27 Jan 2023

Emergency housing: 'Global embarrassment' expected at UN

2:10 pm on 27 January 2023
Nicole and her youngest child, who are paying $190 per night in emergency housing at a motel

The plight of those living in emergency housing in New Zealand is coming under focus, after a damning report to the UN. (File photo) Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

New Zealand's Human Rights Commission will voice grave concerns about children and teens in emergency housing to the United Nations in Geneva.

Human Rights Commission (HRC) chief commissioner Paul Hunt said he expected the UN's findings would be a "global, public embarrassment" for New Zealand.

Aotearoa was scheduled to be examined by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, today and tomorrow. A government delegation was in Geneva to answer questions.

HRC said its report to the UN Committee was damning and covered significant human rights breaches in New Zealand's emergency housing. It published the report in December and had lodged the report with UN Special Rapporteur Balakrishnan Rajagopal.

It said emergency housing was often not clean, dry, safe, secure or in good repair for children and teens in Aotearoa - so some preferred to live on the street.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt visiting transitional housing.

Paul Hunt Photo: Supplied

Hunt told RNZ the UN would report back on its findings after the presentations in Switzerland.

"This international accountability - it [the UN] doesn't have sanctions that it can impose - but what it can do is embarrass government. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child will make some recommendations, it'll make some findings.

"And it's likely to be very critical of New Zealand in some respects. And that's bad news for New Zealand, that's internationally embarrassing. And that's the primary remedy for taking a matter to the United Nations - it is global public embarrassment.

"There are inadequate forms of accountability in Aotearoa, around housing rights".

Children's commissioner Judge Frances Eivers and representatives of Save the Children and the Children's Rights Alliance would also make presentations to the UN committee.

Hunt said: "The human right to a decent home, grounded on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, is a fundamental human right. It's part of the International Bill of Human Rights. That means it's binding on New Zealand in international law, but frankly, most public officials ignore it. Most politicians, pretend it doesn't exist. And most judges don't take it seriously.

"So the problem is that in New Zealand, there's no effective accountability system for housing rights. So what can we do? We have to go to the United Nations and tell the United Nations that New Zealand is not complying with its binding international human rights obligations."

He said the government needed to put human rights and values such as manaakitanga at the centre of the emergency housing system, and this would also build public trust.

Governments were periodically examined by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to make sure they were meeting obligations.

New Zealand was last reviewed in 2016, under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In 2020, previous UN Special Rapporteur Leilani Farha visited Aotearoa and found successive governments had contributed - by neglect - to a housing and human rights crisis.

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