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Human Rights and 
Te Tiriti o Waitangi: 
COVID-19 and Alert Level 
4 in Aotearoa New Zealand
Mötika Tangata më Te Tiriti o 
Waitangi: Mate Korona më te Noho 
Rähui i Aotearoa Taumata 4
Human Rights Commission
Te Kāhui Tika Tangata
April 2020

Human rights are key in shaping the pandemic response, both for the public health 
emergency and the broader impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. Human rights put 
people centre-stage. Responses that are shaped by and respect human rights result in 
better outcomes in beating the pandemic, ensuring healthcare for everyone and preserving 
human dignity. But they also focus our attention on who is suffering most, why, and what 
can be done about it. They prepare the ground now for emerging from this crisis with more 
equitable and sustainable societies, development and peace.
COVID-19 and Human Rights, United Nations, April 2020

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Ngā Ihirangi
Foreword - Körero Whakataki 
Executive Summary 
Te Tiriti o Waitangi 
Ten ‘snapshots’ 
Conclusion 5
Key recommendations 
Te Tiriti o Waitangi 
Positive practice on which to build 
International human rights  
Looking forward towards recovery 
Snapshots - He whäiroiro 
Personal Protective Equipment - Taputapu Tautiaki Tangata 
Access to justice - Äheinga ki te ture manatika 
Contact tracing, surveillance and data use - Whakapäpä mate rere,  
tütei më te whakamahi raraunga 

Deprivations of liberty - Aukati te noho herekore 
Racism - Whakatakëtanga 
Disability - Whaikahatanga 
Accessible information 
Absence of disaggregated data 
Family violence - Whakarekereke ä-whare 
Older people 
Women - Te ira wahine 
Employment - Whakamahingia 
Poverty 15
Housing 16
Reflecting on employment, poverty, housing 

Conclusion - Körero whakamutunga 
Put human rights on the table 
Independent accountability 
Te Tiriti o Waitangi 

Human Rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi: COVID-19 and Alert Level 4 in Aotearoa New Zealand
Foreword - Kōrero Whakataki    
He kura tangihia, he maimai aroha.  
Ko te tangihanga tëtahi mätäpuna o te ao Mäori, e toitü ana ki tënei rä.  
He kaupapa nui te poroporoaki ki te hunga mate. I tënei wä mate korona,  
ka whai pänga mai ngä whakaritenga rähui ki runga i te whänau pani.  
Ka taumaha rawa atu. I tënei wä pouri, ka tukuna mätou o mätou aroha ki ngä whänau e noho mokemoke ana.  
Kia pümau te matihere o te wähi ngaro ki a tätou.  

Haere, haere, haere atu rä.
Our ngäkau aroha goes out to all of those who are 
performed very well, especially when compared to 
grieving the loss of loved ones in Aotearoa New Zealand 
many other high-income countries. Nonetheless, 
and overseas. So far, the country has avoided wholesale 
the government’s approach to COVID-19 has some 
catastrophic loss of life, but it is not unscathed. The 
significant shortcomings, some of which will emerge in 
weight of the lives lost to COVID-19 is immeasurable. 
the ‘snapshots’ and others we signal in the Conclusion.
The grief of all whänau who have lost loved ones in the 
lockdown is intensified by the inability to provide them 
Human rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi are not only about 
with close support and care.
rights, they are also about responsibilities. They place 
responsibilities on government and others holding public 
As we adjust to COVID-19 Alert Level 3, the Human 
power, and they also place responsibilities on individuals 
Rights Commission provides some ‘snapshots’ of how 
to their communities. As the Universal Declaration 
the Level 4 lockdown impacted upon human rights and 
of Human Rights puts it, everyone has duties to the 
Te Tiriti o Waitangi. 
community in which the free and full development of 
their personality is possible.
We can learn from the Level 4 experience as we take 
steps in Level 3 towards recovery.
This human rights responsibility of individuals to their 
communities – staying in our bubbles, social distancing, 
Aotearoa New Zealand is living through a health, 
getting tested, protecting iwi, hapü and whänau, looking 
economic and human rights emergency. The human 
out for each other – was one of the strongest features 
rights issues are numerous, complex and profound. 
of Level 4.
They engage Te Tiriti o Waitangi and our national and 
international human rights commitments.
Human rights and responsibilities, and respect for Te 
Tiriti o Waitangi, should be hallmarks of the country’s 
In due course, the Commission will investigate these 
recovery from the pandemic.
complexities in detail. For now, our goal is modest: to 
provide some human rights ‘snapshots’ from Level 4 
As we look forward to recovery, our children’s future 
which can help to navigate what lies ahead. We are not 
must be centre stage. The impact on tamariki of 
suggesting the issues covered are the most pressing and 
COVID-19 – the virus and the measures to control it – 
important. Prepared as Level 4 drew to a close, these 
should not be understated. Like many adults, children 
‘snapshots’ are short and illustrative. 
are experiencing increased anxiety, loneliness, feelings 
of lack of control, and worries about how their families 
The government must be strongly commended for 
will make it through.
protecting the health and lives of so many tangata 
whenua and New Zealanders. Overall, the country’s 
The immediate stress and long-term impacts are not 
systems of health protection and health care have 
evenly shared: they disproportionately fall on those 

Mötika Tangata më Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Mate Korona më te Noho Rähui i Aotearoa Taumata 4
who were already finding it tough beforehand. There 
I want to thank my colleagues who worked extremely 
are distinctive impacts on children and young people 
hard to produce this short report in only a few days. 
separated from loved ones, for example in secure care 
Events are fast-moving and time is of the essence. We 
and protection.
hope the report contributes to helpful discussion and 
constructive action. We welcome further engagement 
Children need good information about the pandemic, 
on these serious issues. If there are any slips, I take full 
and ongoing attention to their human rights to 
responsibility for them.
education, play, safe access to the online world, 
involvement in decision-making, and their right for them 
and their families to be safe, warm and well-nourished.
The Human Rights Commission will continue to support 
work by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 
and other partners, to promote children’s rights in the 
pandemic and recovery.
Paul Hunt 
Chief Human Rights Commissioner 
This publication begins with a section on Te Tiriti o 
Te Amokapua
Waitangi, followed by ten human rights ‘snapshots’, and 
a Conclusion with additional pointers for the future.

