities in the context of climate change. It was working on advancing the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society.
Since the last report, good progress had been made, but there were still issues that needed to be addressed. The expectations of New Zealand were high, but it would work to respond to those expectations. The “Enabling Good Lives” policy gave persons with disabilities choices regarding funding and lifestyle. The Government had committed 100 million dollars to rolling out this project across the nation. The Government was committed to the social model of disability. New Zealand was working alongside persons with disabilities to realise its disability action plan, capacity building programmes, and promote good lives for persons with disabilities. The disability action plan was held to account through an independent monitoring mechanism and meetings with various stakeholders.
A forum on the disability action plan had been held between Government officials and civil society this year. It had discussed methods of improving policy and increasing opportunities for persons with disabilities to achieve their goals and aspirations, and uncovered important challenges in realising rights for Māori persons with disabilities. Over 2022 and 2023, the Waitangi Tribunal, a permanent commission of inquiry, would be held to determine how to respond to the challenges faced by Māori persons with disabilities.
In July 2022, the Government introduced the accessibility for New Zealanders bill. This bill aimed to remove barriers to accessibility by establishing an accessibility committee working to address barriers, and by creating clear responsibilities for Government officials regarding persons with disabilities.
COVID-19 had exposed and heightened inequities for persons with disabilities. The Government had learned lessons regarding enhancing support for persons with disabilities in times of crisis. The Government had missed opportunities in this regard, and intended to build back better.
New Zealand had moved away from institutionalisation in the 1990s. A Royal Commission was currently examining the hurt caused by past institutionalisation.
There was an increasing need for data on persons with disabilities to track progress of the disability strategy and implementation of the Convention. Data on persons with disabilities showed that much more was required, but new data showed an improvement in the number of young persons with disabilities not in employment or training.
New Zealand welcomed the recommendations of the Committee regarding improving the lives of persons with disabilities. There was more work to do, and the outcomes of the dialogue would help to guide the State’s journey forward.
Statements by Civil Society Representatives
JONATHAN GODFREY, Chair of New Zealand’s Independent Monitoring Body, said that New Zealand was not making as much progress as the rest of the world might think. After the dialogue with the Committee in 2014, around 100 recommendations were produced by the Committee, and the independent monitoring body had made more than 100 additional recommendations. While the New Zealand Government had made progress, many recommendations were untouched. The sterilisation of women with disabilities was still permitted without consent, and the wages of persons with disabilities were still unacceptable.
ESTHER WOODBURY, New Zealand Human Rights Commission, said that some progress had been made, especially regarding the collection of data, but that data revealed widespread inequalities. Persons with disabilities had a worse quality of life, lower wages, and worse housing conditions. Māori persons with disabilities were in particularly worse conditions. Recent reforms of housing laws had not referenced the Convention. Persons with disabilities faced significant barriers to accessing justice. Persons with disabilities were twice as likely to not be receiving sufficient wages. Children with disabilities increasingly lived in poverty. Recommendations to ensure adequate income had yet to be addressed.
ALEX SCHRODER, Assistant Ombudsman, said that New Zealand needed to ensure that persons with disabilities had all they needed to enjoy their full rights. Persons with disabilities continued to experience violence and abuse, and undergo sterilisation without their informed consent. There had been progress in reviews of current legislation. However, the lack of progress on preventing forced sterilisation was unacceptable. New Zealand had much work to do to realise the rights of persons with disabilities. Making this a priority was the right thing to do.
Questions by Committee Experts
ROSEMARY KAYESS, Committee Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that the Committee welcomed initiatives such as the establishment of the abuse in care royal commission of inquiry; the prototype Enabling Good Lives project to transform disability support services; the Government inquiry into mental health and addiction; and the establishment of a dedicated Ministry of Disability that sat in the Cabinet. New Zealand had a proud history of promoting equality through most notably the Treaty of Waitangi and being the first country to give women the right to vote.
Did New Zealand recognise disability as a cross-cutting issue that was included in all Government portfolios? Did it ensure the engagement and consultation of people with disabilities and their representative organizations in all areas of Government?
What legislative and policy frameworks were in place to ensure that Māori people with disabilities were able to actively participate in decision-making processes, and that their right to self-determination was recognised?
