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Source: Human Rights Commission

Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Paul Hunt, warmly welcomes the move by Chief Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, to begin a series of targeted inspections this week to provide an independent assessment of how secure aged care facilities are responding to COVID-19.

“In these difficult times it’s vital we remain vigilant for potential human rights abuses and ensure human rights standards are complied with. This is particularly important for people who are older, unwell or otherwise at risk,” says Paul Hunt, Chief Human Rights Commissioner.

“The spread and deaths from COVID-19 at rest home facilities show that more needs to be done to look at whether all steps are being taken to protect people who are most at-risk from the virus,” says Hunt.

The Chief Ombudsman said he believes the public need reassurance that aged care facilities are doing all they can to prevent the virus from spreading to those most at risk, and that steps are being taken to make sure the basic human rights of residents are protected. 

Aged-care facilities are a new inspection area for his Office. The Chief Ombudsman says his assessments will focus on key issues concerning the care of a particular group of at-risk aged care residents — those who are detained in secure aged care facilities.

“Even in times of crisis, people have human rights that safeguard their dignity. Even in times of emergency, Government must abide by the commitments they have made to respect and give effect to human rights,” says Hunt.

“Access to healthcare and provision of a safe environment must remain a priority for people who are detained, including  those in dementia units. Places of detention should be prepared and equipped to appropriately handle infection and outbreaks. And all measures taken by detention agencies must be proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory.”

“The recent cases highlight the vulnerabilities of people in detention, such as their close living arrangements and their limited ability to take direct precautionary measures themselves.”

“It’s important for agencies like the Office of the Ombudsman to provide independent oversight. I vigorously support the action the Chief Ombudsman is taking.  We will continue to work with his Office and our other 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.

New Zealand has signed up to an international treaty known as the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) to protect the rights and conditions of those held in detention.

The Human Rights Commission helps coordinate the activities of the Office of the Ombudsman, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, the Independent Police Conduct Authority and the Inspector of Penal Establishments, which inspect places of detention. These includes prisons, police cells, defence force penal establishments, youth justice facilities, oranga Tamariki residences; and health and disability places of detention, such as intellectual disability units and acute mental health units.