Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt is standing by his decision to meet with a Waikato chapter of the Mongrel Mob, saying he would take the opportunity again.
Hunt spoke about human rights, responsibilities and social inclusion at a hui hosted by the Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom at the weekend.
It has raised the ire of National's Simeon Brown, who called it "astonishing". He said gangs caused misery in communities and had no regard for victims, a criticism echoed by Act MP Nicole McKee.
Hunt however said he would not be doing his job if he excluded gangs from the conversation.
"I think it would have been a dereliction of duty, if I declined the invitation to speak about rights, responsibilities and relationships with the Mongrel Mob."
"Under the Human Rights Act my job is to do my best to educate New Zealanders about human rights and about Te Tiriti," he told Checkpoint.
"So it would have been wrong for me to say 'sorry, you're a gang, I'm not going to talk to you about human rights'. If I said that it would mean I'm not doing the job that Parliament has asked me to do.
"I explained at the hui that human rights is a package. It's got three key elements to it. Part of the package is that everybody has certain rights, certain entitlements – for instance, not to be discriminated against.
"But what I also emphasised were the other two elements of the package ... human rights means that everyone has to try to develop good relations across communities and between communities.
"I also emphasised that part of the human rights package is that everyone has responsibilities. Responsibilities to other people, to other communities, to society, to the environment.
"I explained that human rights are about what I call the three R's: they're about rights, they're also about building relationships, and they're also about honouring your responsibilities. And I think that's an important message to send."
"I've got no illusions that gangs have a certain meaning. Some of them have a certain history. I don't have any illusions about that, but if a community comes to me, a lawful community comes to me and says 'look, we'd like to talk about human rights with you,' then I'm duty-bound to accept that invitation and use it as an opportunity to explain that rights aren't just about 'me, me, me,' they're not just about entitlements, they're also about building relationships and behaving responsibly."
He said it was an opportunity to convey that message and it was the right thing to do. Asked if a gang was a lawful community, he noted those present were at liberty and members of their community.
"It's part of my job to speak to everybody. Human rights and responsibilities, the duty to try and enhance relationships, applies to everybody.
"At the end of last year was a really important report published by the Government following the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the March 15 massacres in Christchurch.
"The fourth volume is entirely devoted to the imperative of New Zealand building better social inclusion, social cohesion. The Human Rights Commission takes that Royal Commission report really seriously, and all its recommendations.
"Part of those recommendations, part of the report, was to reach out to communities, to talk about diversity, responsibilities, rights. That's what the Royal Commission was asking us to do. And that's what I sought to do in a small way last weekend.
"I spoke frankly over the weekend. If I have the opportunity to do so again, to explore these relationships further ... to do that again, I'll be pleased to accept."