SAMUEL KABUE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that good work had taken place in New Zealand, however, more was expected from the State regarding the realisation of the rights of persons with disabilities. Mr. Kabue asked about legislation and policies to prohibit discrimination through the denial of reasonable accommodation. What mechanisms were in place to file complaints and request redress in cases of such violations? What progress had been made by the Government in implementing the 2004 building act and the related building code? Had persons with disabilities been involved in the drafting of the accessibility for New Zealanders bill?
A Committee Expert asked about the adoption of legislative and administrative mechanisms to ensure that discriminatory customs and practices against persons with disabilities were prevented. What actions was the Government taking to combat negative stereotypes about persons with disabilities? What actions were directed to supporting the education of children with disabilities, especially indigenous persons with disabilities?
One Committee Expert asked if recommendations regarding accessibility had been implemented by Parliament.
Another Committee Expert asked about mechanisms to ensure that all policies and programmes in New Zealand were disability inclusive and gender sensitive.
A Committee Expert asked for information on early support measures for children with disabilities implemented before and during school.
Another Committee Expert said that stunted persons faced serious social stigma that prevented them from studying and socialising in school. Women and children of small stature were prone to sexual abuse. What measures had been adopted to promote the dignity and respect of persons with disabilities? What communication campaigns had been conducted to promote the dignity of persons with disabilities? What measures had been implemented to support persons with disabilities in accessing public transport, particularly for those of small stature?
A Committee Expert asked for information on how the Government would ensure that persons with disabilities were not unethically coerced regarding sterilisation and assisted death.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that the New Zealand disability strategy aimed to implement specialised support for persons with disabilities across all Government policies and portfolios. Increasingly, there was a focus on universal design in policies. Organizations of persons with disabilities were engaged in policy development procedures. The new Ministry for Disability Issues was required to engage with persons with disabilities on all Cabinet papers and provide advice to other Government agencies.
The human rights act 1993 and the New Zealand bill of rights protected the rights of persons with disabilities. Employers were obligated to reasonably accommodate persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities were more likely to experience discrimination. New Zealand had guidelines for reasonable accommodation. The Government had prioritised the amendment of the human rights act to prevent the incitement of hatred against persons with disabilities.
The Human Rights Commission had a human rights review tribunal, and legal aid was provided to access those tribunals. New Zealand had ratified the Optional Protocol, and thus persons could file complaints with the Committee.
The Ministry of Innovation, Business and Employment had developed a disability employment roadmap; however, the rollout of this roadmap had been delayed by the pandemic. The Government would continue to improve the accessibility of public buildings.
Under new accessibility legislation, an independent committee would report to the Government on cross-cutting accessibility issues and means of addressing those through policy. Persons with disabilities had the opportunity to review this legislation before it was presented to cabinet and present their views.
A new planning and reporting regime had been implemented for schools. Ninety-five per cent of children with disabilities attended local schools, which were required to be inclusive, meet the needs of all students, provide barrier-free access, and consult with the community on their sexual education programme every four years. In February 2022, a Governmental leadership team had created a strategy for protecting the rights of children with disabilities.
The Government was seeking to promote the greater participation of persons with disabilities in Government roles. The “Work Bridge” programme had been introduced to promote the employment of persons with disabilities.
The new Ministry for Disability Issues would lead on the strategic policy to remove barriers across Government for Māori persons with disabilities. Contingency funding was provided to promote capability building schemes and independent voice mechanisms for persons with disabilities in communities. Developing capacity for Māori persons with disabilities was a priority.
POTO WILLIAMS, Minister for Disability Issues of New Zealand and head of the delegation , said that live captioning and sign language translation had been introduced in parliamentary broadcasts. Barriers to the physical accessibility to parliament had been reviewed and were being removed. Information provided by the Government was required to be presented in accessible formats. Policy writers were required to consider the impact of policies on persons with disabilities and women.
The delegation said that comprehensive screening checks were carried out for children before school and at school entry. The identification of deafness now occurred at an average age of 18 months. This gave the opportunity for early support. Children identified as having significant impairments had access to early childhood services.
