Blind belief in New Zealand's status as a global human rights leader is hampering real progress, a new report says.

Study author Judy McGregor said New Zealand was "good at the game" of reporting to the United Nations, but was actually falling behind.

Dr McGregor, a professor at Auckland University of Technology and former Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, said New Zealand trumpeted its record as the first to adopt women's suffrage.

"But that's 122 years ago, and I think we have to be careful that feeding into that mythology doesn't blind us to daily realities, where women haven't got equal pay, and 40,000 carers are still fighting for justice in relation to the value of their work."


Dr McGregor said seeing ourselves as good global citizens was part of our national psyche - something demonstrated even during commentary on New Zealand's conduct in the Cricket World Cup.

"I'd like to be equally proud of our human rights record," she said.

New Zealand was upholding its international reputation, in part, because it was "very good at the game", Dr McGregor said.

"We're very good at going to the UN. We're good at reporting on time, we're good at giving comprehensive, descriptive reports.

"But then we come home, neither the public nor politicians debate or discuss or ever see the recommendations that are made to New Zealand and it's all forgotten until we do it the next time."

Fault Lines: Human Rights in New Zealand was co-authored by human rights lawyer Sylvia Bell and Waikato University's Professor Margaret Wilson, and funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation.

It looked at the impact of New Zealand's ratification of six major treaties covering political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights, racial discrimination and the rights of women, children and people with disabilities.

The report found backing the treaties had sparked positive change - such as introducing paid parental leave, repealing Section 59 of the Crimes Act, and a law change that allowed the children of illegal immigrants to attend school.


But there were worrying signs of regression, in areas such as child poverty, gender equality, and systemic disadvantage for Maori, and the rights of disabled people.

The report also highlighted a lack of understanding by members of parliament of the human rights treaties and our obligations.

Former Prime Minister Sir Geoffery Palmer was quoted as saying: "I have no sympathy with Members of Parliament who seem to spend their lives making political points but never do any work and don't do any analysis and would never know what our obligations are. And they won't care if they did know."

The report made 14 recommendations, including an overhaul of the Human Rights Act and giving the Justice and Electoral Select Committee oversight of human rights treaty obligations.

Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei said the fact that New Zealand was a human rights world leader was a myth.

"We are failing to walk the talk on child poverty and equal pay. A quarter of our children live in poverty and struggle to get the basics that every child deserves and needs to thrive."


Ms Turei said the the most immediate solution was to adopt the recommendations.

Justice Minister Amy Adams said the authors were entitled to their views, but the country has a strong track record of human rights, and the government was committed to protecting them internationally and at home.

"I disagree that there needs to be an overhaul of human rights framework. I'm satisfied that our current domestic remedies are accessible and robust," Ms Adams said.

"New Zealanders rightly should be proud of our human rights efforts, but I accept there is always room for improvement."

The six treaties:

• The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified in 1978.

• The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), ratified in 1978.


• The Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), ratified in 1972.

• The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), ratified in 1988.

• The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified in 1993.

• The Convention on the Rights of All Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), signed in 2007, not yet ratified.