Indigenous Aussies take govt to United Nations over climate change

Torres Strait Islanders accuse government of human rights breach over climate inaction

Climate Change: Torres Strait Islanders Make Human Rights Complaint

In a complaint filed with the United Nations (UN) on Monday, an indigenous group accused the Aussie government of violating their human rights by not taking action on climate change as their culture and homeland were at risk.

So this case gives the Human Rights Committee its first chance to give specific application to its general statement, by assessing and explaining what Australia should do to protect the human rights of the Torres Strait islanders. The Human Rights Committee monitors nations' compliance with the ICCPR.

The Torres Strait Islands are located off the northern tip of Queensland, with about 18 of them inhabited by a population of 7,000 people who rely heavily on fishing. However, Morrison government failed to take adequate action to reduce emissions or pursue proper adaptation measures on the islands and, as a effect, has failed fundamental human rights obligations to Torres Strait Islander people.

The complaint is being made by eight islanders from four different Torres Strait Islands, who say that climate change is already threatening their homes and sacred sites.

"Australia's continued failure to build infrastructure to protect the islands and to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions constitutes a clear violation of the Islanders' rights to culture, family and life", she added.

While Australia would not be forced to comply with the United Nations panel's ruling, Marjanac said any decision in favor of the islanders would be a moral and political victory for them. It is how we are connected with the land and the sea.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee has previously raised concerns about Australia's record on issues such as its treatment of asylum seekers and indigenous people, but with little response.

Late previous year, Vanuatu's government said it was "exploring" whether to sue fossil fuel companies and the industrialized countries that use them for their role in the climate threat to low-lying islands.

The country should become carbon neutral by 2050, phasing out its use and export of coal completely, they argue. A court in New South Wales ruled against another proposed coal mine due to its impact on climate change in February.

The complaint is the latest in a string of climate change cases worldwide targeting companies and governments, which lawyers expect will proliferate. The first successful climate lawsuit came when Dutch citizens won a ruling in 2015 compelling the government of the Netherlands live up to its promised emissions reductions. The complaint is also the first human rights complaint about climate change brought against the Australian government.

The Torres Strait islanders have deep spiritual ties to the land. If successful, it would be the first decision from an global body finding that nation states have a duty to reduce their emissions under human rights law.

"The Torres Strait Islands have been settled for millennia, but if the Australian government continues on its present course they may not last the century", said Bill McKibben, co-founder of the climate justice organization 350.org, which is also supporting the action. "This lawsuit is part of an epic fight to hold the carbon barons accountable for wrecking the one planet we've got".

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