Monitoring Human Rights in the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery

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Foreword from the Chief Commissioner
Wāhinga Kōrero nā te Amokapua

The Canterbury earthquakes represent one of New Zealand’s greatest contemporary human rights challenges. Some of the challenges faced by affected people, such as access to adequate housing, are similar to those experienced by people in other parts of New Zealand. Others are unique to Canterbury, such as the stress and health issues related to housing, insurance, and community dislocation, stressors caused by the earthquakes, as well as the response to them. It is clear that the Government recognises the importance of human rights in the earthquake recovery. This is reflected in the steps it has recently taken to address the psychosocial health of the people who are most stressed.

The aim of this report is to encourage influencers and decision-makers to apply a human rights approach, by putting human rights principles at the centre of decision-making in civil emergencies, and more broadly, at the centre of the shaping of social, economic and development policy. This report looks back at some of the human rights challenges arising through the recovery over the past three years, and also highlights positive aspects of the recovery related to human rights.

The earthquakes caused loss of life, serious injury and disruption in homes, jobs, businesses, schools, sports and recreation. The ongoing dedication and efforts by the key agencies involved in the recovery have enabled many affected people to move on with their lives. However, many people affected by the earthquakes continue to experience deteriorating standards of living and impacts on their quality of life that go beyond the immediate effects of the disaster. The admirable efforts of those involved in the recovery will be better realised as agencies involved increasingly work together across the system to deliver the best outcomes, and when the people affected are involved in identifying and defining those outcomes. Already we are seeing positive examples of this.

Human rights standards are relevant to the way in which people are able to move on with their lives following a natural disaster, to how they can participate in decisions that affect them, and to how they can access information about themselves and their property. The Commission strongly believes that a people-centred earthquake recovery process will lead to better outcomes for everyone. There are outstanding examples of this approach in Canterbury, such as the redesign of the Canterbury health system, led by the Canterbury District Health Board. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority’s work in the area of social and cultural recovery also shows a strong commitment to enabling people, whanau and communities to have greater involvement in decisions that affect them.

Although it is now more than three years since the September 2010 earthquake, the recovery is still unfolding and new human rights issues continue to emerge. Lessons from the Canterbury recovery should be drawn on to achieve better realisation of human rights in New Zealand. I hope that all of us – Government, local government, non-governmental organisations and the business sector – learn for the future and we take active steps to ensure a human rights approach is further embedded in the recovery, and incorporated into future disaster responses.

The Commission will continue to offer its support and expertise to all those involved in the Canterbury recovery. It will also continue to work directly with people affected by the earthquakes to help them to realise their rights, and to connect them with key decision-makers who can ultimately help them through the recovery.


A large number of people and agencies have contributed to this report. The Commission would particularly like to acknowledge the input provided by affected people in Canterbury.

The Commission thanks the staff of non-government and government agencies that have contributed to this report. Many of those involved are based in Christchurch. The Commission acknowledges the contribution of its own Christchurch-based staff who continue to engage with a wide range of Canterbury residents and organisations involved in the earthquake recovery.

The Commission thanks both the Centre for Economic and Social Rights and the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions for their input. The Commission looks forward to continuing to develop and apply what has been learned from this project to future human rights monitoring in Canterbury and elsewhere. 

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