Emergency should not lead to human rights violations

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Wellington, May 5, 2020

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo


The Human Rights Commission has received 311 enquiries and complaints related to the Covid-19 pandemic between January and May 5 this year. 

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo said that Covid-19 is the most serious human rights emergency that New Zealand has experienced since 1945. 

“The social and economic crisis it has precipitated has touched the most basic human rights. Human Rights demand that measures taken during a national emergency are lawful, proportionate, fair, just, non-discriminatory, and subject to independent scrutiny. As a nation, we have human rights duties to our whanau, neighbours, workers, and wider communities. We must continue to act with fairness, respect, dignity and within the law as we navigate these difficult times together,” Ms  Saunoamaali’i said. 

No reason to discriminate

Covid-19 is not a reason to discriminate against people because of their race, colour, ethnic or national origins, disability, gender, age, or other grounds of discrimination, or because of the status of their health, she added.   

Ms  Saunoamaali’i said that enquiries and complaints to the Commission range from allegations of racism and harassment towards Chinese and Asian people, housing discrimination based on the status of health, funding provided to Māori and Pacific communities and not all ethnic communities, and the closure of public toilets for disabled people during the lockdown. 

New website

To help New Zealanders understand their human rights and stay informed during this difficult time, the Commission has launched a specialised Covid-19 website – covid19.hrc.co.nz  

Ms  Saunoamaali’i said that the new website provides information on human rights implications of COVID-19 and frequently asked questions on the human rights dimensions of issues including people in detention, police authority, job loss, pay cuts, older people, disability and family violence. 

“We hope this website will help New Zealanders understand why a human-rights approach is absolutely crucial in responding to this crisis. The website also has an easy-to-access form for people to report human rights and Covid-19-related concerns, experiences, stories, or issues. We encourage people to contact the Commission by using the confidential free service on 0800-496 877, or by email covid19@hrc.co.nz,” Ms  Saunoamaali’i said. 

Information gathered from the new website will help inform the Commission’s advocacy on human rights on behalf of Kiwis during and beyond the crisis. 

“We are committed to ensuring that violation of rights of New Zealanders is heard and addressed by duty bearers and decision-makers. We will continue to monitor and review potential human rights breaches, and provide constructive balanced advice to government, business, advocates and communities on human rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi,” Ms  Saunoamaali’i said.

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