A letter to all New Zealanders from the Commissioners of the Human Rights Commission on our response to COVID-19

A letter to all New Zealanders from the Commissioners of the Human Rights Commission on our response to COVID-19

March 27, 2020

E rere ana ngā mihi manahau o Te Kāhui Tika Tangata ki a koutou katoa i tēnei wā whakaharahara. 

Talofa lava, Malo e lelei, Namaste, Ni Hao, Ah Salam Alaikum, Greetings.

Our country is facing unprecedented times. We hope you and your whānau have all they need as we settle into the new reality in Aotearoa New Zealand. The New Zealand Human Rights Commission is working hard to assist the Government. We will also monitor the decisions made to keep people healthy and safe to assess their compliance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi and human rights.

At the forefront of our minds is:

  • helping to reduce the risk of people getting COVID-19 
  • ensuring the needs of our marginalised communities are being met.  

We know that a Tiriti-based approach is more likely to be effective for Māori, who will be highly represented among those at-risk groups. As part of the Commission’s journey to become an authentically Tiriti-based organisation, we are developing specific tangata whenua and indigenous rights guidance across our three essential roles (see below).

We encourage you to talk with us so we understand what’s happening to you and your communities (see below). Your voices will inform what the Commission takes forward in discussions with government, businesses, and others with power, influence and a duty to ensure your human rights are respected, restored, and upheld during this crisis. 

Our three roles in the response to COVID-19 

As the Human Rights Commission, we see ourselves as having essentially three roles:

  1. Advisory: We are involved in several forums and bi-lateral discussions with government agencies to ensure that Te Tiriti and Human Rights are at the forefront of decision making and the impacts on people at-risk and most marginalised are taken into account when making decisions at this time. We have also written to the Prime Minister and are in touch with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) to offer our advice. We are providing input into some key decisions and will continue to do so.

  2. Community: This is about us staying connected with our people and communities. At times like this, we will be connecting with iwi and our most marginalised communities that are impacted, so staying in touch is vital. We are here and able to provide support as needed to our communities. 

  3. Accountability: While the Government works hard to protect its citizens, it can sometimes over-reach. That’s why we have a role ensuring that the decisions made, and their implementation, adhere to core human rights and Te Tiriti and are proportionate, necessary and legal. Over the next few days as various decisions are implemented, we will retain a lens on what is happening and, where appropriate, raise concerns about potential serious human rights issues.

Recent article by Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt on COVID-19: Human Rights and Duties to the Community.

How to contact us

Our Infoline remains open for any questions at 0800 496 877 and [email protected] 

Anyone who believes they have been discriminated against can also complain to the Commission by calling our confidential service on 0800 496 877 or emailing [email protected] You can also submit an online form on our website. We can offer mediation to help resolve the complaint.

We will share more with you in the next few days about the above and will send out some resources you may find useful. For now, keep safe and please stay connected.  The situation is evolving each day, and we will continue to adapt to new events.

Ngā mihi,

Paul Hunt, Chief Human Rights Commissioner

Paula Tesoriero, Disability Rights Commissioner

Saunoamaali'i Dr Karanina Sumeo, Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner

Meng Foon, Race Relations Commissioner

To see more information, resources and news about COVID-19, click here.