The three-strikes legislation and stripping prisoners of the right to vote breach human rights and could result in New Zealand being hauled before international agencies, a watchdog says.
Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres is concerned about the legislation, which was introduced last year. It would disproportionately affect Maori, he said.
The Human Rights Commission's annual Race Relations Report also highlights the high number of Maori in prison and said reducing the muster should be a priority.
"We've drawn attention to these because it is relatively unusual for these things to arise. Generally the New Zealand Parliament has a strong regard for human rights.
"We have to very careful in the area of criminal justice because there is an unequal representation in terms of the people arrested, convicted and imprisoned," Mr de Bres said.
The laws would probably come to the attention of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and other organisations, he said. And although there are no "enforceable sanctions" this would be embarrassing for the New Zealand Government. "The Government isn't obliged to take any notice, but it is obliged to take it seriously."
But he does not believe the legislation reflects a growing trend of new laws that crush civil rights. The "critical issues" concern social and economic inequalities between ethnic groups which are "unacceptably high".
The three-strikes law means a 25-year non-parole sentence for the worst criminals after their third serious offence.
- The Dominion Post