Human Rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi: COVID-19 and Alert Level 4 in Aotearoa New Zealand
Executive Summary
Our ngäkau aroha goes out to all those who are grieving 
Te Tiriti o Waitangi
the loss of loved ones in Aotearoa New Zealand and 
Te Tiriti requires proactive support from the government 
beyond. We are living through a health, economic and 
for rangatiratanga, alongside ensuring equity of 
human rights emergency. The COVID-19 emergency 
outcomes for tangata whenua. During the COVID-19 
has major implications for the country’s national and 
crisis it has been encouraging to see examples of Tiriti 
international human rights commitments, which have 
partnership working in practice and strong leadership 
been affirmed by successive governments over several 
being exercised by both partners. Where responsibilities 
decades, as well as its constitutional foundation, Te Tiriti 
overlap, there has been cooperation reinforced by a 
o Waitangi.
strong sense of shared purpose to contain COVID-19 
The rights to life, health protection and health care 
and to protect Mäori and all New Zealanders. A positive 
place obligations on the government to do all it can 
example is the iwi and hapü-led rähui checkpoints, 
to respond effectively and equitably to COVID-19. 
carried out in a spirit of collaboration with police, 
Consistent with these human rights obligations, the 
councils and civil defence. Positive references to Te 
government has responded to the pandemic with vigour 
Tiriti in key documents are welcome, but it is sometimes 
and determination. The Human Rights Commission 
unclear how these obligations are being implemented 
strongly commends the government for protecting the 
in practice. Honouring Tiriti and human rights 
health and lives of so many tangata whenua and New 
commitments is vital to ensure an effective response 
Zealanders. Overall, the country’s systems of health 
to COVID-19 and to prevent the erosion of trust and 
protection and health care have performed very well.
confidence within Crown-Mäori relationships.
Nonetheless, the government’s approach to COVID-19 
Ten ‘snapshots’
has some significant shortcomings. This short report 
Each ‘snapshot’ briefly considers a specific issue or 
provides ten ‘snapshots’ of how the Level 4 lockdown 
population group in Alert Level 4 as it enters Level 3 
impacted upon human rights and Te Tiriti. We can learn 
towards recovery. The short, illustrative subjects are 
from this experience as we take steps in Level 3 towards 
recovery. While there is much to commend in New 
Zealand’s response to COVID-19, Te Tiriti and human 
•  Personal protective equipment
rights have not been integrated across the response to 
•  Access to justice
the pandemic.
•  Contact tracing, surveillance and data use
Human rights and Te Tiriti are not only about rights, they 
•  Deprivations of liberty
are also about responsibilities i.e. the responsibilities 
• Racism
on the government to the people, as well as the 
•  Disability: Accessible information and absence of 
responsibilities on individuals to their communities. As 
disaggregated data
we look forward to recovery, our children’s future, and 
•  Family violence
their human rights, must be centre stage.
•  Older people
• Women
•  Employment: Poverty and housing 

Mötika Tangata më Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Mate Korona më te Noho Rähui i Aotearoa Taumata 4
Human rights do not provide magic solutions to grave 
credit for holding government accountable during Level 
crises, but they have a constructive contribution 
4. The Epidemic Response Committee has also done a 
to make. They embody values - the importance of 
good job. Those exercising discretionary powers cannot 
partnership, participation, protection, safety, dignity, 
hold themselves accountable. In these circumstances, 
decency, fairness, freedom, equality, respect, wellbeing, 
nimble, effective, independent accountability 
community and responsibility - which provide a 
mechanisms have a crucial role to play in Level 3 and 
compass for the way forward. Increasingly operational, 
human rights can help to both chart and implement an 
effective, equitable, balanced, sustainable medium and 
In the context of COVID-19, we urge the government to 
long-term response to COVID-19. They can help to strike 
renew and reinvigorate its commitment to Te Tiriti and 
fair balances and identify proportionate responses.
to work in partnership with Mäori and jointly devise and 
implement strategies in Level 3 and the recovery phase.
In times of emergency, those in authority are granted 
sweeping new discretionary powers and, in these 
Human rights and responsibilities, and respect for Te 
circumstances, robust accountability becomes vitally 
Tiriti o Waitangi, should be hallmarks of the country’s 
important. In Aotearoa New Zealand, the media deserve 
recovery from the pandemic.

