National | Human Rights Commission

Waikeria: 'Progress is glacial' - Human Rights Commission

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The Human Rights Commission says important lessons must be learnt from the Waikeria prison protest.

It is strongly recommending an independent inquiry is carried out led by the Ombudsman.

"[T]he Ombudsman’s team of investigators has been telling us for years that conditions in many of our prisons are sub-standard and do not meet basic international human rights requirements,” Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt said in a statement.

Hunt said it is a big mistake to see the Waikeria protest as an isolated one-off.

“Whatever triggered this protest, poor prison conditions are a vital part of the context. Last August, the Ombudsman published a report on Waikeria and concluded that the high security complex is no longer fit for purpose. Only last month, the Human Rights Commission published a report that demonstrated serious failings in the prison system," he said.

“We know the human rights standards, we know the failings, there is no shortage of reports and recommendations, including some from Corrections itself, yet progress is glacial. I sense no urgency.”

The Chief Commissioner expressed concern about aspects of the handling of the prison protest, assuming media reports about Corrections tactics are correct.

“For example, during the protest it was reported that the non-supply of water was used as a negotiating tactic. If that proves to be accurate, this was inhumane and unlawful and suggests that some people in Corrections are living in the past.”

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon added that it was vital that prisoners be treated humanely.

“The protest has raised serious questions about inhumane standards in our prisons, and it is very important the prisoners involved are now treated decently and with respect.”

Foon commended mana whenua and others working behind the scenes to bring the protest to a peaceful resolution, including Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi and the Ombudsman.