New Covid-19 strategy raises te Tiriti and human rights issues

New Covid-19 strategy raises te Tiriti and human rights issues

October 26, 2021

Greater clarity on the Government’s response to Covid-19 is appreciated by the Human Rights Commission, but it says the Te Tiriti o Waitangi and human rights implications need careful analysis.

A new Covid-19 Protection Framework Aotearoa New Zealand was announced by the Government last week, setting out a ‘traffic light’ system for opening up the country, which has vaccination certificates at its core.

The Commission welcomes the Government’s approach of requiring a minimum 90% full vaccination rate (first and second vaccination complete) before allowing more freedom of movement among the regions.

The approach will help to limit an increase in Covid-19 deaths, as a result of the Delta variant, while also trying to reduce the impact of rising case numbers on the country’s health system.

Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt believes we are now at a pivotal moment in our fight against the virus, and our human rights must be clearly understood. 

“It is critical we continue to protect the fundamental rights to life and healthcare and protection of people in Aotearoa New Zealand, while preserving the safeguards we have in place to avoid discrimination and a disproportionate limit on the rights and freedoms of groups or individuals.”  

The Commission is reviewing the human rights implications of the vaccination certificates policy, including how they will be used in practice, and in what circumstances.

The lack of any specific priority within the framework to ensure a 90% full vaccination rate for Māori was noted with concern, by the Commission, as this may leave some communities vulnerable to the continued spread of Covid-19.  While the Government has provided funding to boost vaccination rollout to Māori communities these initiatives may take time to be effective unless implemented with urgency.  

"A tiriti and human rights-based approach supports these initiatives, and the Commission urges the Ministry of Health and district health boards to prioritise their work with iwi and hapū to increase vaccination rates among Māori,” says Mr Hunt.

Aotearoa’s death rate at 28 is dramatically lower than other countries. According to World Health Organization Covid-19 statistics Ireland, with a similar population to Aotearoa, has had more than 5000 deaths while Australia with a population of 25 million has more than 1500.

"Anyone who is able to be vaccinated against Covid-19 is encouraged to do so to fulfil their human rights responsibility to whānau, friends, neighbours, work colleagues, community and all front-line workers, such as health professionals and carers."

“Human rights are not just about rights. They are also about our responsibilities to each other, including the responsibility to do all we reasonably can to keep each other safe,” said Mr Hunt.

This powerful concept is woven deeply into the fabric of our society. It is a feature of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s common to all of Aotearoa New Zealand’s communities.

Information on Covid-19 and human rights is available on the commission’s website.