Human Rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi: COVID-19 and Alert Level 4 in Aotearoa New Zealand
Key recommendations
Human Rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi
Deprivations of liberty
•  Ensure human rights and Te Tiriti based partnership 
•  With appropriate COVID 19 safety measures, 
across the Government’s COVID-19 response. A 
provide unrestricted access to prisons, police cells, 
coordinated whole-of-government strategy building 
secure mental health and dementia units, youth 
on the work begun last year towards a national 
justice facilities and care and protection residences 
action plan for the UN Declaration on the Rights of 
for monitoring agencies (National Preventive 
Indigenous Peoples. 
•  Government and Mäori strengthen mechanisms to 
•  Ensure the crucial role of National Preventive 
support partnership decision-making that affirms 
Mechanisms’ unrestricted visits is understood by 
the käwanatanga of government and rangatiratanga 
detaining agencies and their access is incorporated 
of hapü, iwi, and Mäori. 
into plans for dealing with emergencies.
•  Tiriti partners work together on all COVID-19 issues, 
including changes to alert levels.
•  Make an express commitment to address racism as 
Personal Protective Equipment
part of the COVID-19 response including explicit 
•  Improve guidance on, and access to, PPE (masks, 
public messaging and awareness raising.
gloves and gowns) for home and community 
•  Prioritise the development of a National Action Plan 
support workers.
Against Racism, anchored in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, 
as well as the views and experience of tangata 
Access to justice
whenua, and those communities who are currently 
feeling the impact of racism most acutely.
•  Provide the Human Rights Review Tribunal (HRRT) 
with adequate resources to hear and decide claims 
•  Support HRRT staff to work from home.
•  Proactively involve disabled people in the drafting 
and production of materials and information and 
•  Encourage the HRRT to progress all existing claims 
ensure accessible information is available and easy 
and conduct hearings by alternative means, such as 
to locate.
video link.
•  Link tängata whaikaha (Mäori disabled people) to 
Mäori and disability COVID-19 response teams to 
Contact tracing, surveillance and data use
benefit from, and contribute to, self-determined 
•  Appropriately balance the right to privacy with 
culturally effective and disability sensitive 
the right to health when considering digital 
contact tracing to ensure that any impacts on 
•  Ensure that disaggregated data on disability are 
people’s privacy are strictly necessary, lawful and 
collected to better understand how disabled people 
are affected by the pandemic.
•  Ensure digital contact information is only provided 
to public health workers, be of a minimal nature and 
be accessible only while COVID-19 remains a threat.
•  Ensure decisions on contact tracing, surveillance 
and data use are undertaken in partnership with iwi 
and Mäori and uphold rangatiratanga.

Mötika Tangata më Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Mate Korona më te Noho Rähui i Aotearoa Taumata 4
Family Violence
•  Increase funding and support for those at risk of 
•  Ensure transparent Tiriti based equity across the 
violence. Direct funding to inclusive and accessible 
government approach including continuation of 
services, both prevention and response. These 
targeted employment measures to support Mäori, 
initiatives should reflect Tiriti partnership, support 
whanau, business, employment and stimulus 
Mäori-led approaches and advance equitable 
•  Ensure any fast-tracked development projects 
•  Ensure that the lessons from this pandemic are 
uphold indigenous rights to lands and resources, 
documented for future preparedness planning and 
and enhance Mäori participation, in line with Te 
Tiriti and the human rights obligation of free, prior 
and informed consent.
Older people
•  Increase investment in tertiary education to lift 
the prosperity of Mäori, women, Pacific, disabled, 
•  Improve pandemic preparedness and planning for 
migrant workers, ethnic minorities, marginalised 
aged care facilities and ensure older people are 
youth, and older workers. 
provided with the opportunity to influence those 
•  Provide continued support, including funding, to 
service providers which rely heavily on volunteers 
•  Consider the recommendations of the Child 
and provide support for older people 
Poverty Action Group to build on the government’s 
•  Ensure simple communications are available in 
COVID-19 welfare package.
as many languages as possible, and in a range of 
•  Accept and implement the outstanding Welfare 
formats, to support older people who are migrants 
Expert Advisory Group recommendations for the 
or in minority ethnic groups. Recognise that many 
improvement of the social welfare system. 
kaumätua and kuia are not part of, or represented 
•  Urgently implement recommendations 19 to 23 of 
by, older people’s organisations and groups. 
that report, to ensure that those already receiving 
benefits, or facing a shift to welfare, receive 
adequate income support to maintain an adequate 
standard of living.
•  Collect data disaggregated by gender, and other 
grounds, in relation to those people receiving the 
COVID-19 wage subsidy.
•  Ensure those living in homelessness and insecure 
Family violence
housing who were housed by the government 
during Alert Level 4 are not made homeless again. 
•  Collect disaggregated data on family violence during 
•  Use recovery investment to build healthy housing 
the pandemic and report on how different groups 
have been affected.
•  Develop a human rights-based housing strategy for 
Aotearoa New Zealand as recommended by the 
UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate 
housing in 2020.