The State party had a three-year campaign called “Thinking Differently” that promoted the perspectives of persons with disabilities. Agencies were encouraged to develop disability awareness modules based on the Convention. Proposals had been submitted regarding the development of legislation prohibiting the incitement of hatred against persons with disabilities.
The New Zealand Transport Agency was working to ensure that transport was accessible for persons with disabilities. A tool to assess the impact of proposed changes had been developed. There was a subsidised transport scheme for persons with disabilities. The budget for the national transport fund had been increased to 76 million dollars. Around 89 per cent of urban buses were now fully accessible.
The Government recognised that the end-of-life choice act raised issues within the community. The Government had worked with persons with disabilities to ensure that their views were incorporated in the act. Assisted dying was only permitted if persons were able to make an informed decision on their death. Decisions by a guardian were not permitted. If medical practitioners suspected that pressure was being applied by any person, they would stop procedures. Evaluation of the legislation would investigate whether changes were required.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked about measures taken to eliminate non-consensual sterilisation practices and compensate victims.
Another Committee Expert asked about mechanisms to support accessibility of persons of small stature in banks and public facilities.
ROSEMARY KAYESS, Committee Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked how the human rights act addressed cross-cutting discrimination. The disability rights bill had been highly criticised, with critics saying that it would make no tangible changes. What was the delegation’s response to these claims?
A Committee Expert asked if the State party planned to amend legislation on female genital mutilation to ensure that it could not be used to justify unwanted surgery on children with disabilities. Were there plans to update disaster response strategies by consulting with persons with disabilities?
SAMUEL KABUE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that it was difficult for persons with disabilities to access the complaints tribunal. What was being done to address this? What measures were being implemented to ensure that police staff provided reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities in the justice system? How did the State plan to support persons with disabilities to live independently?
A Committee Expert asked for information on the status of legislation on adult decision-making capacity. What measures had been implemented to bring the 1992 mental health act into line with the Convention? How would the State party ensure that interventions, including hospitalisation of persons with disabilities, were conducted based on informed consent?
One Committee Expert said that in some schools, children with disabilities were removed from classes and placed in isolation. Was this a wide-spread practice? Adults with disabilities could face prolonged periods of incarceration without being convicted of a crime. What would be done to address this issue?
What data did the Government have about the use of growth attenuation procedures by New Zealanders? Was follow-up treatment for such procedures permitted?
A Committee Expert asked how many non-urgent, irreversible surgical procedures had been undertaken on intersex children before an age at which they could provide informed consent. What remedies were available for intersex people who had undergone involuntary sterilisation?
Another Committee Expert asked about measures to ensure that modern assistive technologies were available and affordable. What incentives were available to companies that produced these mobility aids?
One Committee Expert said the New Zealand immigration law set an acceptable standard of health requirements for migrants and some refugees. Such persons needed to prove that their presumed health, disability or education costs were unlikely to exceed a particular threshold. How did the State party justify the use of these standards?
ROSEMARY KAYESS, Committee Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur, said that a 2022 report on abusive care had called on the Government to make public its plans for creating a redress system. What progress had been made in this regard?
The Enabling Good Lives programme aimed to facilitate living independently in the community. How many people with disabilities would benefit from this scheme, and what cultural considerations had been made regarding Māori and Pasifika people?
A Committee Expert asked if persons with disabilities were actively participating in climate change prevention measures. What measures had the State party taken to reduce the number of persons with psychosocial disabilities detained in psychiatric hospitals?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that the State disability strategy had been developed over two years by an advisory group that included organizations of persons with disabilities and Māori persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities were interviewed in schools regarding the strategy. Every six months, Government agencies reported on their progress in implementing the strategy.
Capacity issues in the health system had limited the Government’s response regarding sterilisation. Under current legislation, non-consensual sterilisation was legal in cases where persons were unable to give consent and their health was at risk. The Government was making available safeguarding tools, improving training of practitioners, and looking into legislative options for banning non-therapeutic sterilisation.
New Zealand building standards were broad and did not specifically consider the needs of persons of small stature. Persons with disabilities had been consulted regarding building standards. However, the Government welcomed observations from the Committee on the matter.
