General human rights

Why is a human-rights based approach necessary in decision-making during COVID19?

The New Zealand government has an obligation to act to ensure support reaches those most at risk of being disproportionately affected by the crisis. This is set out under international human rights law. In addition, a human-rights based approach should be applied to decision-making, by governments, businesses, and others. Human rights must be maintained without exception.

Police Authority

What rights do I have when interacting with the Police?

In all interactions with Police, you have the right to be treated with dignity and respect. You have the right:

  • not to be discriminated against for any reason set out under the Human Rights Act 1993 e.g. sex, race, disability
  • to be informed what the Police powers are during the lockdown and to expect they are being applied fairly and consistently.

The powers used by Police must be proportionate and only to the extent necessary to prevent the virus spreading.

What powers do the police have during the state of emergency?

The Police have the following powers during a State of National Emergency:

  • Evacuate any premises or place, or exclude persons or vehicles from any premises or place where such action is necessary for the preservation of human life
  • Enter, and if necessary, break into any premises or place within the emergency area where it is believed on reasonable grounds that the action is necessary for saving life, or preventing injury, or rescuing and removing injured or endangered persons or permitting or facilitating the carrying out of any urgent measures in respect of the relief of suffering or distress
  • Totally or partially restrict public access on any road or public place
  • Remove any aircraft, hovercraft, ship or ferry or other vessel, or vehicle impeding civil defence operations and where reasonably necessary for that purpose the use of force or breaking into any such aircraft, hovercraft, ship or ferry or other vessel, or vehicle
  • Requisition a wide range of resources, where such action is urgently necessary for the preservation of human life
  • Direct any person to stop any activity that may cause or substantially contribute to an emergency, or request any person either verbally or in writing to take any action to prevent or limit the extent of the emergency
  • Examine, mark, seize, sample, secure, disinfect, or destroy any property, animal, or other thing in order to prevent or limit the extent of the emergency

Further, where the Director, a Controller, or a person authorised by a Civil Defence Emergency Management  [HI1] Group considers that an imminent threat of an emergency exists, the Police may be issued with a warrant by a District Court Judge. The powers conferred by the warrant include the power of entry and search and seize to obtain information required urgently to prevent or limit the extent of the emergency or where a person in possession of information has refused to provide the information. This could be any time of day or night and includes the ability to use reasonable force. It also includes the ability to

What legal rights do I have if I am detained or arrested by Police?

If you are questioned, detained or arrested by Police, your legal rights are:

  • you can talk to a lawyer privately, without having to wait to see them
  • you can choose not to make a statement
  • you can ask why you are being questioned, detained, or arrested
  • Police have a list of the names and phone numbers of lawyers qualified to give advice and who have agreed to be contacted any time, day or night.

Who should I contact if I have concerns about my treatment by police?

If you have a concern with the way you have been treated by police, you can make a complaint via the following mechanisms:

  • Make a complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority: 0800 503 728, PO Box 5025 Wellington 6145, [email protected]
  • Go to any Police station and tell them you want to make a complaint against police (email or phone if you cannot visit them in person during the lockdown)
  • Write to the Commissioner of Police, PO Box 3017, Wellington
  • Talk or write to your Member of Parliament (link is external)
  • Write to your local police District Commander:
    • Northland Police District Private Bag 9016, Whangarei
    • Waitematā Police District PO Box 331046, Takapuna
    • Auckland City Police District Private Bag 92002, Auckland
    • Counties Manukau Police District PO Box 76920, Counties Manukau
    • Waikato Police District PO Box 3078, Hamilton
    • Bay of Plenty Police District PO Box 741, Rotorua
    • Eastern Police District PO Box 245, Napier
    • Central Police District Private Bag 11040, Palmerston North
    • Wellington Police District PO Box 693, Wellington
    • Tasman Police District Private Bag 39, Nelson
    • Canterbury Police District PO Box 2109, Christchurch
    • Southern Police District Private Bag 1924, Dunedin.

People in detention

Where should I go if I have concerns about my or someone else’s treatment or conditions in detention?

A person who is in government-managed detention, which they are not free to leave, is a person in detention under international human rights law. This includes prisons, police cells, Oranga Tamariki residences, intellectual disability units, acute mental health units, aged care facilities, and temporary places of detention for quarantine purposes, like hotels and campervans. We encourage you to call us on 0800 496 877 or contact the Independent Police Conduct Authority on 0800 503 728, Children’s Commissioner on 0800 224 453, or the Ombudsman on 0800 802 602.

I’ve recently returned from overseas and have been placed in a hotel and told I can’t leave for the next two weeks, what rights do I still have?