Human Rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi: COVID-19 and Alert Level 4 in Aotearoa New Zealand
Te Tiriti o Waitangi
When Spanish influenza reached New Zealand in 
While there is much to commend in New Zealand’s 
1918, the pre-European Mäori population had more 
response to COVID-19, Te Tiriti and human rights 
than halved due to introduced disease and land wars. 
have not been integrated across the response to the 
Mäori deaths from this influenza were seven times 
pandemic. These fundamental values and safeguards 
higher than non-Mäori, in part due to many Mäori 
should be at the heart of the response.
communities being left to fend for themselves.  The 
severe and uneven impacts of introduced disease will 
Positive references to Te Tiriti in key documents are 
always be in the hearts and minds of tangata whenua.
welcome, but it is sometimes unclear how these 
obligations are being implemented in practice. At 
Today, health modelling shows that tangata whenua 
this critical time, Crown-Mäori relationships must be 
are at a much higher risk of illness and death from 
elevated from sporadic engagement to substantive 
COVID-19 compared to non-Mäori. Iwi have taken 
partnership and equitably shared decision-making.  
a strong leadership role and decisive action against 
COVID-19, seeking to protect their most vulnerable 
The Commission welcomes government efforts such as 
and avoid a repeat of the devastation from previous 
funding support for Mäori, the ramping up of targeted 
testing and the Ministry of Health’s Mäori Response 
Action Plan, which includes a significant focus on 
Positive practice on which to build
equity. There has been a welcome commitment from 
the Ministry to work together with its Tiriti partners.  
Te Tiriti o Waitangi requires proactive support from 
the government for rangatiratanga, alongside ensuring 
International human rights 
equity of outcomes for tangata whenua. Te Tiriti 
and human rights provide for co-existing systems of 
Efforts to address health and other disparities affecting 
governance: Crown käwanatanga authority and iwi and 
Mäori are unlikely to be effective if they are not real 
hapü rangatiratanga.
partnerships upholding Mäori self-determination. 
Effective measures for Maori are those by Mäori and 
During the COVID-19 crisis it has been encouraging to 
with Mäori, and which affirm Te Tiriti as a whole.
see examples of Tiriti partnership working in practice 
and strong leadership being exercised by both partners. 
Domestic Tiriti obligations are supported by international 
Where responsibilities overlap, there has been 
human rights, including the UN Declaration on the 
cooperation reinforced by a strong sense of shared 
Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  The Declaration highlights 
purpose to contain the coronavirus and to protect 
the fundamental importance of the rights to self-
Mäori and all New Zealanders. 
determination, to participate in decision-making, and to 
free, prior and informed consent in relation to initiatives 
A positive example is the iwi and hapü-led rähui 
that affect indigenous peoples.
checkpoints, carried out in a spirit of collaboration 
with police, councils and civil defence. The 
The UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous 
Commission welcomes the Police approach of 
Peoples notes that COVID-19 is likely to exacerbate a 
recognising iwi concerns and seeking to model Tiriti 
critical situation where inequalities and discrimination 
partnership. The Commission encourages constructive 
already abound. The Chair of the UN Permanent Forum 
partnership between Police, iwi and hapü as the 
on Indigenous Issues highlights the need to take steps 
response to COVID-19 develops over time.  
to protect and prioritise Indigenous Peoples, as well as 
to recognise their contributions and leadership.  

Mötika Tangata më Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Mate Korona më te Noho Rähui i Aotearoa Taumata 4
Looking forward towards recovery
and informed consent. A deliberate and structured 
approach may help to ensure coordination between 
Honouring Tiriti and human rights commitments is 
the two co-existing systems and also provide a forum 
vital to ensure an effective response to COVID-19 and 
for negotiating agreement on more difficult questions.  
to prevent the erosion of trust and confidence within 
Crown-Mäori relationships.  
There needs to be a greater focus on advancing 
Tiriti-based equity for Mäori including strengthening 
Building on positive examples, the government and 
the Ministry of Health’s Mäori Response Action Plan. 
Mäori should strengthen mechanisms to support 
Alongside the risk of COVID-19, Mäori communities 
partnership decision-making that affirms the 
will be burdened with untreated and undiagnosed 
käwanatanga of government and rangatiratanga of 
conditions and unmet needs that are likely to have 
hapü, iwi and Mäori.
worsened during the Level 4 lockdown. It is crucial that 
Partnership should go beyond engagement and 
the vulnerabilities of Mäori are given a high priority 
encompass meaningful, equitable, shared decision-
across the health system. Robust data collection and 
making. Where Mäori rights are significantly affected, 
analysis will be critical.
for example by restrictions on tikanga Mäori, the 
Overall, a well-coordinated COVID-19 strategy, 
obligation of free, prior and informed consent should 
grounded in Te Tiriti and human rights, is required 
be applied and rangatiratanga upheld. 
across all government agencies and sectors.
Government must work with Tiriti partners on all 
Finally, it appears that there were significant gaps in 
COVID-19 issues, including changes to alert levels. 
the long-term pandemic planning of successive New 
Some iwi and hapü have expressed concerns about 
Zealand governments. As we move into Alert Level 
lowering alert levels and may wish to maintain higher 
3 and towards recovery, we urge the government 
levels of regional protection. Where käwanatanga 
to ensure that the lessons from this pandemic are 
and rangatiratanga views diverge, there should be 
documented for future planning and implementation 
negotiations with a view to reaching agreement in 
based on Te Tiriti.
line with the human rights obligation of free, prior 

Human Rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi: COVID-19 and Alert Level 4 in Aotearoa New Zealand
Snapshots - He whāiroiro
Personal Protective Equipment - Taputapu 
Explicit consideration of the government’s human rights 
Tautiaki Tangata
and Te Tiriti obligations in relation to PPE will help to 
ensure that it does better in Alert Level 3 than it did in 
Access to PPE (masks, gloves and gowns) is pivotal to 
Level 4.
ensuring appropriate protection for the people most 
vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, such as disabled 
Te Tiriti requires Mäori leadership and partnership in 
people, older people and those with underlying health 
relation to all health issues, including PPE. Likewise, the 
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 
requires that disabled people should be involved in 
Home and community support workers provide critical 
decisions that impact on them, such as those relating to 
care for at-risk communities. The intimate and mobile 
nature of support work creates significant risks. These 
can be mitigated by adequate and equitable access to 
Access to justice - Āheinga ki te ture 
The response to concerns within the home and 
The Human Rights Review Tribunal closed for the 
community workforce, and those it cares for, has been 
duration of alert Level 4. 
slow. In the absence of adequate PPE, some disabled 
people and support workers halted support work 
Justice delayed is justice denied.  Many claimants in 
arrangements to reduce their risk of exposure.
the Human Rights Review Tribunal are vulnerable: they 
may have suffered discrimination, racist attacks, sexual 
Following persistent advocacy by the Disability 
harassment or privacy breaches.  
Rights Commissioner and others, PPE was made 
available to the community workforce. But significant 
All hearings for March, April and May 2020 are 
problems persist, including the absence of sector 
cancelled and timetables are suspended for other 
specific guidance on PPE use. District Health Boards’ 
matters, putting later hearings at risk.  There has been 
unfamiliarity with the disability sector is also a 
no attempt to hear claims or procedural issues remotely, 
no new claims are being processed and there has been 
no uptake of the use of technology to progress claims.  
Iwi response teams, Mäori providers and Mäori 
community organisations have struggled to access PPE 
By contrast, some courts have embraced the challenge 
in order to keep themselves and whänau protected. 
of working differently under Level 4.  For example, the 
Employment Court processed new claims.  The Court 
The Auditor-General has recently launched an 
contacted parties to arrange hearings on the papers, by 
independent review into PPE management during the 
telephone or audio-visual link.  It continued to release 
COVID-19 crisis.
decisions and an active Twitter account gave updates.  
We commend that approach.
Everyone is entitled to health protection from epidemic 
diseases. Human rights, including the rights to life, 
On the other hand, the Tribunal’s approach is a serious 
health protection and equality, and Te Tiriti, require 
human rights issue: it is inconsistent with the claimants’ 
the government to take all effective and reasonable 
right to an effective remedy for the significant harm 
measures to provide adequate and equitable access to 
they have suffered. 
In Alert Level 3, we urge the government to provide the 
The government has fallen short of these obligations.
Tribunal with adequate resources to hear and decide 

