Amnesty International releases human rights briefing to COVID-19 committee

Essential moves have been made to manage the impact of COVID-19 in New Zealand. This means significant changes to how society is operating. These unprecedented measures limit liberties and physical freedoms in order to protect the right to health and the right to life itself.

In response, Amnesty International is providing a briefing on human rights principles for the Epidemic Response Committee and other decision makers in the immediate and longer term.

Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand Advocacy and Policy Manager Annaliese Johnston says as the changes deeply affect our rights, we need to ensure a human rights lens is considered in all decision-making.

“The solidarity, care and kindness that we have seen around New Zealand resonates powerfully with universal human rights; we are all human, and all aspects of our lives are intertwined. Significant restrictions are in place to protect the right to health and life. They are a necessary step as we navigate this journey together.

Annaliese Johnston, Advocacy and Policy Manager

There are however, important principles to ensure the right balance is struck. Significant powers, such as those given to Police, must not be over-used. Any restrictions on rights can never be discriminatory. They must be demonstrably necessary, legitimate, proportionate, time-bound and no broader than strictly required.”

Johnston also says consideration needs to be given to those in detention, as well as for people working in these facilities.

“People in detention already have their liberties restricted. It’s incredibly important measures take into account the fact that their self-isolation is dependent on other people. Some of these facilities already have inadequate health and sanitation services. Measures to reduce risk in detention facilities must be implemented on an urgent basis. This includes considering the release of detainees who are particularly vulnerable to contracting the virus and do not pose a serious risk to public safety.

Annaliese Johnston, Advocacy and Policy Manager

There are also asylum seekers in detention in New Zealand. These are people who have sought safety from conflict or persecution overseas – they should not be detained. Amnesty International is pleased to hear that the majority of asylum seekers who were in detention have been released. We hope this continues and they are supported in communities.”

Johnston says the risks to refugees is also of concern.

“Global efforts on refugee resettlement have been suspended for now, including New Zealand’s quota intake. But the number of people seeking refuge continues to grow. Additionally there is the significant threat of COVID-19 in refugee camps across the world. New Zealand’s quota intake should resume as soon as it’s safely possible to do so. In the meantime, it’s essential our refugee communities based in New Zealand have adequate access to goods and services that take into account language, mental health, religious and cultural needs.”

Johnston says Amnesty International will be engaging with the Epidemic Response Committee throughout the course of the lockdown.

“Parliament is not functioning as it normally would given the state of emergency, so we commend the creation of this special committee. It is an important and constructive mechanism to ensure the Government is held to account, especially in the absence of Question Time. Given the increased pressure journalists are now under and the reports today of outlets closing it’s even more crucial that civil society groups play their part in ensuring the Government is held to account. We recommend the Epidemic Response Committee includes an explicit human rights watchdog focus as part of its mandate. This should include an ability to be publicly briefed with ongoing human rights impact assessments, as well as having input from iwi leaders and representatives of the communities most at risk.”

Annaliese Johnston, Advocacy and Policy Manager

Amnesty International is also monitoring developments in the Asia Pacific region and supporting stronger human rights-based policy across these countries.

“At a time when the impulse is to focus inwards, maintaining and increasing New Zealand’s longstanding commitment to international solidarity is essential. New Zealand should share COVID-19-related information and expertise internationally, and significantly boost levels of development assistance.”

The full briefing of human rights principles, including recommendations regarding vulnerable people, essential workers, those without a home and gender-based impacts, can be found below.