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HRC calls for independent state care abuse inquiry

16 February 2017

The Human Rights Commission is calling for an independent and comprehensive inquiry into the abuse of New Zealanders while they were in state care.

Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson says the human rights of thousands of people were abused by their own Government.

"More than 100,000 New Zealanders were taken from their families and put into state institutions from the 1950s to the 1990s where many suffered serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect over several years,” he says.

“The extent of the abuse is unknown. We believe this painful and shocking chapter of New Zealand history is one that needs to be opened: if we do not openly talk about the mistakes we made, then we cannot ensure they are never repeated. Never Again. E Kore Ano.

“People with disabilities had no rights and were removed from their homes to spend the rest of their lives in institutions far from families and loved ones: their stories need to be told.”

An open letter signed by iwi leaders, child advocates and disability sector representatives was released today with a call for New Zealanders to sign a public petition urging Government to take action.

“Our message is simple: we must never let this abuse happen again. We need to start by hearing the stories of those people whose childhoods and lives were forever scarred by their own Government,” Mr Gibson says.

Indigenous Rights Commissioner Karen Johansen says that so far more than 1000 people who suffered abuse while in state care have taken part in a process led by the Ministry of Social Development.

"Another process led by the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service heard their stories and recommended an independent inquiry be set up to discover the extent of abuse suffered so that this never happens again. The Government rejected this recommendation," she says.

"So far complaints have been managed by the ministry rather than an independent body, a process many have found humiliating and drawn out. The Government has not issued a universal apology, instead some claimants receive individual letters in which senior government officials 'regret' the abuse but rejects 'legal liability' for it.

“Once we understand the full extent of what went on then we can ensure our policies in 2017 reflect our shared past: at the moment this is not the case. New Zealanders deserve to know more about their history and learn from it.”

Last updated on the 16th February 2017