Mötika Tangata më Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Mate Korona më te Noho Rähui i Aotearoa Taumata 4
claims remotely.  A human rights approach would see 
The use of digital tools for tracing COVID-19 should 
all Tribunal staff, including decision makers, working 
be voluntary. High levels of public trust and uptake 
from home.  They should be encouraged to progress 
are essential if they are to be effective. The Privacy 
all existing claims and conduct hearings by alternative 
Commissioner has noted that the way information 
is collected and distributed is essential to balancing 
health and privacy.  Information should only be 
Contact tracing, surveillance and data 
provided to public health workers, be of a minimal 
use - Whakapāpā mate rere, tūtei mē te 
nature and be accessible only while COVID-19 remains 
whakamahi raraunga   
a threat.1 
Contact tracing involves the gathering of data from 
Decisions on contact tracing, surveillance and data use 
individuals who have come into contact with people 
must be undertaken in partnership with iwi and Mäori, 
who have the coronavirus. It is a key public health 
uphold rangatiratanga and address Mäori equity issues. 
measure for containing and eliminating COVID-19.
Iwi and Mäori organisations should have access to data 
and information to enable their effective participation 
The government has confirmed that digital contact 
in decision-making, inform their self-determined 
tracing technology will be used, on a voluntary basis, 
responses, and monitor equity of outcomes. 
to assist with contact tracing. A recent independent 
audit of COVID-19 contact tracing (the Verrall report), 
Deprivations of liberty - Aukati te noho 
notes that the Ministry of Health and local developers 
are working on a smartphone app for this purpose 
and recommends that its development is rapidly 
Under Alert Level 4, people held in prisons, police 
cells, secure mental health and dementia units, youth 
justice facilities and care and protection residences 
By enhancing the speed and scope of contact tracing, 
were effectively locked down from the outside world. 
digital technology has the potential to positively 
impact on the public health measures taken by the 
Research shows that such people are vulnerable to 
government towards eliminating COVID-19.
cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. This risk is 
heightened when they are cut off from full interactions 
There is a concern that this technology has the 
with independent monitoring agencies, statutory 
potential to be used repressively for purposes other 
visitors and their whänau.
than public health, such as general intelligence-
gathering and surveillance.
During a respiratory pandemic, people who are 
deprived of their liberty have a greater risk of infection 
The use of digital contact tracing involves the 
due to living in close proximity to one another and 
balancing of the right to privacy with the right to 
their limited ability to take their own precautionary 
health, which includes prevention, treatment and 
measures.  They are also more likely to have 
control of epidemic disease. A human rights approach 
compromised health and therefore be more vulnerable 
will help the government to appropriately balance 
to coronavirus. 
its privacy and public health obligations when 
considering digital contact tracing. This approach 
The Human Rights Commission is the Central National 
requires the government to ensure that any impacts 
Preventive Mechanism under the Optional Protocol 
on people’s privacy are strictly necessary, lawful and 
to the United Nations Convention against Torture. 
1Reported TVNZ, 9 April 2020, available here and at the Office of Privacy Commissioner website here

