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NZ: UN says criminal justice system institutionally racist against Māori

The UN has found systemic bias against Māori for the fifth time. Image:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Item: 8551

AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch / SBS):  The United Nations has found institutional racism against Māori in the New Zealand criminal justice system  - for the fifth time.

Following a two-week visit to New Zealand, the UN Working Party on Arbitrary Detention found systemic bias against Māori at all levels of the criminal justice system. It said there must be a review into the bias against Māori, and noted that four previous reports by the UN had found the justice system to be biased against Māori.

The UN Working Party identified a host of other problems with the NZ criminal justice system including one with the Public Safety (Public Protections Orders) Bill which is  currently before Parliament. This proposed new law breached international law because prisoners who have served their sentence cannot be further detained under the label of civil preventive detention.

It also found that 17-year-old offenders continue to be treated as adults, despite recommendation from the UN that the protection measures available under the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989 be extended to this age group. There were also not enough protective measures in place for people with intellectual disabilities who were detained.

Responding to the UN Working Party's statement, Police and Corrections Minister Anne Tolley told SBS news that it was already known that "far too many Māori" were incarcerated, but she did not give a reason for this, saying only: "I don't think there's a simple answer to that".

She later told Radio New Zealand that there was no evidence of institutional racism in New Zealand's criminal justice system. But Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell told Radio New Zealand that the whole criminal justice system was racist and needed to be reviewed.

Dr Ronald Kramer of Auckland University's sociology department told Pacific Media Watch that "it is important to remember that criminal justice systems always operate in broader economic, cultural,and political contexts, and these forces constrain their activities. Until we start addressing problems such as rampant inequality, racist attitudes and practices, and an overly punitive political culture, we will see the same patterns again and again".

Kim Workman, spokesperson for the advocacy group Rethinking Crime and Punishment said New Zealand’s reputation had taken "a serious battering" following the UN findings.

Workman pointed out that apart from finding systemic bias against Māori, the UN statement had also found the 2005 Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act 2005 to be in breach of international law. 

"This Act prevents a prisoner who makes a successful claim against the Crown, from keeping any compensation received" which is unlawful under international law, Workman said.


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About the authors

PMC profile photograph

Anna Majavu

PMW contributing editor 2014

Anna Majavu is the Pacific Media Watch freedom project contributing editor for 2014.

PMC profile photograph

Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators.
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Unfairness of justice system on Maori

If Maori people get support from UN like this, it could lead to troubled times for NZ. Any race of people can only take so much. Nelson Mandela, Malcom X, Martin Luther King. We should all be weary of this. There will be nothing done though. It's all downhill from here. Is it not so funny though when you look at Maori populations in other countries, like Aussie for example. They number at the lowest percentage rate in Aussie prisons!

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