Except for limitations necessary to stop the spread of COVID19, people placed in quarantine of managed isolation under the direction of the Ministry of Health should have all the same rights as someone who is in self-isolation in their own home.

You should still have enough nutritious food, access to hygiene facilities, ability to contact your friends and family, internal freedom of movement and a range of purposeful activity.

You are also entitled to full information about why you are being detained and how long for. You are still entitled to seek independent legal and medical advice. You are still entitled to be treated with dignity and like a human being.

I live in a disability/aged care residential facility and they’ve told me my family can’t visit me until the lockdown is over. Can they do that?

The Ministry of Health has instructed disability and aged care residential facilities to stop all non-essential services and family visits. This is because older people often have underlying health issues, including respiratory issues that make them more vulnerable to COVID19, and aged care facilities are particularly susceptible to the rapid transmission of viruses.

If you are receiving palliative care, your family can continue to visit you, but they will have to take extra precautions.

Even though your family can’t visit you in person, you should still be able to contact your friends and family over the phone or through video calls.

Unless you have been diagnosed or are suspected to have COVID19, or there are cases in your residential facility, you should still be able to do most of your daily routine. If you do get sick with the virus, staff will isolate you in your room to make sure it doesn’t spread to other people. You should still have enough nutritious food, access to hygiene facilities (and assistance in showering or other activities, if necessary), access to medical treatment, and the ability to call your family while you are in isolation.

Older People

Can the health system establish an age limit for access to intensive care?

There has been significant news attention on the Italian guidelines for triage criteria in a situation where there aren’t enough resources such as ventilators to treat everyone. Those criteria include whether an age limit should be established for access to intensive care, whether patients are too old for a high likelihood of recovery, or whether patients have pre-existing health conditions.

These guidelines aren’t intended for everyday care – they are the equivalent of ‘wartime triage’. However, the rights to life and health are fundamental human rights that cannot be ignored. The government is confident in the New Zealand health system’s ability to cope with the predicted number of cases. The Human Rights Commission will be watching closely to make sure that the rights of older people, and disabled people, aren’t infringed in the allocation of health resources.


Does the Government need to ensure employees have the right to safe working conditions during COVID19?

Employees have the right to work and to the enjoyment of just and favourable working conditions. This includes the ability to make a decent living for themselves and their families and to safe and healthy working conditions. Duties to provide safe and healthy working conditions are also set out under New Zealand law in the Health and Safety and Work Act 2015.

Do employers have a moral responsibility to respect the rights of employees during COVID19?

Employees have the right to be free from discrimination including on the grounds of disability, age, nationality or ethnicity or migration status. This is set out in international human rights law under several treaties. The business sector also has a responsibility to protect human rights during this crisis, as set out under the United Nations Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights and highlighted by UN Experts recently.

Can my employer tell my coworkers about my COVID19 diagnosis even if I don’t give them permission to share it?

Under the Privacy Act there is a general obligation not to use or disclose personal information, unless an exception applies. There are exceptions that permit disclosure, including where you believe the disclosure is necessary to prevent or lessen the risk of a serious threat to someone’s safety, wellbeing or health.

Under this exception, when dealing with an employee who may have contracted a highly contagious disease, it may be prudent or necessary to advise other employees so they can monitor themselves for possible symptoms and, if needed, go into self-isolation.

You can talk to your employer about what details they will share. For example, your work colleagues might need to know whether you are in hospital or at home, so that they can plan their own work and make sure your job is covered.

You can find out more information about your privacy rights from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner:

Where can I find more information and guidance about COVID-19 and the workplace?

More information is available through Employment New Zealand’s website here.


How can I access information about COVID 19 in accessible formats? 

The COVID-19 website is adding content in different formats. 

Disabled People's Organisations are sharing this information through their websites and social media.

Blind Citizens NZ -

Balance Aotearoa -

Deaf Aotearoa -

Kāpō Māori Aotearoa New Zealand -

The Muscular Dystrophy Association of NZ -

People First New Zealand -

Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA) -

Where can I find information about getting disability support? 

The Ministry of Health website has information for disabled people about changes to support and funding, and how to access disability support.

Can I be prioritised for online shopping if I can’t leave my house or shop in person? 

You can apply for a priority code from a disabled people’s organisation, or answer the online supermarket’s questions about why you need one to access priority in the online shopping slots. In There may be still a wait to find a slot. If you urgently need food, ask someone to shop for you, or contact your local council or foodbank. Some supermarkets are also offering times for when older people or disabled people can visit to shop in person.