Call to review human rights law

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt speaks at the University of Otago Union Hall yesterday....
Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt speaks at the University of Otago Union Hall yesterday. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
New Zealand's human rights laws must be overhauled in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack, chief human rights commissioner Paul Hunt says.

Speaking at a University of Otago event yesterday as part of its "Give nothing to racism" campaign, Prof Hunt said there were grave anomalies in the patchwork of laws which cover discrimination.

"The Human Rights Act prohibits the incitement of disharmony on the basis of a person's race, ethnicity, colour or nation of origin, but it does not cover incitement for reasons of religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

"Why on earth not?"

Following the shootings, New Zealand also needed to have a mature, sensible conversation about racism, Prof Hunt told an audience of more than 350 people.

"New Zealand is a well-established democracy, and it should have the maturity to recognise that it has major human rights problems.

"When I took up the position of chief human rights commissioner a few weeks ago I felt a sense of complacency in New Zealand about the country's human rights situation.

"Because of last week's attacks, I hope that complacency has now evaporated, and it is no longer treasonable to ask `what are New Zealand's major human rights problems?"'

The office of race relations commissioner has been vacant for nine months due to legal action by an unsuccessful applicant for the post, but it has been recently readvertised by the Government.

"The role is extremely important and I am very much looking forward to an appointment being made as soon as possible," Prof Hunt said.

Prof Hunt was part of a team from the commission which was in Christchurch following the shootings, to help and offer support.

"We encountered a sense of unity across the Muslim community ... they did not have a bad word for New Zealand, just the reverse - despite everything, they loved the place.

"Despite their trauma and exhaustion, they had enormous dignity."

Earlier, Otago vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne said when the university scheduled its "Give nothing to racism" week, it could not have known how poignant and important the week would end up becoming.

She said each year she challenged every first-year student to be a superhero and call out and challenge racism and discrimination.

"Today I extend that challenge to all of us - students, staff and members of the wider community.

"It is now time for all of us to act like a superhero, and make a collective commitment to give nothing to racism."

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