The New Zealand Government remains committed to ensuring the fulfilment of the rights of indigenous people. That commitment was reiterated recently in Geneva when New Zealand welcomed the report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous peoples in New Zealand.
New Zealand appreciated the Special Rapporteur’s identification of progress made as well as problems still to be addressed. The Government is already acting on many of his recommendations and will continue to draw on the Report over time.
As we have sought to address our challenges, New Zealand has benefited from the experiences of others. The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues provides a valuable opportunity for informative discussions on a wide range of topics. At the 10th Forum in May 2011, we took careful note of the discussion on the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (WCIP) to be held in 2014. The World Conference will be a significant occasion and as we turn our attention to the modalities of the meeting it will be important that we ensure that there is meaningful indigenous participation in the planning and holding of the Conference.
At the centre of the relationship between the Government and Māori is the Treaty of Waitangi. The New Zealand Government is committed to resolving outstanding historical grievances under the Treaty of Waitangi and has set the goal of completing this work by 2014. More progress is being made through the settlement process now than at any other time since the process began in the mid-1990s. The majority of iwi (tribes) have either completed settlement, reached major settlement milestones or are taking part in the mandating and negotiation processes.
New Zealand has this year taken steps to address concerns about customary rights over the marine and coastal area. Parliament has enacted the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011. The new Act follows extensive consultation with all New Zealanders, including Māori, about how best to achieve an equitable balance of rights and interests in the coastal marine area. It also reflects express consideration of international human rights standards relevant to such customary claims. The new Act removes Crown ownership over marine and coastal areas, restoring customary interests and giving them legal expression.
We harbour no illusions about the significant challenges that still remain regarding the situation of Māori in New Zealand. Māori are significantly over-represented in the criminal justice system, both as offenders and victims, and generally have a lower socio-economic status and poorer health than the rest of the population. We are committed to meeting those challenges through the spirit of discourse and partnership that form the foundation of New Zealand.