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Rights that are recognised internationally: The UN Disability Convention

Enforcing your rights under the 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 (“the Committee”).

The Committee can’t order the New Zealand government to do particular things, it can only make recommendations. But the Committee’s decisions and recommendations are important and the UN monitors whethera particular government has actually donewhat the Committee has recommended. The Committee is made up of 18 independent human rights experts.

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 Disability Committee. You can access the guide as a written document, or you can watch the video of how to make a complaint in New Zealand Sign Language or listen to the audio guide: www.ombudsman.parliament.nz/resources-and-publications/guides/disability-rights-guides

When you can’t complain to the UN under the Disability Convention

You can’t complain to the UN if you still have some options that you can pursue in New Zealand – for example, by using the New Zealand court system and bringing the issue to the attention of all the relevant national authorities (like our Human Rights Commission). But the Convention says you don’t have to try to pursue these domestic options if the process would be “unreasonably prolonged or unlikely to bring effective relief”. You also don’t have to pursue these options if they don’t have a reasonable chance of success.

For example, in the Australian case discussed below, the Australian government argued to the Committee that the people who had complained (called “the complainants”) could have taken a case under Australia’s federal anti-discrimination laws up through Australia’s federal court system. But the complainants’ lawyers had told the complainants that those discrimination laws wouldn’t protect them, because of some specific exceptions. The UN Committee agreed with them that they shouldn’t have been expected to take this case through the Australian courts with no reasonable hope of success. So the Committee went on to consider the complaint, with a good outcome for the complainants (see below).

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 and the government will be expected to follow the recommendations. But it doesn’t mean that the government is bound to the recommendations.

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 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.

Other ways of enforcing your rights under the Disability Convention

As well as going to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, there are some other bodies in New Zealand that play a kind of watchdog role over the New Zealand Government and the Disability Convention – namely the Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission. Like the UN Committee, they can’t order the New Zealand Government to do things, but they can put some significant pressure on it.

You can find out more about the Ombudsman in the chapter “Dealing with government agencies”, under “The Ombudsman: Watchdogs over government”. As we explain there, the Ombudsman’s recommendations carry a lot of weight, and government agencies almost always follow them.

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.

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Disability rights

Where to go for more support

COVID-19 information


The Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA) has up-to-date COVID-19 information for the disabled community on their website. They also post new information on their Facebook page and their Information Exchange newsletter. You can sign up by going to the website linked above. For more information about DPA, see below.

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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