Home | Browse Topics | Health & disability | Disability rights | Enforcing your rights under the UN Disability Convention

Health & disability

Rights that are recognised internationally: The UN Disability Convention

Enforcing your rights under the UN Disability Convention

What can I do if my rights under the UN Disability Convention have been breached?

You can complain to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (we call this the “UN Committee”).

The UN Committee is made up of 18 people are who human rights experts.

The UN Committee can’t order the New Zealand government to do particular things, but it can make recommendations. The Committee’s recommendations are important. The UN monitors whether a particular government has followed these recommendations.

How do I make a complaint to the Committee?

The Office of the Ombudsman has created a guide that explains how to make a complaint to the UN Committee. The guide is available in te reo Māori, in Easy Read, as a video with New Zealand Sign Language, and as an audio file.

Go to the Ombudsman website, here (or go to ombudsman.parliament.nz navigate to “Fair Treatment for disabled people” and select “making complaints to the UN Disability Committee” near the bottom of the page).

Explore your options to complain in New Zealand before complaining to the UN Committee

Before you complain to the UN Committee, you should try explore the options you have available in New Zealand. For example, if you can go through the New Zealand court system, or tell relevant national authorities about your complaint (such as the Human Rights Commission), you should do that first.

If these options aren’t realistic (for example, if it would take an unreasonable amount of time, or if it’s unlikely to be effective or successful), you can go straight to the UN Committee.

For example, in the Australian case discussed below, the people who complained to the UN Committee didn’t have to go through Australia’s court systems first because, due to some specific exceptions in the law, their case would not have been successful. The UN Committee agreed to hear their complaint without them having to go through the Australian courts first.

What options do I have to complain in New Zealand?

You can go to:

  • the Ombudsman – their recommendations are taken seriously, and government agencies usually follow them. For more information about the Ombudsman, see: “The Ombudsman: Watchdogs over government”.
  • the Human Rights Commission – like the UN Committee, they can’t order the government to do things, but they can put some significant pressure on it. For more information about the Human Rights Commission, see: “Going to the Human Rights Commission”.

How long will it take to go to the UN Committee, and what might happen?

It’s a slow process that takes several years. If you succeed in your complaint, the UN Committee can make recommendations to the government. Technically, the government doesn’t have to follow these recommendations, but in practice they are expected to.

The New Zealand government’s Office for Disability Issues says that by signing up to the Optional Protocol, national governments have accepted that they usually should “respect the Committee’s findings”.

There’s also a monitoring process so that the UN can check up on whether a government has followed the recommendations.

Example: Complaining to the United Nations under the Disability Convention

Cases: Beasley v Australia CRPD/C/15/D/11/2013 – Lockrey v Australia CRPD/C/15/D/13/2013

Although this case was Australian, it’s useful for us to know about it in New Zealand, as it shows what kinds of cases the UN Committee will consider.

Two members of the Australian Deaf community, Gemma Beasley and Michael Lockrey, were rejected for jury service in Australia because of their impairment. They complained about it to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The two people, both represented by the Australian Centre for Disability Law, brought separate but very similar complaints, and the UN Committee upheld both of them.

This took three years, from bringing the complaints in April 2013, to the Committee’s decision in April 2016.

Gemma Beasley requires Australian Sign Language (Auslan) interpreting, while Michael Lockrey requires real-time steno-captioning. In Australia, both were told that the court and jury systems couldn’t accommodate them. They complained to the UN that this was a breach of their right to equal recognition before the law, as guaranteed under article 12 of the Disability Convention.

The first hurdle: Had they exhausted all their options under Australian law?

The UN Committee can’t consider a complaint if the person complaining still has options they can pursue using the courts and official authorities in their particular country.

In Beasley’s and Lockrey’s case, the Australian government argued that that rule prevented the UN Committee hearing their complaint, because the two could still take a case under Australia’s own discrimination laws through to the top Australian courts. But the two complainants said they’d been told by lawyers they didn’t have any reasonable chance of succeeding, because of the exceptions in Australia’s discrimination laws that cover a “public duty or obligation” like jury duty.

The UN Committee agreed with the Deaf complainants, who had essentially objected that they shouldn’t have to waste a lot of time and money taking cases through the Australian court system that had little chance of success.

Had the Australian government made “reasonable accommodations”?

The Australian government claimed they had made reasonable accommodations for Deaf people doing jury duty. The UN Committee wasn’t impressed by this claim, and said the government hadn’t provided any details or evidence to back it up.

The Committee said the adjustments made so far did not enable the complainants to participate equally on juries. The Committee noted that Auslan interpreting is a common accommodation, often used by Australian deaf people in their daily lives, and that steno-captioning is not a novelty either. The government had refused to provide Auslan interpreting or steno-captioning without thoroughly assessing whether that would mean a “disproportionate or undue burden” (in other words, an unreasonable accommodation). This amounted to disability-based discrimination, and so it breached the UN Disability Convention.

What did the UN Committee’s decision mean in practice?

The UN Committee can only make recommendations about what should happen. It recommended that the Australian government enable the complainants to participate in jury duty, providing them with reasonable accommodation in the form of Auslan interpreting and steno-captioning at all stages of jury selection and the court process. It also recommended it reimburse the complainants for their legal costs, and pay them some compensation.