Cabinet papers were reviewed to examine potential barriers created for persons with disabilities, alignment with the Convention, and consultation with persons with disabilities. Guidance was provided for persons with disabilities on policy issues, and accessible information on the policy was developed. The website of the Office for Disability Issues contained a toolkit that policymakers used to ensure that policies gave due consideration to persons with disabilities.
POTO WILLIAMS, Minister for Disability Issues of New Zealand and head of the delegation, said that the draft accessibility for New Zealanders bill was still open for feedback. The Government was consulting with persons with disabilities on the bill. The bill would establish a committee that would analyse accessibility issues, and independently monitor accessibility measures.
There were missed opportunities to ensure an equitable response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Advisory groups had been established to consider responses to crises for persons with disabilities. Weekly surveys on the risks that persons with disabilities faced during the pandemic were carried out. The Government had developed communications on COVID-19 in accessible formats. It was currently revising emergency response legislation to ensure appropriate support for persons with disabilities.
The delegation said that people with disabilities who committed crimes may be placed in rehabilitation centres for longer than the sentence that they had received. This was done to ensure the safety and health of the person involved. Cases were reviewed every six months, and if a person no longer needed rehabilitation support, they were released.
A communication assistance framework had been developed for persons with disabilities in court. The framework assessed the concerned person’s communication abilities, and provided aid tailored to the person’s needs. Around 1.1 million dollars had been invested in this service. All Ministry of Justice buildings were accessible, and all staff underwent a training module to learn about disability issues. Seventeen disability champions had been appointed in prisons, and a screening tool had been implemented to determine if prisoners had dyslexia.
The suitability of public housing to applicants’ needs was assessed. There was currently a shortage of one- and two-bedroom housing. The Government was working on securing more accessible housing. Accommodation supplements and moving assistance was provided to persons in need.
The Law Commission had established an advisory group of persons with disabilities for the review of adult decision-making capacity law. Deliberations would begin this month and would conclude at the end of 2023.
An independent review had found that the mental health act did not reflect best practice or align with international standards. A review of this act was now underway. An amendment to prevent compulsory treatment orders lasting over a year would come into force later this year. The legislation would also be revised to ban unnecessary restraint and seclusion. A system was also being developed to provide guidance to the mental health sector on how to respond to the community’s needs.
Immigration officials were required to treat all applicants equally before the law. Having an impairment did not necessarily mean that their application would be rejected. However, the cost of their care was considered by the Government.
The interim report on redress outlined harm experienced by persons with disabilities who stayed in State or faith-based care. The future redress system would facilitate acknowledgement and apologies from the relevant institutions and instigate financial compensation. There was a need to change from a settlement-based redress process to a survivor-based process. The Government was consulting with survivors in designing a new redress system. An online advisory group had also been established to inform the review process.
Around 100 million dollars had been committed to the Enabling Good Lives initiative. This initiative gave persons with disabilities increased living options. Up to 40,000 people would directly benefit from living support payments. A new approach to commissioning in-home support was also being developed as part of the initiative.
Contract providers of residential care were subject to multiple monitoring and evaluation services, and were required to be certified by the Government. The Government accepted complaints about residential care, as did the Human Rights Commission. The Government was continuing to improve complaint procedures to ensure that they were accessible to persons with disabilities. It was also working to proactively identify abuse and make effective responses.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked whether New Zealand would commit to eliminating all forms of compulsory psychiatric treatment. Were there any plans to eliminate the use of solitary confinement? Would the State party change the discriminatory definition of “mental disorders” in legislation? What measures were in place to eliminate family violence against persons with disabilities?
Another Committee Expert said that the Government had rejected the Human Rights Commission’s recommendations to repeal discriminatory measures in immigration policy. There was no reason for discriminating against persons with disabilities in immigration policy. Would the State party re-evaluate its position on immigration procedures?
One Committee Expert asked about measures to help children with disabilities to feel comfortable in schools. Many Māori persons with disabilities faced poverty. What was being done to support these persons?
A Committee Expert asked about mechanisms to collect data while protecting the privacy of persons with disabilities.
SAMUEL KABUE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked for information on measures to ensure that the privacy of persons with disabilities was respected in medical institutions. What measures were taken to prevent discrimination of persons who had disabilities from an early age? What measures were in place to ensure that places of leisure were accessible for persons with disabilities? Why had the State party withdrawn from the Pacific Disability Forum?
