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News / Amnesty International, Human Rights Commission Concerned About Government's COVID Legislation Bill

Amnesty International, Human Rights Commission Concerned About Government's COVID Legislation Bill

Amnesty International, Human Rights Commission Concerned About Government's COVID Legislation Bill

Posted November 23, 2021
Media Release

Media Release: Amnesty International, Human Rights Commission

Amnesty International Statement On COVID Legislation Bill:

Amnesty International is urging the Government to rethink its approach to passing the COVID-19 Response (Vaccination) Legislation Bill due to serious concerns about the lack of opportunity for public consultation and scrutiny.

We have previously raised concerns about the lack of human rights scrutiny with the Government’s COVID-19 response, especially when introducing new legislation. Adequate scrutiny, particularly for mandatory measures, is essential for both enduring and effective people-centred solutions, as well as maintaining the rule of law.

We are deeply concerned to see limited scrutiny of yet another piece of legislation with significant human rights implications.

Amnesty International encourages the Government to place human rights at the centre of all aspects of its response. Rushing through law is not the way to ensure appropriate safeguards, especially when that legislation limits human rights.

We welcome the Government’s recognition of the need to pursue robust, crucial measures that urgently stop the spread of COVID-19. The Government has an obligation to protect the rights to health and life. However any limitations on human rights must meet the principles of legality, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality, and non-discrimination. Evidence of this must be transparent and open to the public.

The Government needs to ensure the Bill includes a range of safeguards, including a clear aim and justification, a specified and limited timeframe, and precise wording on how it will be implemented.

Scrutiny And Public Input Needed Urgently On New COVID-19 Legislation Says Human Rights Commission:

The Human Rights Commission is seeking an assurance from the Government that the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Legislation Bill will be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny and public input.

“While the Commission appreciates that the date for the transition to the traffic light system is rapidly approaching, robust scrutiny of this Bill is vital. Anything less is highly problematic both constitutionally and in terms of the state’s human rights and te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations,” says Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt.

The Government today introduced the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Vaccinations) Legislation Bill to enact the new COVID-19 Protection Framework or “’traffic light system”.

The Commission understands that the Government intends to pass the Bill under urgency this week.

Mr Hunt said the Bill has considerable human rights and Tiriti implications as a result of the differential impact it will have on vaccinated and non-vaccinated people, particularly regarding employment and access to places.

“Balances have to be struck between human rights. This complex but essential exercise comes into sharp focus during a pandemic where measures that protect the rights to health and life must be balanced against other rights, such as the right to work and a decent standard of living.”

“The use of urgency to pass this legislation is therefore of considerable concern, as it bypasses the select committee process and severely limits the ability of Parliament and the public to scrutinise and address the Bill’s human rights implications and Tiriti obligations.”

The Commission notes that the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act, which provides the statutory framework for the COVID-19 public health response, was also passed under urgency in May last year. In that case, a select committee inquiry was conducted soon afterwards which heard submissions from the public.

The Commission therefore seeks an assurance that the implementation of the Act will similarly be subject to the scrutiny of a Parliamentary select committee as soon as the Bill is passed, and that the public will have the opportunity to provide their views through the select committee process.

“In times of national emergency there is a risk of overreach when sweeping powers are granted and rights are not balanced appropriately leading to mistakes that are later regretted. This is precisely when our national and international human rights and Tiriti commitments must be taken into account. This cannot be done without parliamentary scrutiny and public input,” says Hunt.