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Rights that are recognised internationally: The UN Disability Convention


Case: [2011] NZCA 20

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.

Disability (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) Act 2008

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

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Disability rights

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Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and information.

Auckland Disability Law



ADL provides assistance and referrals to disabled people on their legal issues, and work with other Community Law Centres, legal professionals and community organisations to raise disability awareness and achieve the best outcome for disabled people.

Office for Disability Issues


The Office for Disability Issues is the focal point in government on disability issues.

Human Rights Commission


This page on the HRC website focuses on the Commission’s work around both individual and systemic disability discrimination. There are resources available in multiple accessible formats.

Health and Disability Commissioner


Phone: 0800 11 22 33
Email: hdc@hdc.org.nz

The Health and Disability Commissioner has a range of pamphlets and other information on health and disability issues.

Contact a Health and Disability Advocate

Phone: 0800 555 050

Make a complaint to the Commissioner

Phone: 0800 11 22 33
Email: hdc@hdc.org.nz

PO Box 1791, Auckland

You can make a complaint by phoning the Commissioner’s office toll-free, by email, by filling in the online complaint form or by writing to them.

Ministry of Health Services and Support


Publicly funded health and disability services available in New Zealand.

Disabled Persons Assembly


The DPA is a pan-disability organisation. DPA works to improve social indicators for disabled people and for disabled people be recognised as valued members of society. DPA and its members work with the wider disability community, other disabled persons’ organisations, government agencies, service providers, international disability organisations and the public.

People First


People First New Zealand is a self-advocacy organisation that is led and directed by people with learning (intellectual) disability. People First has a free Disability Information and Advice Service and they also produce legal resources in Easy Read form which are free to download from their website.

Deaf Aotearoa


Deaf Aotearoa is a national organisation representing the voice of Deaf people, and the national service provider for Deaf people in New Zealand.

Deaf Aotearoa also works closely with Deaf communities, government agencies and other organisations to increase awareness, promote New Zealand Sign Language and strengthen the rights of Deaf people.

Family Violence – It’s Not OK


Phone: 0800 456 450

“It’s not OK” is a community-driven behaviour change campaign to reduce family violence in New Zealand. Its goal is to change attitudes and behaviour that tolerate any kind of family violence. The website has resources for families who are experiencing abuse. It’s not OK is an initiative housed within the Ministry of Social Development.

Family violence and disabled people


Inclusive Education


This site provides New Zealand educators with practical strategies, suggestions and resources to support the diverse needs of all learners.

Attitude Toolbox: The Whole Truth about Courts and Justice


This accessible video has information about the New Zealand justice system and courts. The video is presented in New Zealand Sign Language and fully subtitled in English.

New Zealand Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal


This Tribunal hears and determines disciplinary proceedings brought against health practitioners.

Public Trust


Public Trust is New Zealand’s largest provider of Wills and estate administration services.

Te Rōpū Taurima


Te Rōpū Taurima is a kaupapa Māori service that supports people of all ethnicities with intellectual impairments around New Zealand.

Le Va


Le Va supports Pasifika families and communities to unleash their full potential and have the best possible health and wellbeing outcomes.

Blind Low Vision NZ

(previously called Blind Foundation)


Blind Low Vision NZ is New Zealand’s main provider of support to New Zealanders who are blind or have low vision.



Phone: 0800 24 33 33

Achieve is a national network established to ensure equal opportunity and access to post-secondary education and training for people with impairments.

Privacy Commissioner


Phone: 0800 803 909
Email: enquiries@privacy.org.nz

You can download the pamphlet “Your Health Information: Know Your Privacy Rights” from the Privacy Commissioner’s website, at: www.privacy.org.nz

You can also download a copy of the Health Information Privacy Code from: www.privacy.org.nz/the-privacy-act-and-codes/codes-of-practice/health-information-privacy-code-1994

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