Rights that are recognised internationally: The UN Disability Convention
What does the Disability Convention mean for disabled people in New Zealand?
“The United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities”, or “UNCRPD” is an important international treaty New Zealand has signed up to. We’ll usually just call it “the UN Disability Convention” for short.
When New Zealand signed up to the UN Disability Convention, we agreed to reform the law and do other things to put the rights in the Convention into effect. The Convention gives guidance on how to implement the rights of disabled people, and also requires our government to report regularly to a special UN Committee. In this overview, we outline what influence the Convention has in New Zealand.
First, in 2016, New Zealand signed up to “the Optional Protocol” to the Convention. This means that a disabled person in New Zealand can take a case to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is different to going to the New Zealand courts about your rights under the Convention, which you can’t do. See below, “Enforcing your rights under the Disability Convention”.
Second, one of the stated purposes of the Human Rights Act 1993, New Zealand’s main anti-discrimination law, is to provide protection for human rights in New Zealand in line with with relevant UN conventions. This includes the Disability Convention.
In an important discrimination case in one of New Zealand’s highest courts, that statement in the Human Rights Act was referred to by the judges when they were interpreting that Act. They said that the statement placed a duty on employers, shops, universities and so on to make reasonable adjustments so that disabled people have equal access. This is the idea of “reasonable accommodation”, which the judges drew from the Human Rights Act.
Third, after New Zealand signed up to the UN Disability Convention in 2008, Parliament passed an Act that removed or changed a number of laws – mostly old ones – that were inconsistent with the Convention. For example, there was a rule in our benefit laws (in the Social Security Act) that said you could be paid a lower benefit than other people if you weren’t able “to appreciate the payments”. This has now been changed.
So, the UN Disability Convention is something that’s still relevant and important in the New Zealand context, even though it’s not what lawyers would describe as being “directly enforceable” in our courts. That is, even though you can’t bring a case about your rights under the Convention, it can affect how judges interpret New Zealand law.
Note: You can read or listen to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (the UNCRPD) in different formats on the Office for Disability Issues website: www.odi.govt.nz/united-nations-convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/read-the-convention