A Committee Expert asked if persons with disabilities were provided with training on sexual and reproductive health.
Another Committee Expert asked about measures to increase the use of sign language in all aspects of life, and to improve training of sign-language interpreters. What measures were in place to make television content and other digital content more accessible? What measures were being taken to introduce electronic voting, and to allow persons with disabilities to stand for elections and hold office?
One Committee Expert asked if the copyright amendment bill had been approved by the Parliament? Had the election access fund bill been approved by the Parliament and could candidates with a disability now access funding for election campaigns?
A Committee Expert asked about financial and human resources allocated to strengthen higher education for persons with disabilities. What efforts were being made to promote the employment of persons of small stature and women with disabilities?
Another Committee Expert asked if the State party planned to phase out all special education for children with disabilities, enrolment in which had recently increased.
One Committee Expert asked about measures to improve access to health for women, girls and indigenous persons with disabilities. How would health services be provided within rural communities?
A Committee Expert asked about measures to guarantee access to food, housing, clothing, drinking water and social protection for Māori persons with disabilities. To what extent were institutions such as the Ombudsman independent?
ROSEMARY KAYESS, Committee Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked about measures to ensure that persons with rare health conditions were included in disability policy. Why had recommendations of the independent health care advisory group not been addressed by the Government? Did the State party issue financial resources to support organizations of persons with disabilities? The Government was allegedly not incorporating the recommendations of monitoring bodies into its policy or its disability action plan. Had the State party worked to respond to these bodies’ recommendations?
A Committee Expert said that women with disabilities were subjected to multiple forms of discrimination. Were these women eligible for social welfare and integration programmes?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that 99.5 per cent of students with disabilities were in mainstream schools. Funding was provided to all schools to support learners with disabilities in regular classrooms. Funding varied depending on the needs of students. Guidance was provided on dealing with bullying and technology support was also provided. Teachers were provided with training on supporting children with disabilities, and specialised learning support coordinators were placed in over 1,000 schools.
Changes to residential school enrolment criteria were being considered to make these schools more accessible. Ideally, over time the Government would work toward all students being placed in normal schools. However, specialist schools allowed for the support of students in their home environment.
The Government was in the initial stages of assessing the number of students with disabilities in tertiary education. The State was working to review vocational training, and had provided funding for persons with disabilities to attend vocational training.
New Zealand had a Health and Disability Commissioner, and all citizens could make complaints to the Commissioner. The Government aimed to develop a strategy for equitable access to health services.
The Government had established a project to reduce the use of outdated medicines. Māori with disabilities were being consulted on the creation of a data service to monitor health service provisions and identify barriers to access. Reforms had recently been implemented to improve health outcomes for Māori with disabilities. There were also health strategies in place for women and rural persons with disabilities.
The accident compensation system and welfare system had different approaches. The accident compensation system was funded by employers, while the welfare system was funded by the State. The Government was considering aligning these two systems.
There was a disability allowance and a child disability allowance, and a temporary additional support scheme. The recommendations of the 2019 welfare advisory support report were wide-ranging and could not be implemented immediately. Priority recommendations would be implemented in stages. The Government had increased benefit rates since 2019, as well as accommodation assistance. Employment supports and tax supports had also been implemented. Welfare recipients were 130 dollars per week better off now compared with 2018.
The Government was working to move away from the minimum wage exemption policy, but there were around 100 employers with this exemption. The Government intended to implement wage supplements for persons working for such employers, and would work to reduce the segregation of employees.
The electoral act had various provisions to support persons with disabilities. A phone dictation service was provided for blind voters in New Zealand. Information about local and general elections was provided in accessible formats. A 3.3 million dollar fund had been established to support persons with disabilities in running for elections.
The Government allocated funding to organizations of persons with disabilities. An additional 200,000 dollars had been allocated for funding in 2019. Research into disability issues was also funded. Such organizations were invited to consult with the Government on disability policy.
There was a charity organization that aimed to increase access to the arts for persons with disabilities. This organization provided audio descriptions for events and provided art programmes for people in prisons.
