UN landmark case for people displaced by climate change – Amnesty International

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In a ground-breaking asylum case, a UN human rights body has ruled that governments must take into account the human rights violations caused by the climate crisis when considering deportation of asylum seekers, said Amnesty International today.

Ioane Teitiota, a man from the Pacific nation of Kiribati, brought a case against the government of New Zealand at the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) in February 2016 after authorities denied his claim of asylum as a ‘climate refugee.’ He was deported from New Zealand to Kiribati in September 2015. The HRC delivered its decision on the case earlier this month.

“The decision sets a global precedent,” said Kate Schuetze, Pacific Researcher at Amnesty International. “It says a state will be in breach of its human rights obligations if it returns someone to a country where – due to the climate crisis – their life is at risk, or in danger of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Teitiota says he faced land disputes and difficulties accessing safe drinking water in his home country as the result of the climate crisis, and therefore was forced to migrate with his family to New Zealand where he applied for refugee status after his visa expired in 2010. He was denied asylum by New Zealand’s Immigration and Protection Tribunal, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. He then took his case to the HRC on the grounds that New Zealand violated his right to life under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, by deporting him to Kiribati.

While the Committee found that Teitiota’s deportation had not been unlawful because he didn’t face an immediate danger to his life in Kiribati, it recognised that climate change represented a serious threat to the right to life and therefore decision-makers need to take this into account when examining challenges to deportation.

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The Committee’s decision suggests that future claims might be successful where the evidence shows “the effects of climate change in receiving states may expose individuals to a violation of their rights.”

“The message is clear: Pacific Island states do not need to be under water before triggering human rights obligations to protect the right to life,” said Schuetze.

All states have the human rights duty to protect people from the harmful effects of the climate crisis, including displacement. It is therefore imperative that urgent action is taken to keep the temperature rise as low as possible and no higher than 1.5°C.

“The Pacific Islands are the canary in the coal mine for climate induced migrants. Low-lying island states such as Kiribati and Tuvalu are only one or two metres above sea level. The people there are exposed to severe climate impacts today, including limited access to habitable land, clean drinking water and subsistence living. Governments must consider this dangerous reality and a heating planet’s imminent threat to Pacific peoples’ lives and livelihoods.”

5 COMMENTS

  1. This week’s Cyclone Tino washed right over Tuvalu. That when Tino was 500 km away, centred on Fiji. Eight metre waves over islands where the highest point is only four metres …not good. And when the waves rolled back they took some of the already eroded coastline with them, washed out to sea.

    Land had been reclaimed to build a convention centre, to enable the island to host the Pacific Islands Forum last August. That reclaimed land was washed over.

    One main concern now is their food supply. “A lot of our bananas, breadfruit, crops have been uprooted. Another is the salt intrusion, the salt sprays were devastating our vegetable and vegetation,” said the director of their Disaster Management Office. RNZ It Swept Right Over Tuvalu

    Tuvalu consists of three reef islands and six ‘true atolls’. Total land area is just 26 sq km. Population is around 11,000.

  2. Climate-related catastrophes like floods and forest fires are driving millions of people from their homes every year, said anti-poverty NGO Oxfam. While no one is immune, people in poor countries are most at risk.

    Over the past decade, climate-fuelled disasters drove over 20 million people a year from their homes, concluded a report released by Oxfam on Monday. The Oxfam study, titled “Forced from Home,” was released as two weeks of UN climate negotiations kick-start in Madrid. climate-change-forces-20-million-people-to-flee-each-year

  3. If, instead of Ione Teitiota from Kiribati, fleeing the effects of climate change, it was Bruce Bloggs from Australia, fleeing the effects of climate change. His immigration to this country would not be an issue.

    That one person comes from a nation that is guilty of willfully committing major climate degradation, while the other is not, magnifies the injustice.

    This injustice comes down to us from the different colonial status afforded white majority settler countries by the British Empire.
    Majority white settler countries of the Empire enjoyed, (and still do), privileged status over majority indigenous colonial subjects and territories. Under the British Empire white immigration was favoured over Pacifica or other ethnic immigration, and even after Australia, pursued an official ‘White Australia policy’.

    White is might.

    Pacific Island nations are losing territory and income and lives to rising seas and climate fueled super storms. Meantime the colonial settler countries of New Zealand and Australia continue to open new coal mines in open defiance of the express wishes of the Pacific Island Forum Leaders.

    Allowing free entry to Australian but not Island peoples, our immigration and climate policies begin to resemble more and more the old colonial injustices, only different by being perpetuated under the new conditions of climate change.

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