Responding to COVID-19: Human rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi

03 June 2020

New Zealand’s Human Rights Commission (NZHRC) has published a report that considers the effectiveness of the Government’s approach to the COVID-19 Pandemic, in light of human rights law and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand.

While the report commends the government for its response to COVID-19, it states that more needs to be done to put human rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi at the heart of decision and policy-making. It also recognises that whilst the Country’s systems of health protection and health care have performed very well, there have been some significant shortcomings.

There is particular concern that Māori people are at increased risk from illness and death from COVID-19 compared to non-Māori people.

The report includes a section of 10 specific considerations as New Zealand moves towards easing up of lockdown and towards recovery, and provides more than 30 rights-based recommendations. The ten issues highlighted are interconnected and cover:

  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Access to justice
  • Contact tracing, surveillance and data use
  • Deprivations of liberty
  • Racism
  • Disability: Accessible information and absence of disaggregated data
  • Family violence
  • Older people
  • Women
  • Employment: Poverty and housing

Fulfilling human rights and responsibilities should be hallmarks of Aotearoa New Zealand’s recovery from the pandemic. The report states that despite efforts to support Māori, the NZHRC is urging the government to fulfil its responsibilities under human rights law and treaties in the context of COVID-19 pandemic, to work in partnership with Māori and jointly devise and implement strategies in the next phase of the response.

Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt said,

“Honouring Tiriti and human rights commitments is vital to ensure an effective response to COVID-19 and to prevent the erosion of trust and confidence within Crown-Māori relationships,

“If the government explicitly takes human rights into account, this will help to ensure that it complies with its legally binding national and international human rights obligations.”

Read the report

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