Census and disability survey data was disaggregated based on disability and gender. The disability data working group provided advice on data collection and drafted questions. There were strong legal frameworks to protect individuals’ privacy.
In June 2019, the Minister for Disability Issues made a commitment to continue to work with the Pacific Disability Forum. Funding continued to be provided for this Forum. Half of the 2.25 billion dollars that New Zealand invested in development assistance was focused on human rights, including disability.
The Independent Monitoring Mechanism, the Human Rights Commission and the Ombudsman were independent organizations but received Government funding and could report to the Government. Five concluding observations of the Committee had been fully implemented, and progress had been made on the remainder, with two exceptions. Progress had not been made on all the Independent Monitoring Mechanism’s recommendations, but the Government had reported on its progress.
In 2017, the New Zealand Sign Language Board was established, and 1.6 million dollars was invested in projects to promote the wide-spread use of New Zealand sign language. All members of the Board were sign-language users. A service was also in place to produce information from the Government in accessible formats. Demand for these formats continued to exceed capacity, and so more funding would be provided to increase the capacity of this service.
Guidelines were in place to ensure that persons with disabilities received education on reproductive health. Information on reproductive health was available in accessible formats. The curriculum was currently undergoing a review, and adaptions were being made to further support students with disabilities.
Current disability support services may be available for people with rare illnesses. The Government recognised that eligibility criteria needed to be updated to ensure that persons with illnesses such as foetal alcohol spectrum disorder received appropriate support.
The Ministry of Health was developing guidelines to reduce or eliminate restraint and seclusion practices. Guidelines had been updated in 2020 to ensure the safe practice of seclusion when it could not be avoided. Data was collected on the use of seclusion in psychiatric hospitals.
Persons with disabilities were actively involved in creating strategies to eliminate family and sexual violence, and were monitoring their implementation.
POTO WILLIAMS, Minister for Disability Issues of New Zealand and head of the delegation, said that New Zealand had made meaningful progress, but there was much more to do. The dialogue had been robust, and the Committee members had conducted careful research. Expectations on New Zealand were high, as they should be. The Government would continue to work with civil society to implement reform. Work to create enabling societies was important, and persons with disabilities were at the heart of this work. New Zealand was committed to upholding the provisions of the Convention. “We gather to learn, nourish and flourish. Here we stand together” she concluded.
ALEX SCHRODER, Assistant Ombudsman, said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, many persons with disabilities and their families had had their usual support cut, and could not access essential goods and services, such as food and education. The Government needed to ensure that service providers continued to provide essential services during emergency situations. The establishment of the Ministry for Disabled People was a promising development, but it needed to be resourced adequately and to encourage cross-agency efforts. The entire Government needed to take ownership of New Zealand’s responsibilities under the Convention.
ESTHER WOODBURY, New Zealand Human Rights Commission, said that, despite considerable efforts by the Government, discrimination, inequality, poverty and poor outcomes remained the reality for far too many persons with disabilities, especially for Māori with disabilities. The Government needed to uphold the rights of Māori persons with disabilities; dismantle legal frameworks that allowed for substitute decision-making and forced treatments; improve access to justice; and prioritise persons with disabilities in welfare reform.
JONATHAN GODFREY, Chair of New Zealand’s Independent Monitoring Mechanism, said that New Zealand appeared at the top of the United Nations symbol, but it was questionable whether New Zealand was at the top in terms of its implementation of the Convention. The lives, experiences, and voices of New Zealanders with disabilities mattered. Mr. Godfrey called on the State party to do more to implement the Convention. He sought equality of rights and outcomes for persons with disabilities in New Zealand and worldwide.
SAMUEL KABUE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, expressed gratitude to the delegation for the constructive dialogue. There was good will to implement the Convention, and with combined effort, this would be achievable. The realisation of the rights of persons with disabilities was a continuous process. There were areas that needed urgent attention, including the meaningful participation of persons with disabilities in developing policies that affected them; raising awareness and creating a positive image of persons with disabilities; ensuring access to the built environment; supporting persons with disabilities to live independently; making inclusive education a reality for all children; addressing the problem of minimum wage exemption; and taking seriously adequate standards of living for persons with disabilities.
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