Human Rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi: COVID-19 and Alert Level 4 in Aotearoa New Zealand
The Commission’s role is to support and coordinate 
Racism - Whakatakētanga
New Zealand’s four independent bodies designated to 
Since January, there has been a rise in racist and 
inspect places of detention. The Chief Ombudsman, 
xenophobic language, as well as stigmatisation of 
Office of the Children’s Commissioner, Independent 
Chinese and Asian communities.
Police Conduct Authority and the Inspectors of Penal 
Service Establishments, undertake independent 
Chinese community leaders are fearful that a rhetoric 
inspections of places of detention to prevent ill-
of blame will encourage further xenophobia and 
treatment of those detained. These four agencies are 
violence. Individuals from other communities including 
known as National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs).
Mäori, have noted concerns about racism during 
the period of lockdown. Workers from multicultural 
During Level 4, the Commission and NPMs have been 
communities have highlighted the risk that racial bias 
meeting regularly to develop and improve inspection 
may influence business decisions. 
practice and criteria in response to the COVID-19 crisis. 
NPMs are undertaking information gathering, virtual 
Netsafe confirms that from 1 January to 12 April this 
inspections, video calls with people in detention, 
year, there has been a significant increase in reports 
engagement with whänau, developing new inspection 
of hate speech. The Human Rights Commission is 
criteria, and have been carrying out safe physical 
in close touch with the Chinese community and 
has emphasised to government leaders the current 
growing challenge of racism.
NPMs are looking at what lessons have been learnt 
at Level 4 and how these can inform their monitoring 
The government’s COVID-19 response funding for 
at Level 3. One lesson is the limitations of virtual 
Mäori and ethnic groups, to prevent disproportionate 
inspections for independent monitoring, including 
harm caused by existing inequities, is commendable. 
engaging appropriately with people in detention. 
There must also be an express commitment to address 
However, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner 
racism as part of the response. We acknowledge the 
has found that the use of audio/visual monitoring tools 
government’s continuing support for the Commission’s 
has proved unexpectedly effective when engaging with 
Give Nothing to Racism Campaign, which was being 
detained young people. This has enhanced the ability 
re-designed shortly before the pandemic reached these 
of the monitoring team to obtain real time insight into 
the experiences of detained young people. 
Everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand is entitled 
NPMs will continue to improve their practice to ensure 
to feel safe in their home, at work and in public.  
the rights of people deprived of their liberty are 
These human rights are among our domestic and 
international commitments. They are also part of our 
culture as a nation. 
Recent events illustrate the importance of ensuring 
that the crucial role of NPMs’ unrestricted visits is 
The government must take firm steps to actively 
understood by detaining agencies and their access is 
discourage racist behaviour. This means explicit public 
incorporated into plans for dealing with emergencies. 
messaging and awareness raising. Post-COVID-19, the 
development of a National Action Plan Against Racism 
Given disproportionate rates of detention of 
becomes even more important. Such a Plan would 
Mäori, acknowledged structural discrimination and 
ensure a human rights lens is built into emergency 
documented systemic failures over decades, a Tiriti-
preparation, planning and responses.  The government 
based approach in this area is vital.2 
must anchor its approach in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, as 
2   Uepü Häpai i te Oranga, (2019), Türuki! Türuki! Move Together! The second report of the Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group.  Accessible at:

Mötika Tangata më Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Mate Korona më te Noho Rähui i Aotearoa Taumata 4
well as the views and experience of tangata whenua, 
Tängata whaikaha (Mäori disabled people) must be 
while also highlighting the impact of racism on those 
linked to Mäori and disability COVID-19 response 
communities who are currently feeling it most acutely.
teams to benefit from, and contribute to, self-
determined culturally effective and disability sensitive 
Lack of understanding can sometimes lead to a 
backlash against steps to uphold Te Tiriti and this 
highlights the continued need for education and to 
Absence of disaggregated data 
remain firmly committed to Te Tiriti and Mäori human 
rights throughout the COVID-19 recovery phase. Any 
COVID-19, and the response to it, have distinctive 
attempt to address racism in Aotearoa New Zealand 
impacts on disabled people.
must include honest discussions about anti-Mäori 
racism in all its forms.
Without data on these impacts, government cannot 
ensure individualised and holistic support to disabled 
Disability - Whaikahatanga  
people affected by COVID-19. Also, without this data, 
government cannot monitor any disproportionate 
Accessible information 
burden that may fall on disabled people.
Accessibility is a precondition for disabled people to 
The Commission understands that out of several 
live independently and participate fully and equally 
government COVID-19 surveys only one appeared to 
in society. The Convention on the Rights of Persons 
ask about disability. Also, there is limited disability 
with Disabilities requires the government to provide 
data on COVID-19 testing. 
accessible information on an equal basis with others; 
for example, New Zealand Sign Language for deaf 
As New Zealand moves into Level 3 and beyond, it is 
people and ‘easy read’ for people with a learning 
critical that better data are collected to understand 
disability. This is especially important in a health 
how disabled people are affected. Agencies should 
liaise with Statistics NZ, Office for Disability Issues 
and the Human Rights Commission on how to collect 
The Ministry of Health worked quickly with Disabled 
robust disaggregated data.
People’s Organisations, and the Human Rights 
Commission, to set up a ‘hub’ within government 
New Zealand has ratified the UN Convention on the 
that helps to streamline the provision of COVID-19 
Rights of Persons with Disabilities which requires 
information in accessible formats. 
the government to provide data disaggregated for 
disability. The government’s current failure to provide 
However, there have been delays in approval processes 
such data is inconsistent with its obligations under the 
and uploading accessible formats so that some 
information has been unavailable when required. 
Sometimes accessible formats are hard to locate. 
Te Tiriti requires a focus on quality data collection 
Accessible information about COVID-19 testing has 
and assessment of impacts on Mäori, undertaken in 
been a problem.  The COVID-19 government website, 
partnership with iwi and Mäori organisations. Data 
the public’s main information source, does not always 
collection and the monitoring of the health and 
provide accessible information.
disability system remains critical, in order to ensure 
the equitable provision of services to Mäori at all levels 
As we move into Level 3, decision makers need to 
and that the services are reaching those whänau who 
continue to proactively seek the feedback of disabled 
need them. 
people and their families about access to information. 
Decision makers should involve disabled people 
early in the drafting and production of materials and 

