Participation in decisions by and safeguarding the rights of people affected by national emergencies are two key principles the Human Rights Commission wants to see underpinning Parliament’s legislative response to future national emergencies.
“In the Canterbury earthquakes recovery we have seen many examples of the problems and despair that can result when people are not involved in decisions about things that significantly affect them,” Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford said at the select committee inquiry into Parliament’s legislative response to future national emergencies.
“’Nothing about us without us’ is an important human rights principle.”
“It is crucial that in a recovery situation that no-one gets left behind. The impact of decisions made in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster can have long term impacts.”
The Commission’s submission to the inquiry highlighted the problems which occur when there is no responsive right of redress.
“Safeguards and oversight mechanisms are crucial,” Mr Rutherford said. “The CER Act had some good provisions but the problems occurred when these were not actually carried out.”
The Commission noted the problems which arose in relation to the red zoning process, compensation payments to uninsured people and the ‘prohibiting access’ section 124 notices.
“People were forced in many cases to take expensive and lengthy legal action,” he said.
“The Commission is particularly concerned about vulnerable groups in the community. People who are already poor or marginalised are more affected, particularly with respect to basic human rights to health and housing.”
The Commission recognised the difficulties in dealing with an unexpected disaster and noted that it was not insisting on perfection in terms of the recovery process.
“Although the nature and timing of national emergencies are not something we are in control of, the way we respond to them is something that we should and can do better on.”
The Commission’s full submission can be viewed here.