15 Sep 2014

UN scrutiny for treatment of disabled

10:52 am on 15 September 2014

New Zealand's treatment of people with disabilities is to be scrutinised by the United Nations for the first time.

Wheelchair sign


The government's attitude towards disabled people and the work it's doing to uphold their rights is being examined today in Geneva, and advocates for the disabled warn the country may be found wanting.

In 2008, New Zealand ratified the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, a human rights convention that seeks to protect and enhance the rights of all disabled people.

One in four people in New Zealand identifies as having a disability.

The UN's 18-member committee of experts will quiz the official New Zealand delegation on what progress has been made to implement the convention. It has also been talking to disabled persons' organisations (DPO).

Victoria Manning, who is leading the DPO delegation to Geneva, questions the government's commitment to the convention.

"Yeah, it looks like the New Zealand Government has some good intentions and wants to do good things but the real hard core commitment seems to be missing," she said.

She has written a report to the UN on behalf of seven national DPOs which includes more than 50 recommendations for action and change.

Ms Manning said the staggering thing was there was nothing new in the report as all the recommendations had been made before.

"We've said it again and again and again and things haven't changed. So we are saying progress is too slow and not enough and we are not accepting that anymore. We want you to put more pressure on our government to give us better lives like other New Zealanders have."

Looking for improvement

Australian Ron McCallum is a member of the UN committee and said it was particularly interested in issues such as violence against women and girls with disabilities, access to justice, health services, education and employment and the health of indigenous people with disabilities.

"We don't seek to harangue countries. We think that all countries can improve, even a country with a good record like New Zealand," Mr McCallum said.

"But of course the caveat to that is, if you are a well organised society with wealth, one can expect more of you than a society that is in the midst of war or turbulence."

The committee would come up with a list of recommendations for New Zealand, he said.

"We're dealing with a rule and law abiding country and we will expect the government of New Zealand will examine our recommendations with great care and will do its best to implement as many recommendations as it sees fit."

The government has sent representatives from a number of its ministries to appear in front of the committee.

Sacha O'Dea, from the Ministry for Social Development, said she was looking forward to hearing what the committee believed New Zealand was doing well.

"We are doing a lot of really good things but it will be really useful to get information from experts around what they think we need to do better and that will help us shape our programme going forward and ultimately improve the outcomes for disabled people."

The UN committee's observations about New Zealand, and its recommendations, are due out at the beginning of next month.

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