Human Rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi: COVID-19 and Alert Level 4 in Aotearoa New Zealand
Family violence - Whakarekereke ā-whare
Police must be given clear direction to respond 
appropriately to family violence incidents in Level 3. Low 
Everyone has the human right to be free from violence 
numbers of family violence arrests suggest Police may 
and abuse. Violence against people diminishes their 
not be arresting people when necessary. This may be due 
enjoyment of other fundamental rights and freedoms. 
to COVID-19 social distancing guidance which prevents 
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment 
candid disclosure of violence. It may be because police 
heightening the risk and occurrence of violence 
capacity is directed to other COVID-19 priorities.
against women, children, and other vulnerable people. 
Older people
Economic insecurity, job losses, overcrowding, loss of 
routine, lack of access to usual supports, and poverty-
The impact of COVID-19, and the emergency 
related stress all contribute to volatile situations. 
response to contain it, has been especially acute 
The current situation risks further exacerbating 
for older people. Not only do older people face 
harms experienced by Mäori whanau who are over-
a disproportionate risk of death as a result of the 
represented in violence statistics. 
pandemic, many also live in high-risk environments 
such as aged care facilities. Of the 19 deaths to date, 
Police and social services have reported increased 
all have occurred in the 60-70+ age group with five of 
family violence since the beginning of Level 4.  The 
the 16 significant clusters occurring in residential aged 
lockdown significantly impacts victims’ ability to 
care facilities.  
escape abusive partners or call for help. For abusers, it 
restricted their physical contact with others who may 
Alert Level 4 lockdown measures to protect the 
have been able to help calm situations and mitigate 
right to health protection and health care created 
harmful behaviour.   
additional challenges for many older people. These 
included: a shortage of caregivers and a reduction in 
Disabled people face twice the risk of experiencing 
home care services; a lack of access to respite care; 
violence compared with non-disabled people. With 
the suspension of social and community support 
reduced access to supports such as respite, creating 
programmes; and an inability to access critical COVID-
conditions of stress, the risks of violence and neglect 
related information when it was provided only in 
increase. Wrap-around services that respond to the 
digital form. Older people are at risk when their daily 
needs of disabled people are critically needed in the 
lives and support systems are disrupted. Numerous 
COVID-19 response.
human rights are implicated, including the rights to 
health care, food, an adequate standard of living, and 
Rainbow people in households where their identities 
accessible information. 
are not affirmed or tolerated face the risk of violence.  
Emergency housing providers and refuges may lack 
Access to secure payment methods to purchase food 
gender-diversity policies or options for transgender 
during Level 4 lockdown has been a considerable 
people and men.
barrier. Many people are not set up for internet 
banking and do not have debit or visa cards. The 
The allocation of an extra $12 million in funding for 
banking industry and other businesses have a 
additional refuge accommodation and other support 
responsibility to have preparedness plans in place to 
services is commendable. In Level 3, funding and 
ensure their customers are equipped to meet their 
support for those at risk of violence will need to 
basic needs during a national emergency.
increase. Funding must be directed to inclusive and 
accessible services, both prevention and response. 
A successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic 
These initiatives should reflect Tiriti partnership, 
requires the government to take all effective and 
support Mäori-led approaches and advance equitable 
reasonable measures to ensure the rights of older 
people are protected and that, as far as possible, 
older people are empowered to take care of their own 
affairs and wellbeing.

Mötika Tangata më Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Mate Korona më te Noho Rähui i Aotearoa Taumata 4
Women - Te ira wahine
pay inequity by gender and ethnicity, alleviate poverty 
for single parent families, value unpaid work and 
In the era of COVID-19, women have been 
enable flexible work. Human rights will help to lift the 
disproportionately impacted by job losses in retail, 
economic, social and cultural value of women’s lives 
hospitality and tourism. This will lead to a rise in 
and work, and advance gender equality.
poverty for women, particularly Mäori, Pacific and 
women from ethnic minority groups, who worked in 
Collecting demographic data about people receiving 
large numbers in those industries. 
the wage subsidy will provide better information 
for planning and help to advance gender equality in 
Some of these issues are also considered in the next 
Aotearoa New Zealand. These exercises must include 
quality data collection on ethnicity.
Most single parent households are female led. Single 
Employment - Whakamahingia  
parents have been disproportionately impacted 
during the Level 4 lockdown, shouldering a burden of 
The government’s decision to move to Alert Level 4 
responsibility to care for children, home schooling and 
inevitably led to a crisis of employment. As at mid-
carrying out domestic tasks while working from home.
April, the government had paid in excess of $10 billion 
to support 1.6 million workers. It had also launched a 
Under Level 4, children were initially unable to 
$6.25 billion business finance guarantee scheme for 
accompany adults to the supermarket, making it more 
small and medium-sized businesses to protect jobs 
difficult for single parents to obtain food and essential 
and support the economy. This is a huge investment 
and an act of human rights guardianship. Also, the 
government has introduced a 6-month rent freeze and 
The impact is increased poverty for women, ongoing 
3-month protection against terminations.
hardship and stress for single parent families, an 
increase in child poverty and an increased burden of 
unpaid care work for women. For wähine Mäori and 
their whänau, the impacts of COVID-19 exacerbate 
During Alert Level 4 many people worked on reduced 
systemic failures to uphold Te Tiriti. 
wages or were made redundant. There have been 
allegations of poor redundancy procedures, including 
Wage-subsidies that were put in place quickly by the 
discrimination. There have also been significant 
government have cushioned the economic impact of 
increases in poverty and hardship for many people, 
large-scale job losses and have kept workers tied to 
including working households.  
The crisis has had a disproportionate effect on those 
The government pressed ahead with raising the 
who were already living on or below the poverty line, 
minimum wage on 1 April despite opposition. This will 
with insecure housing and work. Certain industries, 
positively impact women who make up the majority of 
such as tourism and hospitality, are likely to take 
people on the minimum wage.
longer to recover than others. There is a real risk 
of prolonged unemployment within regions, and 
Impacts on women during the COVID-19 crisis are 
for Mäori, Pacific peoples, women, sole parents, 
human rights issues. There is an obligation to ensure 
disabled people, the rainbow community and migrant 
no discrimination based on sex, and a positive duty on 
the government to eliminate discrimination against 
women. In addition, there are obligations on business 
Many people are moving onto government benefits 
to ensure workers’ rights are respected. Applying 
for the first time.  As unemployment rises, foodbanks 
Te Tiriti and human rights to economic and social 
have reported a “tsunami of need” with some 
policies will reinforce existing initiatives that strive to 
people queuing for four hours. In the first week of 
revalue low paid “essential” occupations, eliminate 
Level-4 lockdown, the number of Ministry of Social 

