Human Rights Commission makes 30 recommendations in report on Covid-19 response

2:29 pm on 30 April 2020

The Human Rights Commission has strongly commended the government's response to Covid-19 but says more could be done to ensure the Treaty of Waitangi and human rights is at the centre of decision and policy making.

No caption

Photo: Screenshot / Human Rights Commission

The commission has released a report highlighting 10 major areas of concern, and more than 30 recommendations.

The report found difficulties accessing PPE in some areas meant some disabled people and support workers halted their support work arrangements to reduce their risk of exposure. Iwi response teams and Māori health providers across the country also reported difficulties accessing PPE.

Access to justice was also an issue, with the Human Rights Review Tribunal closed under alert level 4. This meant vulnerable groups - such as victims of racial abuse or sexual assault - could not access justice.

All hearings in March, April and May have been cancelled.

The report found people held in prisons, police cells and secure mental health units were essentially locked out from the rest of the world.

The commission said this meant their right to be cared for and protected could have been compromised because they could not access independent monitoring agencies or whānau.

There has been a rise in racist and xenophobic language since January, as well as stigmatisation of Chinese and Asian communities.

Netsafe reported that from 1 January to 12 April there was also an increase in hate speech.

The Human Rights Commission said the Māori response fund was commendable but more needed to be done to address the inequity of racism and access to support for victims of it.

The report found that of the several Covid-19 surveys conducted by the government, only one mentioned disabled people. It said without any comprehensive data on disabled people, the country could not know the full extent of how that community had been impacted by the pandemic.

Police and social services have reported an increase in family violence situations, in which Māori, disabled people and the rainbow community feature heavily.

The report found a low number of family violence arrests were undertaken during alert level 4, which could indicate police had not been arresting people when necessary.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt said putting human rights and the Treaty of Waitangi at the centre of the Covid-19 response was vital.

Honouring te 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, he said.

Human rights would not provide magic solutions to grave crises, he said, but did have a constructive contribution to make.

They embodied values - the importance of partnership, participation, protection, safety, dignity, decency, fairness, freedom, equality, respect, wellbeing, community, and responsibility.

The report highlighted how one positive example of the Treaty of Waitangi being at the centre of the government's response was the iwi and hapū-led checkpoints, carried out in the spirit of collaboration with police, council and civil defence.

Ensuring human rights and treaty-based partnership across the government's Covid-19 response was among many of the commission's recommendations.

It also said the government must strengthen mechanisms to support partnership with Māori and decision making that affirms the Kāwanatanga of government and rangatiratanga of hapū, iwi, and Māori.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs