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Concerns About Rights Of People In Detention During Response To COVID-19

Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Paul Hunt, is calling on the Government to respect the rights of people it is holding for detention purposes in its response to COVID-19.

People detained by the authorities have a heightened risk of infection due to living in close proximity to one another and because of their limited capacity to take precautionary measures. A person who is in government-provided 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.

“The Government has obligations to limit the spread of Covid-19, but restrictions placed on people in detention must be necessary, proportionate and respectful of human dignity.” says Paul Hunt, Chief Human Rights Commissioner.

“The Government has binding domestic and international human rights obligations to ensure that people in places of detention have access to adequate food and shelter, meaningful activity and engagement with others, health care and protection, and accurate information.”

“Even in times of crisis, people in detention have human rights that safeguard their dignity. Even in times of emergency, human rights place binding obligations upon the Government to abide by the commitments they have made,” says Hunt.

“People being held under the Health Act for quarantine or quarantine-related purposes must be able to communicate with their friends and family. They must also have access to independent medical and legal advice, and other basic needs,” says Hunt.

“While I have confidence that the Government is doing its best to keep the wider community safe from further spread of Covid-19, we must ensure that the use of these extraordinary measures are not unnecessarily or disproportionately impacting the rights of those in detention. That’s why independent monitoring is especially needed at this time. The form of this monitoring needs careful attention so that it is appropriate, effective and safe for all parties.”

“We will continue to work with our partners and government agencies to ensure that the rights of people in detention, including those in quarantine under the Health Act, are upheld,” says Hunt.

If you have concerns about your or someone else’s conditions or treatment in detention, we encourage you to call our Infoline on 0800 496 877 to speak with our team.

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