Note: In New Zealand, the court system provides support to Deaf people to enable them to serve on juries. The court staff can arrange a sign language interpreter for you, or give you a seat near the witness or judge, or arrange sound reinforcement. You will need to contact the courts in advance to arrange this. You can call them using the “NZ Relay” system, which provides various ways for Deaf or hearing-impaired people (as well as Deafblind and speech-impaired people) to communicate with others. The court system also provides support for other disabilities – for example, providing documents in other formats (like Braille or bigger type) if you’re vision-impaired, or using an accessible court room if you’re mobility-impaired.

Did this answer your question?

Disability rights

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Auckland Disability Law (ADL) provides free legal services to disabled people associated with their disability related legal issues. ADL is the only specialist disability law community law centre in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Website: www.aucklanddisabilitylaw.org.nz/
Email: info@adl.org.nz
Phone:  09 257 5140
Text only: 027 457 5140

Disabled Persons Assembly

DPA is a pan-disability organisation run by and for disabled people. DPA and its members work with the wider disability community, other disabled persons’ organisations, government agencies, service providers, international disability organisations and the public.

Website: www.dpa.org.nz
Email: info@adl.org.nz
Phone:  04 801 9100
Facebook: www.facebook.com/dpa.nz.7

Nationwide Health & Disability Advocacy Service

The Nationwide Health & Disability Advocacy Service offers free, independent, and confidential advice to support you in resolving issues with health and disability services.

Website: www.advocacy.org.nz
Email: advocacy@advocacy.org.nz
Phone:  0800 555 050

Le Va

Le Va is working with Manatū Hauora/Ministry of Health to support Pasifika people with disabilities and their families.

Website: www.leva.co.nz/our-work/disability-support
Email: admin@leva.co.nz
Phone:  09 261 4390
Instagram: www.instagram.com/Levapasifika
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/LeVaPasifika

Te Rōpū Taurima

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

Website: www.terooputaurima.org.nz
Email: info@terooputaurima.org.nz

People First New Zealand

People First New Zealand is a self-advocacy organisation that is led and directed by people with learning disabilities.

Website: www.peoplefirst.org.nz
Email: ask@peoplefirst.org.nz
Phone:  0800 20 60 70

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.

Website: www.deaf.org.nz
Email: hello@deaf.org.nz
Phone:  0800 33 23 22
Freetext:  8223
Instagram: www.instagram.com/DeafAotearoa
Facebook: www.facebook.com/deafaotearoanz

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.

Website: www.blindlowvision.org.nz
Email: generalenquiries@blindlowvision.org.nz
Phone:  0800 24 33 33
Instagram: www.instagram.com/BlindLowVisionNZ
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/BlindLowVisionNZ

Sign Language video about the courts and justice



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

Website: www.achieve.org.nz
Email: info@achieve.org.nz
Phone:  03 479 8235

Inclusive Education

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

Website: www.inclusive.tki.org.nz
Email: inclusive@tki.org.nz

Government Agencies

Whaikaha/Ministry for Disabled

Whaikaha is the Ministry for Disabled People. On the website, it contains information about how to access support and funding and has a directory of advisory services.

Website: www.whaikaha.govt.nz
Email: contact@whaikaha.govt.nz
Phone:  0800 566 601
Text: 4206
Communication can also be made through NZ Relay Calls

Health and Disability Commissioner

The Health and Disability Commissioner website sets out your rights under the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights and how you can make a complaint to the Commissioner.

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

To make a complaint online: www.hdc.org.nz/making-a-complaint/make-a-complaint-to-hdc

Office for Disabled

The Office for Disabled is administered by a small team from Whaikaha, and works closely with government agencies and the disability sector to make the best decisions for disabled people.

Website: www.odi.govt.nz
Email: office_for_disability_issues@whaikaha.govt.nz
Phone:  0800 566 601

Ministry of Health Services and Support

Website: www.health.govt.nz/your-health/services-and-support

Te Kāhui Tika Tangata/Human Rights Commission

The Human Rights Commission website provides information about human rights in Aotearoa and outlines how you can make a complaint to the Commission about individual or systemic disability discrimination.

Website: www.tikatangata.org.nz/ or www.hrc.co.nz
Email: infoline@hrc.co.nz
Phone:  0800 496 877 (0800 4 YOUR RIGHTS)

To make a complaint online, download a complaint form or find out more about the complaints process: www.tikatangata.org.nz/resources-and-support/make-a-complaint

Privacy Commissioner

The Privacy Commissioner website provides information about your rights and responsibilities under the Privacy Act 2020 and the Privacy Principles. It also outlines the role of the Privacy Commissioner and how to make a privacy complaint.

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

To make a complaint: www.privacy.org.nz/your-rights/making-a-complaint

Also available as a book

The Community Law Manual

The Manual contains over 1000 pages of easy-to-read legal info and comprehensive answers to common legal questions. From ACC to family law, health & disability, jobs, benefits & flats, Tāonga Māori, immigration and refugee law and much more, the Manual covers just about every area of community and personal life.

Buy The Community Law Manual

Help the manual

We’re a small team that relies on the generosity of all our supporters. You can make a one-off donation or become a supporter by sponsoring the Manual for a community organisation near you. Every contribution helps us to continue updating and improving our legal information, year after year.

Donate Become a Supporter

Find the Answer to your Legal Question

back to top