Human Rights and Te Tiriti o Waitangi: COVID-19 and Alert Level 4 in Aotearoa New Zealand
Development (MSD) food grants increased from around 
right to fair and just working conditions, including safe 
25,000 a week to 70,000. 
and healthy working conditions, and fair wages which 
provide a decent standard of living for families.
MSD is encouraging those who are struggling 
financially to contact them, but there continue to be 
Successive governments have adopted and affirmed 
major difficulties reaching MSD staff to discuss needs. 
these human rights. In addition, there are obligations 
The food grants are only in the form of a one-off 
on business to ensure the human rights of workers are 
emergency grant, rather than ongoing support. 
The allocation by the government of an additional $30 
Existing employment and income inequities for 
million support package to bolster the delivery of food 
Mäori are likely to be exacerbated by the crisis, 
and welfare assistance is very welcome. Further steps 
making it even more critical that responses are firmly 
need to be taken to ensure this assistance is accessible 
grounded in Te Tiriti. There is high Mäori participation 
in a timely manner to all of those who need it.
in significantly affected industries (e.g. primary 
industries), and in insecure and low-paid work. Mäori 
have been proactive in providing support to whänau, 
businesses and communities, and in developing 
Before the pandemic, the level of homelessness 
tikanga- and mätauranga-based responses to the 
already far outstripped the level of available 
economic impacts of the pandemic.
assistance. Housing is one of the most significant living 
costs, particularly for those living in poverty. In January 
In Level 3 and beyond, a Tiriti and human rights 
this year, the number people on the social housing 
approach can help the government devise and 
waiting list was over 14,000. One in four households 
deliver robust, equitable, effective economic policies. 
already spend 40% or more of their household income 
This can help to ensure a commitment to good 
on rent and housing costs. Since the pandemic, the 
faith in employment relations, equal employment 
government’s rent freeze and other tenancy changes 
opportunities, collective bargaining and fair pay 
stop a landlord from increasing rent and limit the 
agreements, flexible work, and enhanced diversity in 
options for termination. However, landlords can still 
the workplace.
terminate a tenancy if a tenant falls 60 days behind in 
rent. For those who have lost all income as a result of 
Economic recovery efforts provide opportunities to 
redundancy, business closure or downturn in hours, 
embed Te Tiriti and human rights into government 
paying rent is likely to be a struggle. Long term rent 
responses and to work in partnership with iwi and 
caps and further assistance measures will need to be 
Mäori. Any fast-tracked development projects must 
uphold indigenous rights to lands and resources, in line 
with Te Tiriti and the human rights obligation of free, 
Reflecting on employment, poverty, housing
prior and informed consent.
These employment, poverty and housing issues arising 
from the COVID-19 response implicate numerous 
human rights. For example, the right to work, the right 
to adequate food, the right to adequate housing, the 

Mötika Tangata më Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Mate Korona më te Noho Rähui i Aotearoa Taumata 4
Conclusion -  
Kōrero whakamutunga
The Foreword acknowledges the government’s 
Independent accountability
commendable response to COVID-19 and the human 
At a time of crisis, there is often an accountability 
rights ‘snapshots’ confirm there are some significant 
deficit. Parliament adjourns and some courts close their 
doors precisely when those in authority are granted 
sweeping new discretionary powers.
Put human rights on the table
Human rights do not provide magic solutions to grave 
In Aotearoa New Zealand, the media deserve enormous 
crises, but they have a constructive contribution to 
credit for holding government to account during Level 
make as the country navigates these dangerous times. 
4. The Epidemic Response Committee, chaired by Simon 
They embody values – the importance of safety, dignity, 
Bridges, Leader of the Opposition, has also done a good 
decency, fairness, freedom, equality, respect, wellbeing, 
job in a very difficult situation.
community and responsibility – which provide a 
compass for the way forward.
Within government, interagency groups recognised the 
need to ensure discretionary powers were not abused 
In today’s world, human rights are also increasingly 
and fair balances were reasonably struck. But care is 
practical and operational. They can help to both chart 
needed. Those exercising the discretionary powers 
and implement an effective, equitable, balanced, 
cannot hold themselves accountable. The Auditor-
sustainable medium and long-term response to 
General recently emphasised that public accountability 
is a cornerstone of our system of government. Nimble 
constructive effective independent accountability 
But this can only happen if human rights are on the 
mechanisms have a major role to play in Level 3 and 
table. One of the striking features of the government’s 
response to COVID-19 is the almost total silence about 
human rights. Yet explicit consideration of human 
Te Tiriti o Waitangi
rights could have prevented some of the shortcomings 
The government’s National Plan of Action for 
identified in this brief report. They help to strike fair 
COVID-19 begins by confirming that the government’s 
balances and identify proportionate responses. At a time 
commitment to working in partnership with Mäori 
of crisis there is a heightened risk that mistakes will be 
is a key component of its national response to the 
made. Explicit attention to human rights can help to 
pandemic. In Level 3 and the recovery phase, we 
prevent mistakes, but not if they are absent from crisis 
urge the government to renew and reinvigorate 
management, decision-making and policy processes.
this commitment and jointly devise and implement 
During Alert Level 4, government sometimes talked 
strategies to address COVID-19, in keeping with the 
about “a principles-based approach”, but human rights, 
country’s constitutional foundation.
agreed by successive governments and steeped in 
universally accepted principles, did not appear to be an 
explicit part of the discussion.