The United Nations human rights body has called for answers over the Government's approach at Ihumātao, citing concerns over consultation with Māori.

The dispute over the housing development planned on the 33ha site in Māngere, South Auckland, has erupted since those occupying the land - regarded as sacred to mana whenua - were served eviction notices last week.

A report published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights this month questioned how the development would ensure Māori culture and heritage would be protected under the development, and how the houses would benefit Māori.

It listed concerns about Māori representation in designating the site a Special Housing Area in 2014, and the fast-track nature that did not allow for adequate consultations with Māori.

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"Noting the cultural, spiritual and archaeological importance of Puketāpapa to the Māori involved, we express our concern about the proposed construction of housing for commercial sale on their traditional land," Special Rapporteurs Leilani Farha (housing) and Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz (indigenous rights) wrote.

Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti Minister Kelvin Davis. Photo / File
Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti Minister Kelvin Davis. Photo / File

The situation at Ihumātao reflected a "broader challenge of ensuring a human rights-based approach to national housing strategies".

The report was produced on March 22 and initially kept private, giving the New Zealand Government two months to respond. While awaiting a response they requested interim measures be taken to halt the alleged human rights violations.

On May 16 the New Zealand Permanent Mission to the United Nations Office at Geneva requested a three-month extension, and the report was subsequently published on the United Nations website this month.

A spokesman for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti Minister Kelvin Davis said the minister was aware the issue had been raised in the United Nations, but he would not be commenting.

Over a hundred tents have been pitched at the Ihumātao land protest in Māngere. Photo / Peter Meecham
Over a hundred tents have been pitched at the Ihumātao land protest in Māngere. Photo / Peter Meecham

The halt on construction was to allow for time and space to find a way forward, he said.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development said the Government was still preparing its response and would not be commenting on the UN report.

New Zealand Human Rights Commission chief commissioner Paul Hunt said they welcomed the report, which highlighted human rights were at stake.

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"It is positive the Special Rapporteurs have asked the Government to provide assurance that the proposed development will not undermine the cultural heritage and the rights of Māori."

Protest numbers have been growing over the past week at Ihumātao. Photo / Dean Purcell
Protest numbers have been growing over the past week at Ihumātao. Photo / Dean Purcell

The commission supported the call by the Government to stop all work at Ihumātao.

"Ensuring that this halt continues at least until Special Rapporteurs have considered the Government's response, would demonstrate a commitment to the resolution process and limit any potential human rights breaches in the meantime."

Hunt said any solution developed needed to take a human rights approach that was participatory, inclusive, transparent, and enabled all those affected to have a meaningful say.

"We need to ensure all different interest groups within mana whenua that are involved are heard and are also part of a lasting solution."

Police maintained heavy numbers at the start of the protest but have since reduced their presence greatly. Photo / Dean Purcell
Police maintained heavy numbers at the start of the protest but have since reduced their presence greatly. Photo / Dean Purcell

The commission was working on its own report on human rights issues at Ihumātao.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination made similar comments in its 2017 report on Ihumātao, recognising consultation and consent from Māori had not been adequately sought and recommended the Government review its processes.

Govt's private land fears unfounded

Māori lawyer Moana Jackson said the Crown created the injustice and complexities at Ihumātao by confiscating the land in 1863, and therefore should "act honourably" and purchase the land off Fletcher, and return it.

The fear raised by the Government that buying the land and returning it to mana whenua could open up previous settlements that had excluded private land was a "red herring", Jackson said.

"In other places where private land has been excluded from any settlement it has been because there was no willing seller. Fletcher has indicated it would be willing to sell for the right offer."

Māori lawyer Moana Jackson said as the Crown was responsible for the original injustice it had a duty to purchase and return the land to mana whenua. Photo / File
Māori lawyer Moana Jackson said as the Crown was responsible for the original injustice it had a duty to purchase and return the land to mana whenua. Photo / File

In February Fletcher said it would be open to selling the land.

Once the Government had purchased the land it would then be up to mana whenua - all those who whakapapa to the land, not just those recognised by the Crown - to make decisions about its future, Jackson said.

"They would develop the framework and from there they could work with the Crown or Auckland Council on how to realise it.

"I think here there are some opportunities for innovative, exciting solutions, and a chance to change the relationship with the Crown."

Key dates at Ihumātao

• 1863-1869 – The lands at Ihumātao, near Auckland Airport, were confiscated in 1863 during the invasion of the Waikato, according to Save Our Unique Landscape (Soul), acquired by the Crown in 1867 and sold to the Wallace family in 1869.

• 2014 – Land designated Special Housing Area 62 (SHA62), allowing for fast-track development.

• 2015 – Pania Newton, one of the founders of Soul, along with cousins and locals from Makaurau Marae oppose the zoning.

• 2016 – The land is sold to Fletcher, and members of the community begin occupying the contested land in protest. In December Fletcher is given consent for a housing development.

• 2018 – In November the Environment Court declines to overturn Fletcher's consent. Te Kawerau ā Maki chair Te Warena Taua, who had previously challenged the development, supports the 480-house development, which would return eight of the 32ha to iwi, and provide them with several dozen homes.

• 2019 – In February Fletcher tells the Herald they would sell the Ihumātao section for the right offer. Soul makes delivers petitions to both the Government and Auckland Council to intervene.

• July 23 – An eviction notice is served to those occupying the land, and over the ensuing days thousands of people flock to Ihumātao in support. A debate erupts over who is mana whenua.

• July 26 – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces a halt to the development while the parties work to find a solution.

• July 27 – Government Ministers Peeni Henare and Willie Jackson visit Ihumātao, and say they will work with all mana whenua – including those with Soul and Makaurau Marae – on finding a solution.

• July 31 - Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta meets with Pania Newton - the first official meeting between the Government and protesters since the dispute began.