The Problems and Promise of International Rights in the Challenge to Māori Imprisonment


This article draws upon extensive primary research involving substantive documentary analysis of United Nations (UN) reports and New Zealand (NZ) debates over the last 20 years, and interviews with senior Māori professionals, to consider the role of international human rights standards and processes in the challenge to Māori imprisonment. It shows that over-representation is carefully managed by the NZ state in four ways: (i) a perpetual representation of Māori as the offenders; (ii) the selective endorsement of rights, such that discriminatory criminal justice operations are normalised; (iii) a pervasive human rights ritualism within UN reporting processes; and (iv) the legitimisation of imprisonment and inequalities through the international rights system. Notwithstanding these problems, Māori remain alive to the potential of challenging imprisonment through engagement with international rights frameworks. They indicate the need for a tripartite approach of reforms, decolonising acts and abolitionist strategies in doing so.

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Except where otherwise noted, content in this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Published: 2019-02-13
Pages:1 to 17
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How to Cite
Stanley, E. and Mihaere, R. (2019) “The Problems and Promise of International Rights in the Challenge to Māori Imprisonment”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 8(1), pp. 1-17. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.v8i1.1045.

Author Biographies

Victoria University of Wellington
 New Zealand

Elizabeth Stanley is a Professor at the Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Her research revolves around state crimes, human rights, social justice and incarceration. Her recent books include the edited collection ‘Human Rights and Incarceration’ (2018, Palgrave) and ‘The Road to Hell: State Violence against Children in Post-War New Zealand’ (2016, Auckland University Press).

Victoria University of Wellington
 New Zealand

Riki (Ngāti Kahungunu) engaged ‘A kaupapa Maori analysis of the use of Maori culture identity in the prison system’ for his PhD-thesis at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW). From 2016-2017, he was a Post-Doctoral Fellow, on a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship project, at the Institute of Criminology, VUW.